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.
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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.