I’ve been keeping up with AuthorTube for over a year now, and while I’m not quite as enthralled with it as I once was, it still offers valuable resources. I’ve made quite a few mistakes with my debut novel, but I’m thankful to have had access to the experiences of other authors (traditionally published and self-published) and have gotten to learn what to do and what’s probably not a good idea.
One of the first AuthorTubers I came across was Alexa Donne, and her ‘Harsh Writing Advice’ video. There were a lot of expectations I had as a new writer, and that video was a good dose of reality. It made me realize that my writing wasn’t ready, and traditional publishing probably wasn’t the avenue I wanted to take.
Below I’ll discuss my opinions on the latest video she released, and if you haven’t checked out Alexa Donne’s channel, you should. While her videos run kind of long and she’s rather chatty, she has a great YouTube personality and a lot of really useful advice, considering she is a traditionally published author. She’s been through the ringer, and she offers advice from someone with actual knowledge of how the publishing industry works.
Some of the topics she brought up kind of hit close to home as I careen closer to my debut date. So here we go. Brace yourselves, this will be long:
AuthorTubers should be more realistic about every writer’s chances of making it in this business.
This has been on my mind a lot lately as I ponder over the massive amounts of time and money I’ve sunk into my debut. I’ll lie awake at night and wonder if this was all a waste. Then that will devolve into thoughts of worthlessness, failure, hopelessness—you know, the usual terror that comes with any risk. I feel like a failure, and my book hasn’t even released yet, and this is partly because I’m all too aware of what my chances of success are.
Writing is thankless. It’s hard, and it’s judged harsher than any other art out there. Not only that, is at the very bottom of the list of time investments people want to make in these days of shorter attention spans. It’s a huge time investment, and if the reader invests that time in your book only to not like it in the end, you can almost guarantee they will come to review your book with a torch and pitchfork at the ready. If someone spends 20 seconds looking at art, or a few minutes listening to music, or even a couple hours watching a movie—if they didn’t like it, chances are they’ll just move on. These forms of media are popular and get a lot of reviews, so unless things really bomb, critical reviews get lost in the noise. But a new novel gets no such leeway, and since very few people are likely to read it, every negative review has devastating effects. The more time invested, the more likely someone is to be publicly critical.
Couple this with the terrible state traditional publishing is in, and a self-published author’s chances of success go down dramatically. I’m not at all unrealistic about my chances, especially since my book is very niche. Yes, more AuthorTubers should acknowledge that the average person will likely never gain success with their work. I wrote my story because I was tired of the same toxic and terrible themes in gay paranormal romance, so I wanted to appeal to people like me. I don’t know how big that market is, and I’m not sure who I will reach. However, I understand I will likely not make back my investment in this.
You don’t have to publish a book to be a good novelist.
This is something I see all the time on Twitter or sites where writers congregate. This is going to be my own unpopular opinion, but I both agree and disagree. I agree that you can write amazing things and never have them published, but I also have to question the point of it all.
Now this is where a lot of writers will jump on me and say “we write for ourselves, not for money,” and I’ve heard this same tired argument each time. I understand wanting to remain positive about failure, but every time I see that response, I can take a guess at what’s really going on in the back of that person’s mind. They want their hard work recognized. They want people to read their stories, and they want to make a living doing something they love. I think people are crippling themselves with this mindset, and I believe that if you are a talented writer, you should try to reach people with that writing while also not selling yourself short. Yes, publishing is hard and chances of making it are slim, no matter what path you take, but you should always take a shot at it.
But that’s my opinion on this matter, and everyone is going to be different. Perhaps there are people out there that truly write for the therapeutic effect writing can have, and to that I say, as long as it makes you happy, do it. However, if you’re secretly longing to become a published author, try to make it happen.
Which brings me to the next point:
Writing for the sake of writing will not help you improve.
This is an unpopular opinion I cling to. If you are not actively researching, reading, learning to self-edit, and learning the rules while you are writing, you may as well stop wasting your time if you plan on doing anything professionally. If you expect to have a chance at success with self-publishing or getting a foot in the door with traditional publishing, step out of your comfort zone and learn more about the craft.
And it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, there’s always something you can improve. I will never stop striving to improve my writing, and even looking at my debut novel, I see things wrong with it now that I didn’t when I wrote it. The next book will be better, and the next book after that will be even better than that one. That’s the progress every professional should make.
Giving books you dislike good ratings out of pity
Please do not do this. I wouldn’t want this for my book, and it would feel worse to me than just getting a bad rating with the review. If there are things you dislike about a book, put it in the review. Above, when I mentioned books being reviewed harsher than other forms of media, I didn’t mean I think readers shouldn’t be critical. If a book is polished and others really enjoyed it but you hated it, share what you hated about the book. This is because what you hate may be what someone else loves, so even negative reviews are good publicity. It also helps the book seem more ‘real.’ If I see a book or any product that has nothing but 4-5 star reviews, I get a little suspicious of the reviewers.
