I read this quote in an interview Mark Coker did with Hannah Howe on Mom’s Favorite Reads that really resonated with me.
Traditional publishers judge books based on perceived commercial merit. They want to publish books that will sell. That’s how they stay in business. This means there’s a strong inclination within traditional publishing to measure a book’s worth based on sales. This leads publishers to take fewer risks on unknown authors. It leads them to publish more celebrity drivel. It causes them to reject books that serve smaller audiences. And it causes them to trade short term gains for long term losses.
As far as I’m concerned, this quote could be easily applied to indie publishers. An indie publisher is someone who publishes their own books. In my opinion, indie publishing has become traditional publishing all over again. In the indie world, sales are the big topic. The main question is, “How can I sell a book?” instead of “How can I write a good book?”
I get what Mark is saying. He’s pointing out that traditional publishing only publishes books that are going to make money. And he’s right. Back in 2009 and 2010 when I went to writer’s conferences, agents and editors of publishing houses admitted that a lot of great stories were rejected based on the fact that they couldn’t market it to a wide enough audience. They would rather take a book that was mediocre if they knew how to market it to the biggest audience possible because, at the end of the day, agents and editors needed to be paid. It wasn’t personal. It was just business.
When I look out at the current indie publishing landscape, I’m seeing the same theme all over again. “It’s not personal. It’s just business.” This is why some authors in the community have gone against their ethical beliefs. They have preached one thing for years, and suddenly, they changed course. They’re now doing things they once told other authors not to do, and they do it because of money. Then they justify their actions by saying, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”
Sometimes I miss the “good old days” of indie publishing. This was when most people looked down on self-published authors. (This was back in the 2008-2010 era.) The criticism didn’t bother me. I was publishing what I wanted, and it’s a lot easier to enjoy writing when your main concern is telling the story the way you want (rather than letting the market—aka the widest audience possible–tell you what to write). The best thing about this time period was that other authors who were indie publishing had the same mindset I did. We were doing it for the love of writing. We were excited to bypass the publishers and see our books in the world, exactly as those books were meant to be. Meanwhile, all of the writers concerned with money and respectability kept submitting to traditional publishers. Unfortunately, we’re not getting those days back any time soon, and it does make it difficult to stay focused on the passion side of writing when you’re surrounded by people telling you to treat it as a business.
I’m tired of a book’s value being measured by how much money it brings in. I’m tired of authors comparing themselves to other authors, and I’m tired of the rat race where we’re all expected to make a certain amount of money every month if we want to be seen as “equal” to those who are “important” in the indie community. A writer is one who writes. It shouldn’t matter how the book is published or how much a book makes. Each book has value.
Now, Mark does say that each book has value. One of his goals as the founder of Smashowrds is to help authors figure out how to use best marketing practices in order to get more sales. But if that’s all someone reads in the interview he did at that blog, then I think you missed the bulk of what he’s saying.
The main meat of the interview is really based on the emotional well-being of the writer. He discusses things like how to be happy, pursuing your dreams, and other things that go beyond writing. I found the overall interview to be very inspiring. The best news is that writers have control over their emotional well-being. Sales are out of a writer’s control, and to focus on something that is outside one’s control isn’t a good idea. If sales are the things we strive for, then our well-being is dependent upon other people, then we’re going to be let down. We need to focus on what we can control.
I really like what Mark says here because it helps to put a book’s value in perspective:
My view is that if your book has the potential to change one person’s life, your book is just as important as some New York Times bestseller. Even if that one person is your mom, son, daughter or future grandchild.
Many books and authors aren’t fully appreciated for their genius until long after the author is dead. Books are meant to be immortal. Books that are ahead of their time won’t sell well, but they’re no less valuable to humanity. If anything, these books are gifts to the future of humanity.
I was recently listening to a podcast from a man who’s been dead for decades, but the work he laid out during his life has had a big impact on me today, and I know others have been better off from his work, too.
It’s short-sighted to get caught up in how a book is selling. It’s easy to miss the big picture. With the digital age, books have the potential to go out into places authors don’t even think about. Who knows what impact anyone’s book can have today, tomorrow, or hundreds of years from now?
This is where I go into a spiritual tangent, so if that’s not your thing, skip the rest of the post.
When I started writing romances back in 2007, I was determined to write them in a way that glorifies God. This is why my romances are the way they are. I don’t like to be preachy. I get turned off by preachy movies and books. I like a Christian theme so long as it doesn’t derail the whole story. Over the years, I noticed some of my books lean more in the spiritual direction than others. It just depended on the characters and plot. But at the end of the day, each book I write is one I want to do according to His leading. As much as it pains me to admit, I have taken my eyes off of Him. I’ve been putting my time and attention into the material side of writing, and it’s only led to frustration. To sum up King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, chasing material things is grasping for the wind.
So I’ve made a decision. As long as God is leading me to write, I’ll write. This is regardless of whether I hit 100 romance books. This is regardless of whether I get a job. I might not be able to write as fast if I get a job, but as long as He wants me to write, I’m going to do it. At the end of the day, all that matters is what He wants.