Thursday, January 24, 2019

No Bragging Rights

Our theme this month is to brag about what we’ve accomplished in 2018. This is a hard one for me, because I don’t think I’ve accomplished much at all, at least in my writing. I started two books and finished neither. I've talked to fellow writers, listened to what they’re saying on social media, and find that many of us are in the same position. Sales have tanked for all but the star authors whose followers will buy their new books, no matter what.


The main branch of my city’s public library had a few special evenings with some of those star writers. Writers with top agents and big publishers who will kick in the necessary funds to send these bestselling authors on tours to different cities to plug their newest book. In all three cases, the publishers donated a hardcover or paperback to the attendees. Sandra Brown, a charming raconteur and top-selling romantic suspense author, kept us entertained for at least ninety minutes and generously signed books to the long line waiting. So did Karin Slaughter, a witty and approachable author of dark thrillers. She kept the audience laughing. The third author, Kristina McMorris, a new name to me, was equally entertaining.

So why am I telling you this?

Small press and indie authors like myself can’t really compete in the big time these days. Even some authors with big publishers who aren’t top producers have to foot some or all of their expenses to get their names out there, and more than likely their sales don’t make up for their expenses. One friend paid for a promotional consultant that took most of the profits she got from the promotion.

Conventions? Another way to connect, but it’s a drain on your purse to travel from one venue to another to schmooze with your fellow writers and become more than a face they know from writers’ organizations, Facebook, or Twitter.

If writers are lucky, they’re published by one of Amazon’s imprints, but that takes an agent because they don’t take open submissions. Being an Amazon author gets them promotion from their vast audience and gives exposure that only the famous authors get. I see names I don’t recognize with a thousand reviews, and sure enough, they’re an Amazon author with Thomas & Mercer, Union Lake, Montlake Romance, et al. I was lucky enough to win a Kindle Scout contract hoping I would get the same exposure, but that was not the case. That program has been discontinued. Some authors did better than others. I wasn’t one of them.

Not to criticize Amazon. They gave people like me the opportunity to publish their books in the first place when no one else would. What worked in the beginning of this decade―free and discounted books―turned into a monster that ate us all up with―wait for it―free and discounted books. Readers, our bread and butter, now have so many books on their ereaders that they don’t need to purchase anything for years to come. I am guilty of this myself.

I know many authors who are announcing that they’re putting their energies elsewhere other than writing novels. It takes many months, sometimes a year or more, to write a novel, and seeing sales dwindle to almost nothing is more than depressing. There are hundreds of good books out there that readers will never find. Awards seem to go to the same dozen or so authors with a new one maybe sneaking in every award season. Success in the industry is the brass ring, and without a good agent to guide a career, a supportive publisher to stand behind you (as long as you sell), and some personal finances to use for promotion and travel, writers will have to adjust to the new literary order. It’s particularly difficult for those of us far enough outside of a big city area to benefit from the interaction.

There was a time when I made good money writing, but as sales plummet, I am hearing less of writers saying things like, “I can’t not write,” or “I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t write,” and more of, “I can’t keep writing for pennies.” One well-known writer I know on social media actually said this, so it isn’t just me. Everyone who works hard, and that means in all fields, likes to be remunerated for their efforts. Passion does tend to dwindle when they aren’t. Am I grateful for the love of writing and the experience I’ve had doing it? You bet. I’ve made many friends in the writing community that I cherish.

Bottom line: I have won no awards, no nominations, no honorable mentions, and though I've racked up quite a few good reviews, that only matters to me. I have a few options. Do I read a good book, go to yoga class, watch a movie, or do I take my dog for a walk? Of course, I could finish one of my works in progress, but maybe not. If I do and like what I finish, I might go the traditional route to publication, but maybe not.



Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

28 comments :

  1. Our changing world is taking a definite toll on us as writers. The population as a whole appears to have succumbed to technology's siren song, limiting their reading to short articles and cryptic messages sent via electronic devices. While it's still possible to develop and maintain a faithful following, readers don't seem to respond well to marketing techniques of the past. Staffing and advertising adjustments made by big publishing houses to keep their bottom lines in the black have resulted in less support of authors, except for the few proven moneymakers -- and even they may do some of their own marketing. This sparks the need for new approaches to reach readers and generates a serious dilemma for many of us. Your discouragement strikes a painful chord in our writing community, one that each of us may eventually have to explore. Why do we write? Will we go on telling our stories despite dwindling sales? Are we dependent on writing income to pay the rent and put food on the table? Are there ways we can support one another to increase our paying reader bases? The questions go on and on. This is a powerful and poignant article, Polly. Thank you for voicing what many of us are thinking.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. If I were younger and depended on my writing to survive, I would have moved on a couple of years ago. I'm trying not to lose the passion, but it's hard.

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  2. I can't tell you how many times I've decided to give up writing. And yet...

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    1. It gives me no pleasure that I'm not alone in my feelings. I'm just glad I don't have to live off my earnings, not that the money wouldn't be a nice cushion. I do know that I don't have the motivation I used to have, sadly.

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  3. Yes, the current market is truly discouraging, and yet I can't imagine not writing, even when all I get are the pennies. I love what I write, I get some good reviews, and I have a few very loyal fans. Is it enough? I guess it'll have to be. Thanks for putting it all on the screen for us.

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  4. Susan, I could have written your response. I love what I write, get some good reviews, have a few loyal fans. And even though I think some of my books are as good as some authors I've read who are famous, I made the choice to go indie back in 2010, and that definitely has its downsides in 2019. Would I make it now? If I could have seen into the future back then, I wouldn't.