Now, if there are glaring issues with the book, like lack of editing, improper formatting, awkward or mechanical prose, misspelling, etc… This is negative feedback that will actually help the author improve and warn people not to spend their money on it. People who have self-published a book or are in the process of self publication tend to go easier on these types of books. I’m also guilty of having this mindset, but I also realize that the author needs to know what’s wrong with their book. You can’t charge money for unfinished work and expect glowing reviews.
Writers turn to self-publishing when they discover how hard traditional publishing is to break into, or they just aren’t good enough.
This one, for me, is actually both true and false. I actually had an agent interested in my manuscript, which was why I ultimately decided to take such a huge financial risk and self-publish. I had a story that might or might not have been marketable, but it was good enough to get one agent’s attention after 5 rejections. I didn’t expect that, and it gave me a bit more confidence. Now I don’t recommend putting a manuscript out there for agents to read for the sole purpose of deciding if it’s good enough for self publication, but that’s what I did. Does this mean that a publisher will buy it? Absolutely not. Just because an agent picks up your manuscript doesn’t mean it will actually go anywhere. When I did more research into traditional publishing, I became more and more disenchanted with it.
For one, there are too many gatekeepers, and they only follow the market. This is a business, after all. So there are no new themes or risky break-out successes in media these days. Publishers are floundering financially, and they need their nice safe cash cows to milk to stay afloat. There isn’t any room for risk anymore. This is kind of a chicken and egg situation. Publishers have thinner and thinner margins, but one reason may be that is they have dug the hole themselves by publishing the same stuff year after year. Readers are becoming more disinterested and bored, and it shows.
Self-publishing was a plan A for me after I read all the cons of going the traditional route. I love my story too much to allow it to be watered down or changed into something unrecognizable and safe, and I didn’t want to possibly wait years upon years for a publisher to pick it up, if they even did. I wanted to choose my own cover design and keep all my rights to my work. I also want to publish a series. All of this is impossible for a debut going the other route. Self-publishing was a lot more appealing.
With that said, when done correctly, Self-publishing is MUCH harder and much more stressful than going the traditional route. I know I’ll get a lot of hate for this, but hear me out. You don’t have nannies holding your hand through this, telling you how to steer your story. You don’t get free access to multiple editors with years of experience. You don’t have people choosing your cover design for you or the format of your manuscript. You don’t have easy access to editorial reviews, awards, nominations, brick and mortar shelf space or access to successful published authors for headline blurbs to help with marketing. You don’t have a recognizable logo attached to your book to make readers comfortable in investing their time reading. You have NONE of that with self-publishing. It’s all on you.
Yes, it is hard to get past the gatekeepers, but aside from writing and submitting more manuscripts, there’s not really that much you need to do or decide on. Aside from marketing and writing the manuscript, all the other work to give your book the best chance to succeed is done for you. Yeah, you’ll have to do a lot of rewriting and revising, but you have to do the same thing if you’re self-publishing ON TOP OF everything else. I rewrote my book 3 times and revised more than I can count, and IT DOESN’T STOP AFTER THAT.
The amount of stress I’m under right now is real. I’m not a self-published author that slaps a first draft up on Amazon, Wattpad-style and calls myself a published writer. Everything I’ve done was to make my book as close to traditionally published quality as I could at my current skill level. This meant relying on tons of beta readers, paying thousands of dollars for developmental editing and copyediting, making my own decisions on what stays and what goes. On top of actually writing and polishing the book, the formatting was all on me. I had to learn how to use InDesign, staying up late after work to get my manuscript looking decent while proof-reading the entire novel multiple times, catching mistakes the editor didn’t catch. I had to pay around $600 for my book cover and promotional art while working with an artist to get everything the way I wanted. I had to spend $300 on ISBNs, and over $100 just to get all formats on IngramSpark (paying for any revisions I missed). I made decisions that will either help or hinder me in the market with no professionals guiding me. There are YouTube and blogs to help me learn. And after all that, I still have to figure out how I’m going to market all of this long after my publication date, deciding on how much I want to spend on that. This is the only money traditionally published authors have to worry about spending.
So, while self-publishing seems easy to someone who has never done it, I can say with experience that nothing is further from the truth.
The quality of self-published books is garbage
I wrote a blog entry about this, so if you want to know my opinions on this, check it out.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and they manifest themselves as popular or unpopular opinions. These were just a few I wanted to mention, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my future as a writer lately. Regardless of how you feel about the industry, if writing is something you love to do, reach for it and keep trying. If you want to self-publish, do your research and try to understand the actual work that goes into this if you want any shot at all of success. If you want to traditionally publish, you’re going to need a lot of resilience and patience. You may even have to sacrifice the integrity of your book to get through the wall of no’s. Both are going to be a time and money investment, and you can’t just quit your day job to dive head-first into it.
Be prepared to give up a lot of your free time if you want your shot. Be prepared to accept some harsh truths about your writing and the publishing industry. Don’t have delusions of break-out success, but also don’t be overly pessimistic (I know this is hard). Keep writing the stories YOU want to read because even if it’s niche, there is an audience starving for a well-written story that fits. Put in the work, and do the best you can.