Bitterness and Publishing

This tough-love post is a modified version of a Twitter thread I wrote a few months ago, but I think it's still relevant to a lot of us writers today. And, given how saturated the publishing industry has become, it'll probably still be relevant for many, many years to come.

Have some tea and cake and just listen for a moment :)

When you're a writer and aren't getting the results you want yet, it's easy to become bitter and start complaining that agents and publishers don't care about good writing, that all the bestsellers are crap, that it's all about marketing/celebrity status/who you know. And I mean, I get it. I have those feelings a lot, too. But it's counterproductive to fuel the bitterness by continuing to dump on popular authors, industry professionals, and bestselling books that you didn't like.

Fact is, publishing is a business. Agents and publishers need to make money. An agent could totally love your writing, but if they don't think they can sell it, they'll have to say no. And that sucks, but it's the nature of the beast. Complaining won't solve anything.

And yes, bestselling books are sometimes not very well-written. It's comforting to laugh at them and think, "I could do better than that!", but that feeling is often accompanied by bitterness toward the book and author in question. Because you don't think they deserve success.

You wonder why that book is #1 on the NYT list while you're still in the trenches. You wonder how this inferior writer got published in the first place. You wonder why so many people like this trash. And you start to blame the agents, publishers, readers, etc. But the bestseller lists are about ... wait for it ... sales. Not craft. And if a lot of people like and buy a book, then it DOES deserve a place on a bestseller list, by definition. Clearly, the reason it got published was because lots of people would buy it.

Also, I think that complaining about a book becoming a bestseller has the side effect of dumping on the thousands of people who loved it. Of course, you're allowed to express your opinion about books, but implying that all Twilight fans are dumb just seems uncalled for. Basically, I think it's fine to say, "I didn't like Twilight because of x, y, and z." However, I don't think it's particularly helpful to you or anyone else to say, "Oh my God, Twilight sucks so much. How did this dreck ever get published, let alone sell so well?"

I will add that a book's success does often depend on how much marketing it gets from its publisher -- and yeah, that sucks. But again, publishers have to make money, and they don't have unlimited cash to market everyone's books. Also, while it's true that established successful authors often get a bigger marketing push, debuts sometimes do as well. Whatever the case, it's still counterproductive to start grumbling that it's all about the marketing and not the quality (which isn't even totally true).

It's also not helpful to fall into the mindset that you need connections to get published in the first place. That's actually a lie -- in fact, the majority of successful authors had no publishing connections when they started querying, and were discovered through the slush. Grouching about how you have to know someone to get published is only going to discourage you. And it's not even true! In many other industries, connections are paramount. Not so in publishing, at least from the writer's end. You just need a good book and a little luck.

Finally, there ARE people who get book deals based off a preexisting platform (e.g. popular booktubers). It's tempting to think that these guys don't deserve a book deal because they "haven't worked for it." They waltzed into Penguin and had it handed to them on a silver platter. However, when you think about it, these guys worked SUPER hard to build their following, produce content their fans would enjoy, and create their brand. Sure, it's easier for them to get a book deal now, but nobody can say they didn't work to get to that point.

At the end of the day, I think the reason for a lot of this bitterness around publishing is that it takes the pressure off you in the short term. It's easier to believe your lack of success is someone else's fault. It's that agent's fault for rejecting your perfectly good manuscript. It's that publisher's fault for only caring about money. It's that reader's fault for having a bad taste in books. It's that influencer's fault for getting the book deal that should have been yours.

But NONE OF THIS is going to help YOU succeed. It's only going to make you angry and bitter and disillusioned with the craft you love. So let's try to let it go and focus on what we can control -- the story.

All we need is a good book and a little luck.

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