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  5. I hear ya, Polly. The clock ticks every louder, the older I get. And I'm asking myself: what do I want to do with the minutes, hours, days, years (I hope!) that I have left? It's a very serious question. I made a living writing--but not fiction. Now the question is: what are the emotional rewards and are they enough for me? Hmmmmmm.
    Thank you for saying what so many of us are thinking...

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    1. Yes, Ann, I do think age has something to do with my feelings. At the moment, there really isn't much I want to do, but I am watching more movies and series that I haven't done in the past. More entertainment to take up some of my time.

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    2. I've been doing the same. An inexpensive (and usually satisfying) way to escape reality.

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  6. Well dang. I hate when a typo creeps in. "every louder" should be "ever louder."

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    1. I read right over it because I knew what it was supposed to say. Same reason I don't find my own typos.

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  8. You are as insightful as ever. I've had similar experiences. I noted large print books are consistent in sales (not a lot), and Kobo has picked up. I long for 2011-mid 2014 (when Amazon first introduced KDP Select). I now think of my income as a bunch of small pitchers rather than one large bucket. I enjoy your books -- keep writing!

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    1. Thanks so much, Elaine. Your compliment helps keep me in the game. I also long for those years. It was during that time that an indie could get a BookBub ad that now goes to big authors/publishers at higher prices than free or .99. We are now priced out and competing with more well-known authors. But it was a good run while it lasted.

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  9. Well Ladies, I don't know what to say. I am a new author of two novels (both intended to be series) in different genres. An MG Sci-Fi Fantasy and a cozy mystery that are professionally edited and ready for querying. I am also a retired entrepreneur/grandmother who has aspired, for the last 5 years, to be published. Whether I achieve that goal or not is up to me and whether or not I choose to keep my sense of humor and determination to remain happy. I chose this time-consuming activity, not with the money it might bring in mind, but the happiness it would bring my readers. Idealisitc? Perhaps. But, at this time in my life, a little idealism is fun; and if I can make some money... great! A cake isn't very good without the icing!

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    1. Do not give up your dream. No, no. You have to realize that those of us who are frustrated have been doing this for a long time and have experienced the wide swings in publishing. Go for it and have a good time doing it.

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  10. I understand all you've said. I have three more projects to do and then? I don't know.

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    1. Seems like many writers are taking stock as to what they'll do next, whether another book or a new path. I'm with you. I'd like to finish those projects I've started, but I don't know if I can or will.

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  11. Polly,

    Thank you for being so honest about this business and your part in it. I feel almost exactly as you do. I have been working very hard over the past decade with my writing and have very little to point to in return other than the satisfaction that I have numerous books published. I am almost at the end of my contract with a small publisher. Because my series has not sold well, my agent tells me selling another series from me would be difficult. Iv'e self published several series, but that's costly and the return is small. Like you, I'm not certain where to go from here given my age, but it is comforting to know that someone else feels much the same.

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    1. I appreciate your chiming in. We're not alone. I've heard from many writers who are in the same position. I wish I had the answer. I don't. I won't agonize over it though. Life is too short.

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  12. This is a really excellent and honest post. I've tried small press (2) and now have my own publishing imprint, which I suppose makes me a hybrid author. Yesterday I went to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the Wildlife Photography exhibit with a friend. It cost $28 to get in and $3 for coat check. At the coat check the checker asked if we were there for work. I said, no, I was author, and then I joked that the admission and coat check would be about a month's worth of royalties. We all laughed, but seriously, it's often true. Can it be depressing? Yes, but I'm not giving up. I have too many stories to tell. But yeah, some days it's discouraging. Don't give up, Polly. Your voice would be missed.

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    1. Thank you, Judy. I felt the same way when I went to the Telfair Museum in Savannah last Sunday, and the admission was $18 for a senior and $5 for parking. That ate up a bit of my royalties too. And it is depressing. Good for you that you have your own imprint. That's just one of the many options we have today as writers. Much success to you.

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  13. Very honest and poignant post, Polly. For years I made more money in journalism and nonfiction, and I'm considering moving away from fiction. Not sure yet, as story ideas keep popping into my head. LOL The business of writing has gotten so much harder in recent years, that I am glad I don't have to rely on my royalties in order to eat. My children will never let me starve. :-)

    To you personally, I want to say that I enjoy your books, and they are as good as, or better, than so many others out there.

    Our challenge is to figure out a way to make our good books rise to the top of the glut of millions of books available on Amazon and elsewhere. And do we have the emotional energy for all the hard work that entails. Sigh...

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    1. Oh, Maryann, thank you so much. You just made my day, which was spent as part of Local Author's Day at the Greenville, SC, Library.

      You've hit the nail on the head. How do we lift our work out of the hundreds of thousands of books on the market? What we have to do might be out of my capabilities right now, but who knows. Again, thanks for the compliment. It means a lot, especially coming from you.

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    2. It has been said that in unity there is strength. How might we unite to help one another to the top? Any ideas?

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    3. People who tweet do that. I did it for a while but thought it was like preaching to the choir. Promo gone amuck, though I have a friend who swears by it. She also has 70K tweet friends. Not my thing.

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    4. Not my thing either. I'm not on Twitter, so I don't tweet. Looking for something different.

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  14. I agree with everything that's been said in the post and the comments. While it is easier to get a book "out there" these days, having enough readers stumble across it is another kettle of fish. I don't have a magic answer or even a non-magic one. All I know is I love writing and I hope to continue until I don't love it anymore.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.