A newsletter hit my inbox a few days ago. The subject line? Why you’ve already failed at publishing. I looked at it, checked to be sure if I’ve read it correctly (I had!), blinked a couple of times, and thought “well that was a choice for a headline.” And then I got mad.
There are a great many ways you can go about publishing, different approaches, different methods. There are all sorts of people who want you to drop several hundred dollars (or more) on their course which will teach you all the secrets, tips, and tricks you’ll ever need to know, not to mention all the fancy programs and gadgets and whatsits. Was this some kind of backhanded inspirational message that this particular newsletter wanted to impart? Oh hell no.
I can only imagine the broken hearts, the tears, or at the very least the bad feelings, all of those “not good enough”s that bubble up during the darkest hours of writing, that this newsletter left behind. And that’s what made me mad. This business is difficult enough. Who was this person who dared tell her thousands of newsletter subscribers that they were already failing? How rude! How not helpful! I got serious “mean girls” vibes from that and I almost unsubscribed. Certainly that subject line made me lose the last few grains of salt with which I took this person’s advice. Because let’s be honest here. You can’t be all about finding wellness and writing and getting away from burnout and still tell people they failed! The two things…an image of failure and wellness… they don’t live in the same universe.
There are millions of people who say they want to write a book “some day”. Of those millions of people a significantly fewer amount will actually start. If you’ve started a book–you haven’t failed! If you’ve found something more fulfilling to do with your life than write a book–you haven’t failed!
Even fewer will finish. If you haven’t finished your book yet? You haven’t failed. If you’ve finished. You haven’t failed. Sense a theme here?
You can self-publish on a shoestring so thin you couldn’t even deep fry it and have a shoestring potato. You can spend elaborate amounts of money, more than I’ve ever spent certainly, on fancy book covers and the things you need to publish a book. You could even pay one of those predatory companies to publish your book for you. (Please remember money flows TOWARD the author, except when paying normal, ordinary business expenses.) You could submit to every agent on the planet and every publisher who accepts non-agented submissions. No matter which way you choose to do this–say it with me now–you have not failed!
No, what this person was doing was selling the same old capitalist bullshit that’s sent so many authors to stress, frustration, and burnout. Do these types of approaches work for some people? Sure they do. Do some people enjoy them? Yeah, I imagine so. We’re all different, after all. But this comes from the very same place that tells you that your book is a product, like the box of cat litter I just put in my curbside grocery pickup order. And we could debate the merits of cat litter brands (I have a lot of thoughts), just as we could different books, writing styles, genres, etc. But there’s one big difference between that box of cat litter and a book (besides the fact that my cats can’t use the book for their toilet, especially if it’s a digital one!). The cat litter is mass produced on an assembly line somewhere, the book is not.
Before I go off on a tangent about books as products and capitalist publishing paradigms, let’s return to the topic at hand–failure in publishing. Do we not reach our goals? Yeah. Do books not do as well as expected? Sadly, yes. But none of that, nor will a lack of a business plan, or lack of a marketing plan, none of that equates to failure in this business. And anyone who tells you that, well let’s just say I hold that box of cat litter in higher esteem. At least the cat litter is serving a useful purpose.