I’ve been traditionally published once before. Since then, I’ve published all of my books independently.
Whether traditionally published, hybrid, or independently published, plenty of authors, myself included, are working hard to navigate this new and changing era in publishing. Yes, there are factors in the era that concern, discourage, or even anger us at times. After conversations with other authors in the midst of the grind, I’ve picked up on the tendency and temptation for some of us to look back on the good ol’ days of publishing with nostalgic eyes.
Nostalgia is natural. And back before we got into publishing for ourselves, all or most of us likely had wonderful imaginings about what our author careers might be like.
Oh, for the former days when an author could focus on creating literary masterpieces, and the publisher would take over the labor from there. Proofreading, designing, marketing—the whole bit.
The author wouldn’t have to lift a finger again until the publisher would send them on an all-expenses-paid book tour, where the author’s job would be to stay at choice hotels, to eat in fine restaurants, to make a string of bookstore and book festival appearances, and to sign copies of their books for lines of their adoring readers.
While royalties and fan mail would continue to flow in, the author would receive the comfortable advance for their next masterpiece, and they’d focus on finishing it, whenever inspiration would move them to do so.
Ahhh. The life.
But how many of us were imagining our future careers like those of the midlist authors who, even in the good ol’ days, numbered far more than the few bestselling authors in the spotlight? We may or may not have known that many of the authors managing to land publishing contracts didn’t get to quit their day jobs. And perhaps we weren’t thinking so much about the one-hit, half-hit, and no-hit authors who never got another contract after their first book.
We weren’t thinking about the authors without the sales or leverage to justify big advances or higher royalty rates than a dollar and some change. We weren’t thinking about the very limited shelf space in brick-and-mortar bookstores and the stores’ regular returns of books that didn’t sell. Or the many authors who never got a book tour. Or the books that went out of print after only one print run. Or the uncounted authors, even famous ones among them, with additional book ideas or manuscripts they loved and believed in—manuscripts collecting dust, stuffed in drawers, or thrown away—because their publishers wouldn’t touch them.
“Those aren’t the kind of books our readers want from you. If you bring us anything too different from what we’ve accepted from you thus far, we’re not going to publish that here.”
As we authors grind away in the present-day world of publishing, I wonder: how much is the nostalgia for the good ol’ days based on the common realities of those days, and how much of it is only based on imagined, fairytale scenarios?
Yes, it may have been more likely for some readers to spend fifteen bucks on a new release at one time, when now they’d rather get three or more ebooks for that amount. Sure, various publishers are tightening up and taking even fewer chances on new ideas and unknown authors. Yeah, in an era when more authors can publish themselves without the say-so, restrictions, or dismissals of publishing house gatekeepers, the market is filling with too many low-quality books.
Still, would an author like me want to go back to the former days of publishing? Well, not so much.
An untold number of passionate, dedicated, and conscientious authors, myself included, are getting our books out there and finding an audience when, less than a generation ago, it might not have happened for us. Most publishers reject far more manuscripts than they accept, and it’s not always because the manuscripts are no good. I could go on about the different reasons for publisher rejections, but that would take another blog post.
Personally, I just wouldn’t want to be another writer back in the past, pining and dreaming about glorious book tours and literary stardom, while my rejected manuscripts sat in a drawer or in a box at home, waiting. And waiting. Read, enjoyed, and appreciated by no one but me, with no guarantees that one publisher or another would finally say “yes” and agree with my vision for the finished products.
As much as I want traditional publishing to live on, and though it might be nice to get another contract someday, no, I don’t want to go back in time to an industry that was more exclusionary and inaccessible as a whole. Where I likely might have watched some, most, or even all of my books go out of print at some point, if they ever made it into print in the first place.
Whether an author goes the traditional, hybrid, or independent route, publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. My present-day grind as an independent author isn’t easy. But it’s worth it. And every single human being who now gets the chance to read the books I work mega-hard to produce is worth FAR more than any glittery or fairytale “good ol’ day” daydreams.
As for the important part up there about publishing gatekeepers, I speak to that a bit more in a two-part post. 🙂