#Truth: The Publishing World is Rigged

Let’s be honest—the publishing world is rigged.

After twenty years wrestling with words, agents, editors, publishers, and social media, I’m not saying this in a bitter way. Just as a matter of fact.

Much like high school, the popular, most beautiful, well-connected people are in control of what is ‘in’ or ‘out.’ It used to be that Oprah could make a book a bestseller overnight (you’re right, she still can) but now you can add Emma Roberts, Florence Welch, Emma Watson,  Reese Witherspoon, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who all have their own bookclubs, and whose picks make instant bestsellers. There are still top reviewers, features editors, etc., who have a say, but popular culture many times has a bigger one.

And how do the books get in the hands of these influencers? By the powerful publishers, of which there are five (there used to be more but over the last decade they’ve morphed together, the big fish buying up the little fish or the competitive fish). Check any bestseller list and you’ll discover that the top books are all published by one of the big five (or one of the smaller presses they have purchased and bankrolled). In this way, publishing mirrors all business, no?

So the big five have access to the big influencers and hand feed them the books they have chosen. Sometimes those books are chosen because they are truly good books, but sometimes they’ve been anointed because of a persuasive agent, a great gimmicky hook, a timely topic, a favor owed, or because their last book sold well.

A book’s success can also come down to timing and luck, especially for a writer whose book has not been sold to one of the big five but is with an independent press, one trying to buck the system (but if it finds any real success it will likely be swallowed up by the big five eventually).

I’ve learned too many times now that success at pretty much anything comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

Publishing a book with an independent press during the pandemic? Wrong place. Wrong time.

Okay, that does sound a little bitter. I’ll own that.

Look, I’m thrilled that I have been published. (Also shocked, grateful, terrified, and waiting for the legitimacy police to take it all back.)

Far from making even a modest living writing, what my writing pays for mostly is to promote my writing. Anything leftover pays the cell phone bill (which is a crazy big number), and my fees for writing associations, books, and writing conferences. My biggest monetary success, my novel Girls’ Weekend (let’s face it, sex sells), paid for my car, a used ’04 BMW convertible (that doesn’t even have an aux-in, let alone a back up camera or a decent cupholder). Beyond that? I’m just lucky to be married to a man who values the work I do managing our little farmette and attempting to manage our children.

As the final child flies from the nest (which should have happened by now if not for COVID) and we contemplate selling the farmette and moving somewhere smaller, I wonder—should I get a real job?

Writing for a living has never been harder or easier. Everyone needs content, so if you’re willing to write what other people want you to write (or re-write what they have written), there is modest work to be had, even remotely. But if the idea of that makes your eyeballs spin in their sockets, like it does mine, making a living writing what you want to write? Nearly impossible (as explained previously).

Independent presses rely on the author to do the bulk of the marketing (or for that author to hire a publicist who will run you 20-30k). Most authors cannot afford publicists and many cringe at the idea of marketing. Remember these writers are usually the shy kids who sat alone in the cafeteria or more likely took their lunch to the library. The way it typically works is that the independent press makes a little money and the author makes an even smaller amount of money, and they move on.

That’s been my story, more or less, for five books now. But the book that is coming out in January is the book that launched all of this. It’s the book I wrote seven years ago; the one that landed both of my agents. It’s been re-written and almost-sold so many times I had come to believe it is cursed.

But now, being a puppy-eyed optimist, I’ve decided to believe something different. Maybe this was the course it needed to take. Maybe it was never meant to be a YA with a big press (its original dream). And it wasn’t meant to be a cash cow for some mid-size press who does it on the back of its author.

It was meant to be my book. It’s coming out with a press that I’m pretty sure is just a dressed up vanity press, but they are handling the parts I can’t – distribution and design—in exchange they are sharing a bigger piece of the pie with me than a mid-size press would share (25% instead of 9%). Make no mistake, they are still getting a MUCH bigger piece, but I’m also going a bigger royalty percentage than I’ve gotten from any of my other publishers.

There is no advance money, though, and no publisher supplied advance copies, no social media intern to hold my hand. If this book is going to make it (or make any money), it’s on me. I have to be my publicist and marketing director and take my shot. I have to be all-in.

And I am. So, here’s what I did. I bought 100 early copies and paid more than the bookstores will have to pay for them (remember sort-of-vanity-press). I’m going to send them to any bookstagrammer, book reviewer, book blogger, or ‘cool kid’ who has a platform of any kind and is willing to share my book and their opinion of it. My goal is to get at least one book to someone in every one of the 50 states (are there 51 now? Did DC make it in yet?).

This is my marketing plan, as much as a shy kid who ate in the library can do, and I could really use your help. If you or anyone you know is a book reviewer/blogger/bookstagrammer, has a large social media following or a platform, or a loud mouth and lots of connections, I will happily send that person a copy of my upcoming book.

I plan to post a map of the US on my writer Facebook page.  As I find people in each state, I will color in the state (and do a little snoopy dance).

When the advance e-copy becomes available, I’ll add a world map and send an e-copy to any international influencer who’d like a copy too.

I figure I could lose a lot of money or finally have a best-selling book, but hopefully land somewhere closer to the latter end than the former.

I’m also putting together a launch team. If you’d like to join my launch team and help get the word out, let me know.

Now (finally!), let me tell you about my new novel:


By Cara Sue Achterberg

An examination of forgiveness in the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident.

