Publishing right now is batshit crazy, and it’s changing so quickly, I seriously doubt anybody can really keep up. When I started writing seriously with the intention of profit, the process was cruel but simple. You wrote the best book you possibly could. Then you sent it out into the world to be brutalized by strangers until you wanted to kill yourself. If you were blessed in talent, timing, and/or acquaintance, you eventually found an agent to champion your poor battered baby and hopefully get you published. By and large, you took the agent you could get who found you the publisher they could get, and you considered yourself lucky and kept your whining to yourself. The actual marketplace was considered to be a mystery beyond your ken in which you were invited to participate in only the most peripheral way. (Though if your book didn’t succeed there, it was always your fault.) I published 6.5 books in this system, and it still exists. Too many people depend on it to let it die any time soon. Even Amazon, the big giant head that’s been threatening to vanquish it for years, doesn’t really want to kill it. They don’t want to slay the dragon; they want to keep it as a pet.
When e-books became a thing for the masses instead of a novelty for geeks, a whole new world opened up for writers. Sort of. Now you could publish your own stuff without that clunky apparatus that took so long and treated you so mean. For a while, it looked like writers would take over the publishing world. If we were willing to do all the work of packaging and promotion (a viable option when it all happened in The Cloud), we didn’t have to answer to anybody but our readers. Best of all, we got to keep all the profits. This system still exists, too, of course; the mainstream media is still touting it as the brave new world. The problem is, without those profit-skimming, soul-sucking gatekeepers of mainstream publishing standing in the way, the marketplace got flooded with anything anybody could type and slap up. And prowess in packaging and marketing doesn’t necessarily equal writing talent. A whole lot of “writers” are skipping that step where you write the best book you can. Either that, or the best book they can write is a big, old, stinky turd. And in this brave new world of indie publishing, that turd carries just as much cachet and earning potential as a good writer’s polished diamond–more if the turd maker is better at marketing. And turds, by and large, sell cheap. And readers just loooove cheap. And they love to bitch about turds in reviews, too. They bitch, but they buy–if they don’t have to pay more than a dollar.
So right now, everybody–writers, agents, publishers, bloggers, marketing gurus, and Jeff Bezos–are scrambling to stabilize the process, to find a compromise that provides readers with books they actually want to read at a price they want to pay, keeps the great machine of traditional publishing adequately fed, sends Amazon’s profits up, up, up, and oh yeah, makes writing books a viable occupation for grown-ups who aren’t necessarily on anti-psychotic medication. And believe me when I tell you, that last item is last on way more lists than mine. Believe me also when I say this is the stuff that keeps me up nights wondering if it’s too late to go to law school.
Luckily while I do write to be read and I do want to make money at it, I also write because I have to. My mental health demands it. My soul is nourished by it. The construction of story is my favorite pastime and has been since I was a child. I can’t control the marketplace. I can’t predict it. Most days I barely understand it.
But I can write great books. I can pour my heart out in a story and touch a reader’s heart in turn. So while I know I have to keep trying to market and make good choices and be smarter about my work as a widget to be sold, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to lose my mind over it. I can revel in the joy of making stuff up. I can write the book I really want to write because why not? Writing to the market, for me at least, for now at least, makes no sense. In 2015, I just want to write a great book.