For the Daydreamers:
7 Realities of Traditional Publshing
I recently did a post for Fiction University about "7 Realities of Traditional Publishing." I've shared a snippet of it here, and I hope you'll read the full thing.
I was surprised (and relieved) by the huge response from this post. Being honest about the hard stuff is always a bit scary, but it's also something I wish I had known about ten years ago...
One of the things I wanted most when I first entered the traditional publishing world a decade ago was more behind-the-scenes glimpses. I could find a million resources on query letters or plot points, but no one talked about what it felt like to have a book perform badly. Or to have no clue what your publisher was actually doing over there in Ye Olde New York.
And as much as I wanted a book deal to be the answer to my debt, my wounded psyche, and the general solution to All My Problems...I was smart enough to know that it probably wouldn't be.
And in hindsight, I see why people don't often discuss the harder realities of publishing publicly. We all know how very lucky we are to have a book deal, and no one wants to seem ungrateful.
Plus, just as no one can fully understand the difficulties or pains of in vitro fertilization (which I have been doing for the last 1.5 years) except other women who've ridden that train, only authors with a book deal can fully understand the unique difficulties and pains of traditional publishing.
No matter how much I write about it, you won’t fully get it until you’re here.
NEVERTHELESS—and it's a big "nevertheless"—I know I would have been a lot happier and healthier if I'd been just a little bit prepared. And I have absolutely no doubt I’d have been happier and healthier to know all my experiences and feelings were NORMAL once I was on the other side.
Which is why I'm going to do my best to prepare you and/or help normalize your emotions (if you’re already there).
So here’s what I wish I had known before my book came out, and what I think it is so important to remember when you’re finding your sanity fraying:
1. You will probably not get rich.
While some advances can be pretty substantial, most are not.
Plus, once you remove the 15% from agency fees and the 30% for US taxes…Oof. You’re not left with much.
Oh, and don’t forget health insurance! Buying health insurance on your own is a beast of an expense, my friends.
(If you want to read a full breakdown of what my actual advances looked like year to year, head here.)
Plus, due to the extremely wonky and unreliable payment schedule, you won’t be getting money often…and each check will be progressively smaller than the last. (Unless you earn out your advance. But more on that in the link above.)
With the money being less than you might think and unreliable, I always—ALWAYS—tell debut authors to keep their day jobs. I regret leaving mine because once I was gone from the scientific world, it was impossible to get back in. And the writing did not sustain me as I’d naively thought it would.
2. You will probably not be a bestseller (ever).
I know, I know. It’s kinda crappy for me, a bestseller, to say this, but it is the reality. I got lucky—just like all bestsellers.
And LUCK is the key word here. I don’t care how hard you work or how good your book is, you cannot account for good luck and good timing.
Yes, having a great book and hard work helps, but they won’t guarantee anything.
I thought my first book, Something Strange & Deadly, was great. I poured all my soul into writing it and promoting it. And you know what? That didn’t make a lick of a difference in the end.
That book tanked. My career tanked. My agent and I thought I would never sell again. And quite frankly, it is a wonder that HarperCollins even finished publishing the entire series (more luck!). Most series with sales like mine would have been cancelled.
So yeah, quitting my day job was a mistake. But I didn’t know this until my book actually hit shelves 2 years after I sold it…and 2 years after I’d left academia.