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter—honor student, track star, and all-around good kid—despite the disapproval of her father and her small town. How could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she long ago rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband, while her daughter struggles with guilt and her own demons as she faces the consequences of an accident she doesn’t remember.

Can one careless decision alter a lifetime? A tragic, emotional, ultimately uplifting story, BLIND TURN could be anyone’s story.

Early Readers reactions:

One of the few books in recent memory I was completely unable to put down, yet still wished I could read more slowly so it would never end. Achterberg writes with a seamless combination of aching sensitivity and a page-turning urgency. Easily one of the best books of any genre I’ve read this entire year. -C.H. Armstrong, Author of Roam and The Edge of Nowhere

From its life-shattering opening on, pages will seemingly turn themselves as you seek resolution for this novel’s imperfect yet courageous characters, and for one eye-opening reason: these events could have happened to any of us. An important story about how taking responsibility for our actions—even if accidental—can turn a nightmare into rays of hope. —Kathryn Craft, award-winning author of The Far End of Happy

When the unthinkable happens, mother and daughter are forced to look deep within themselves for the truth. Achterberg takes you for a ride that you won’t forget. I loved this book. – Barbara Conrey Author of Nowhere Near Goodbye

Please do reach out if you or someone you know could be an influencer on Blind Turn’s behalf, or if you’d like to join the launch team.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.



If you’re curious about what I’m up to, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

And If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog. And if you want to know what is really happening in the animal shelters in this country, visit, Who Will Let the Dogs Out.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

My latest book was released from Pegasus books in July! Yes, I’m one of those lucky authors who had a book drop during COVID! 100 Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues is available anywhere books are sold, but if you’d like some help finding it (or want to read some lovely reviews), click here.

Author: Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and dog rescuer. I live in the darling town of Woodstock, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley with my husband and three rescue dogs (who rescue me on a daily basis). Find more information about my books, my dogs, and all my writing adventures at CaraWrites.com.

3 thoughts on “#Truth: The Publishing World is Rigged”

  1. Ah, Cara. I’m a very fine writer and that’s not only my assessment. I have prizes to prove it. People who read my books love them. I’ve had readers come to me with one of my novels held to their heart saying, “I loved this so much.”

    Last year I sold a book to a woman on a snowy day in Del Norte, Colorado. She’d attended a reading I’d done in the local museum, and wanted to read one of the books I’d talked about. We met up in front of the Del Norte library. She hopped up into my Jeep, handed me $18, and said, “I’m so happy you had one to sell me! I don’t understand our library! Your other book was so good I wanted more but they don’t have your books. I don’t understand that.” I explained that as a self-published writer, it was sheer luck if a library wanted my books. I loved that selling my book was like completing a drug deal. Famous writers don’t have THAT experience.

    One of the libraries in the San Luis Valley has all my books. The head of a local writers group stumbled upon one of them in a visit to the library and said, “I had no idea you’d written such marvelous novels!”

    Ages ago I went to a writer’s conference and arranged to pitch my first novel to agents. I’d sent the three agents to whom I was pitching synopses of Martin of Gfenn, a story about a young artist in the 13th century who has leprosy. One of these benighted women asked me if at the end my protagonist found love, married and started a family. Unfucking real. Another just sat back and told me the problems she was having with her post-adolescent son. One showed some interest and requested eda chapter by chapter outline. I sent it the next day. A month or so later I got an email saying, “Thank you for your interest in our agency yada yada.”

    I tried all this again with another novel that was more on the “public pulse.” It found two publishers. I had to choose. I chose the one that was closer and would publish sooner. He went out of business. The other publisher was no longer interested. But by then I’d already reached the point that I felt that, for me, it was more important to write the books as well as possible than it was to bust my ass trying to sell things to people whose attention was not on writing but on marketability. I’ve never been a conventional person. How would anything I wrote fit conventional expectations when I never have?

    Relaxing into this has been a very powerful thing for me. I love my books. I loved writing them. I love hearing that someone has loved reading them. I enjoy doing readings and sharing my words with people. It’s magical. I’m in it for the experience and the five or six bucks a month I make from my writing usually appear in my account just in time to keep me from being overdrawn. ❤ Amateur means "One who loves" and dilettante means "One who delights." What's better than love and delight?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so get this, as you well know. I am very tired of the publishing game, yet I keep at it in the hopes that eventually I can contribute something to our household bottom line. I’m probably crazy (you know, the definition of doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a diferent result…), but not ready to quit the game yet.

      I also write because I love to and because I love to meet readers and do the ‘writer thing’, but because of COVID, this year, a year when I have not one but two books being released, I haven’t been able to do that. It’s truly taken the fun out of it completely. I’m hopeful, though, which is probably my biggest character flaw, so I’m hoping things will be different by spring and I will get to go out and meet people and share my book. But first, I have to help this book find it’s audience and right now, the only way to do that is online. And without one of the Big 5 behind me, the only way that will happen is if I do the work. So, even though I’m still exhausted from marketing 100 Dogs & Counting, I am getting back in the game to promote Blind Turn. I owe that story too much not to.

      Although historical fiction is not really my favorite genre, I am going to track down a copy of your novel. I want to be one of your readers and hopefully, my few bucks will be the ones that keep you from being overdrawn!


      1. I think the books of mine you might like is My Everest or As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. BUT The Price is some of the history of Pennsylvania. I’d be honored if you read one.

        With one of my books I did a blog book tour and it was expensive, but I got tons of reviews and maybe sold some books. It was kind of fun.

        Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: