|Books are a lot like luchador masks: huge variety, yet all the same,
they all tell a story, and are highly subject to
personal preference. (Taken at Old Town, San Diego)
Heck, I may not even be that. I could be low-list, really. But I don't think that's a term (perhaps too depressing?), so I'm sticking with midlist.
It seems like in the online writing community we're afraid to talk about that, as if it's this horrible thing to be. When really most authors are midlist.
But on social media we're all supposed to pretend that our books are a Big Deal and that only awesome things happen to them and that every book is treated the same by a publisher. I think we all know that's not really true, but we're not supposed to talk about it because people get all uncomfortable with where their work stands and how "important" or "not important" they are.
Today I'm just gonna do that thing where I talk about it realistically. I do that. Maybe I shouldn't, but I have this problem where I suck at lying so I usually just opt to take the honest route and its consequences.
Basically, publishing is a brutal business.
It is. Plain and simple. It may make author dreams come true, but because there are only so many spots it also has to crush a lot of dreams, too. It's not personal…though, man, does it feel entirely personal at times…it's just the reality of a business that sells a product that, well, doesn't get purchased that much. You've seen the studies about how little Americans read—so yeah, we're all trying to sell products that aren't really in that high a demand. We all wish that would change. But hey, in the grand scheme of things books are a bit of a "niche" market. Then you start dividing by genre and you can really get a picture of how little pie there is to share when it it comes to trying to turn a profit.
This is starting out really depressing. I honestly don't know if it'll get better, but I'll try!
I knew I was going to be midlist at best the second I got my advance offer. It's really easy to tell, actually—if you didn't get high six-figures or you're not a book package, then you fall somewhere in the land of "not a lead title." And even though most everyone who sells a book lands here, you feel a bit deflated. At least I did. I think because you have all the potential in the world when you're querying and on sub. You COULD sell big. You never know!
When you finally sell, well, you know where you stand. I knew I wouldn't get any more than the standard debut marketing package, if that. I knew there would be titles in my debut season that would get more press and love and push than my book. I knew there would never be a tour. Et cetera and so forth.
Jealousy is a beast. As a midlist author it's like envy is always there in the shadows waiting to pounce when you least expect it. Especially now that social media seems to be a huge part of being an author, you get to see all the things other people are getting that you aren't. It looks like everyone is selling more than you and you're doomed.
And it can be very easy to get bitter and down on yourself and your work. It's easy to want to give up, to feel like your writing isn't special, to wonder why you wanted to publish in the first place, to maybe even regret slaving over words for so long and for what?
Perhaps this is why I'm writing today, for all those authors—and there are a lot of us! maybe even all of us!—who wonder if any of this is really worth it.
Is publishing worth it?
I mean, it's a valid question. I thought I'd heard horror stories before I sold my book. I'd spent 2 years in the query trenches and 2 years in submission hell—I had been through and heard a lot of stuff! I'd racked up over 200 query rejections, I'd done the R&R dance with an agent for 9 months, I'd gotten harsh crits that made me cry, I'd rewritten an entire novel, had an agent leave, gotten so close to selling I could taste it but still got rejected. And I watched most of my writer friends go through the exact same types of stuff.
You want to think this torture goes away once you sell. Because, goodness gracious, the trials should end at some point, right?
But the tough tales never end. I've now gotten to watch authors I know lose their editors, and thus their novels get pushed to the bottom of the totem pole. I've seen writers pitch idea after idea to their editor, only to be told that it might be time to part ways with no more sales. Authors I love and respect have had to leave houses because their novels "aren't meeting expectations." People who "deserve" attention don't get it. Constantly. And sales never pick up. (Because there just isn't enough to go around, as I said before.) Books "flop" with no explanation, even with a huge marketing budget. Covers go bad. Reviews can be harsh. Or non-existent. Publishers fight with bookstores and sometimes authors and their novels become casualties.
It's a flipping battlefield out there, guys.
Some of these things have happened to me. Some haven't. It's hard to watch your friends deal with it, too, because it's a very real reminder that the same thing could happen to you. That nothing in this business is sure. That it can all change in a day, for better or worse.
Honestly, it's enough to make this mormon girl want a drink and let loose with a few swear words. I seriously never understood why people drink until I started trying to get published—and now I'm all, "Damn, that sounds nice I wonder what my favorite alcoholic beverage would be."
Not that I'd drink, but I've thought about it.
So back to the question, is this worth it?
A lot of the times, my answer is no. I kid you not. I know I'm supposed to say, "Yes! Because there are all these emotional rewards and fan letters and I just love to write so much!" But well, emotional rewards don't pay the bills, and I have a lot of those. I am trying to supplement my husband's income. I do want to get paid because I have three mouths to feed and all that junk. And monetarily speaking, no, writing is not currently worth it. Maybe it will be in the future, but that'll be over a decade at this rate. Seriously.
As far as emotional pay off, that is a big ol' can of worms. I mean, I love to write. I honestly do. I still fall in love with my stories and my characters, and there is something very rewarding about a reader feeling the same way. But at the same time, I did have a nervous breakdown that was a direct result of trying to publish, and it exacerbates my anxiety like nothing else I've ever come in contact with. I know so many writers struggling with anxiety or depression it's not funny. Like, really not funny—it scares me.
When it comes down to it, no, I don't think I get as much from writing as I put into it. Yet I want to keep writing and I can't imagine doing anything else. I seriously have no idea how that works, but I may be a masochist. The question I've been asking myself a lot lately is this:
Does it have to be worth it?
I'm starting to see that maybe it doesn't have to be. At least not in the traditional senses. I think there's a lot to be said about doing something hard, not giving up, and pushing yourself to grow. Regardless of whether or not the activity will "pay off." Maybe I give more to publishing than I'll ever get back, but somehow I love it all the same.
And I think most authors will tell you the same thing. Yes, the business is hard as hell, but they still do it. Because writing never stops being a labor of love. Sacrifice is part of that. I don't know where I'll be in another few years, except for the fact that I'll probably still be trying to write and publish stories. Maybe I'll still be selling "not up to expectations," maybe not. The truth of the matter is, "not meeting expectations" hasn't stopped me yet, and it probably never will.
Life on the midlist? I think more than anything, it's the life of a fighter.
*puts on luchador mask*
I'm still standing. Bring it.