A few days ago Abbi Glines announced she was going to publish a three book series exclusively on iBooks. This apparently did not go over well with her readers. And I get that. I understand it can be frustrating to think there might be something out there you really want and aren’t “allowed” to have. I understand superfans often invest significant time and emotional energy into reading our books, reviewing our books, recommending our books, and it’s natural they feel they should have a special relationship with their authors. One of trust and mutual admiration. One where said author doesn’t go giving cherished gifts to other friends instead of the superfans.
But here’s where more knowledge might help. Here’s where readers, no matter how devoted they may be, can’t really understand what’s gone into making a decision like the one Abbi made. Because it’s probably pretty difficult for readers to understand just how rough this business can be. A big part of any writer’s job is to put on a public face that says, “Hey, look at me! My books are selling like hot cakes, I love what I do, I’m famous, I’m successful!” And when we don’t do that we run the risk of readers thinking we’re failures OR we look like ingrates. As writers, we spend a great deal of time only showing readers the best things about ourselves, our lives, and our jobs.
And while all those good things we talk about are true—the signings are a blast, we love that new cover, the next book is so fun to write, we won that award—here’s what’s also true:
We spend huge amounts of time doing work that people tell us isn’t good enough–agents, editors, beta readers, friends, family, reviewers. We cajole, beg, entice, and come pretty damned close to bribing people to take a look at our work, only to have them take the ARCs, gift cards, swag, and Kindles, but refuse to buy any books. We work for years trying to build an audience, produce work that fits our brand and is written to the market, but still engages our passions, only to have a brand new author put out a debut book and blow us out of the water by hitting a best seller list because she cozied up to the “right” people. We exist in a world and an industry that is cutthroat, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. And, we exist in a world where most of us will never be able to support our families with our writing.
Since 2011, publishing has become increasingly difficult in terms of the logistics, the market, the competition, and the earnings. What writers don’t want to tell you is that while they quit their day job back in 2014, they had to go back to it in 2017. And while they won that very prestigious award six months ago, they only sold 150 copies of the award-winning book. They don’t tell you that even though they attended that glamorous signing event in New York City, they live in a two bedroom apartment in Ohio with three kids and a cat, and most days they have to take the bus to their job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office. What no one wants to say is we might spend a thousand dollars and nearly that many hours to get a book ready, and in release month it earns a fourth of that. Then it earns less and less each consecutive month until the only way we can get anyone to look at it at all is to put it on sale for 99cents wherein we earn a third of a penny for every copy sold.
I’m not telling you these things for pity. After all, any of us can choose to do something different at any point. Many of us have. No job is perfect, and we’re hardly putting our lives at risk or trying to broker world peace. But I do hope you can understand that when a writer like Abbi Glines decides to do an exclusive series with iBooks, she’s doing it because it has the potential to help her sell more books to more people. Plain and simple. It also has the potential to make her somewhat less dependent on a corporation (Amazon) that could make a decision, with no warning, that strips her income overnight (ask any veteran author what happened when KU was introduced. Amazon’s done it before, there’s no reason to doubt they’ll do it again). She’s doing it because this business is fucking hard, and like any writer, she is faced with constant stressors and roadblocks, and she’s looking for a way to overcome them.
Her decision is a business decision in a business that is nearly impossible to succeed at right now. And no matter how much she loves her readers and wants to do the best things for them, she can’t devote everything in her world to their preferences. She has to turn a profit, she needs to feed her kids, she can’t do this for free. None of us can. So readers, superfans, those people who we love dearly and can’t do this without, when an author makes a decision that upsets you, that isn’t in your “favor” or seems to be based on business rather than friendship, I beseech you to take a breath, remind yourself that in the end, it’s only a book, and be kind to your authors. Not all of our decisions will be perfect, whether they involve business or stories, but most of us are making them in a genuine effort to earn a wage at something we love to do. We’re all struggling to turn our passion into a profession.