Hi! This is a post for the insecure Writer’s Support Group, we post the first Wednesday of each month to air our writerly insecurities. Join us! Or just hop around and read our posts, and feel less alone in your own insecurities. ❤
Usually I try to keep my IWSG posts fairly short (I think it is a group rule actually) but this one will be a little longer. Sorry! I haven’t posted to this blog in almost a month, and I’ve got a few extra words to say.
So let me start at the beginning… My favorite genre, the genre I read and write in most, is Gay Romance, or m/m Romance. And in m/m, the drama level is generally higher than normal for some reason. I’ve learned to deal. It does suck me in sometimes, though! The latest drama storm has a few centers. One is about the way readers will “read and return” e-books to amazon, or pirate our work, or just demand lower prices. Overall, this sucks. But let me break down the layers of suckage:
Layer 1: Amazon lets people return a digital book, no questions asked, within 7 days of purchase. In some ways, this practice is good for me as an author. It means buying my books is a zero-risk decision. Don’t like my book? Send it back. So people can feel free to click that “buy” button without worry. The trouble is, it is SUPER easy to keep on reading for free by returning. Even if Amazon catches on and cuts you off, you can just make a new account and keep on scamming. I have very few returns, so I don’t personally have a big problem with this Amazon policy, but it does hurt some authors, and I will back them up before I back up Amazon.
Layer 2: Pirates. There always will be thieves, we can’t stop that. But book thieves are an odd breed, who somehow think they are doing us authors a favor when they steal our books. As if we get some kind of power or boost just by being read. Uh, no. I’m not Lord Voldemort, and simply saying my name (or reading my words) does not pay my mortgage. Pirates don’t help authors. That is a lie they tell themselves because they know damn well they are doing something wrong. It might help them sleep better, but it is still a lie. Yet I can’t stop pirates, I am powerless against them, so I guess I should not waste my energy worrying about them.
Layer 3: Readers want lower prices, would prefer all books be free or .99. And oh yes also they’d like books to all be over 200 pages, please, otherwise it’s not really “worth it.” I will admit I have a lot of sympathy for the price issues. As a reader I also balk at books over $5. Romance readers are THE BEST readers, and I’m not just saying that because I am one (okay maybe that’s why) but because we read a lot. Most of us can happily tear through a novel a night. And at $5 or more per book, well, that means we can easily spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year on our reading habits. That’s…nuts. So we constantly search the current free lists, subscribe to bookbub, and whine about “overpriced” books. I get it. I’m with you. BUT: I also write and self-publish, which takes a lot of time and money, and when people tell me that my art isn’t worth as much as a cup of coffee, it hurts. And it also means I have to write less, because if writing isn’t paying the bills, then more of my time has to get diverted to a job that brings in real money.
So all that is one part of the drama. Another is about an author who is really a group of authors. I guess someone noticed that an author was popping books out at a crazy pace, and those books were all making rank, and they got suspicious. It might sound distrustful or mean but I do understand their worry. With the abundance of plagiarists and scammers out there, especially (it seems) in m/m Romance, their suspicions were reasonable. (And how sad is that? 😦 ) The author responded by admitting they are actually a group of authors working together to produce books quickly, and that explained that. But it left me with an odd feeling. I don’t begrudge this author-group their success, still I don’t like what it means: that a single author’s chances of “making it” are slim. Amazon’s algorithms reward new releases and readers reward quantity. But even the most prolific of us can rarely get more than three books out in a year. How can we compete with “authors” who can put out one or two a month?
All these things devalue writing. Treating books as less valuable than almost anything else you can buy sucks. (Seriously what can you buy for $3 nowadays besides an e-book??? And how many of those things will entertain you for hours? Make you laugh, cry, think, feel??? Let me know when you think of something.) Expecting authors to be like machines, who need to pump out product at impossible rates while still interacting with readers and posting blogs and tweeting and instagramming and whatever else also sucks. These expectations, combined with Amazon’s algorithms and policies which shower the top earners with more exposure while keeping the unknowns unknown, make it a minor miracle anyone can earn even a hobby income from publishing these days.
It all leaves me wondering: what is my work worth?
Is it only worth what people will pay for it (so, basically, nothing)? Or is it priceless, as art, with an intangible value beyond dollars and cents? Is it worth your time? Is it worth mine? Is it worth less if people don’t like it, and more if my star-rating average is higher? I have no idea.
What I will say is a giant THANK YOU to those who buy, read, and review books. Not just my books, all books. You are keeping authors in business, literally. You are awesome! I love you.
I also love my fellow authors who constantly try to produce great books, who share their tips and tricks, who dive in to author/reader communities even though it can sometimes be a crazy jungle of feelings and opinions, filled with innumerable dangers. You also are awesome! Thank you for being part of my community.
I want to keep producing quality, carefully crafted books. I want to earn some money by doing that. I also want readers (and society at large) to appreciate the diverse beauty and multi-faceted influence of fiction. I wish I knew how to help these things happen. Any ideas? I’m listening.