Ugly Lies and Painful Truths

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by Gabino Iglesias

Welcome back, everyone! So by now you have decided what route is the best for you: self-publishing, indie press of whichever size and reach, or agent and a Big Four. I told you last time we were going to start transitioning to indie press stuff and other small things that apply to everyone equally. That’s why today we’re going to talk about some painful truths about publishing that you should keep in mind regardless of the path you choose. Here are some of the most important ones:

“Your book will find its audience.”

This is the biggest load of bullshit in publishing. It’s usually said by people who have no idea how publishing works and by writers who don’t sell books. There are hundreds of thousands of books published in this country every year. If yours doesn’t make noise—and by this I mean if YOU don’t make noise—your readership will be your mom, a few friends who read, and some random person who buys it because one of your good friends told them about it. You can call that finding an audience. If that’s your goal, feel free to stop reading now. If you want more people to read your work, then keep reading. No one audience will discover your book, and if they do, we’re talking about a dozen people (no, you don’t get to call yourself a “cult author” because you failed to develop a readership). Companies like Apple and Nike don’t need to advertise because they’re already known…but they still do it. They plug their stuff and tell people about new products. Authors like Roxane Gay, Stephen King, and Don Winslow don’t have to be active on social media because they’re already selling books, right? Nah, they still do it and they know that getting new readers still matters. You should do the same.

“Having a persona is being fake.”

Another dumb take, but at least this one often comes from ignorance and not willful stupidity. Yes, I said often, not always. Having a persona means that you understand the things you want to share with thousands of strangers online and the things that, for your safety and peace of mind, you’ll keep to yourself. You know the amount of shit women have to put up with, right? Well, would you call women fake for not sharing their address with the world? Yeah, I thought so. Also, remember that because you decided to be a writer/public figure it doesn’t mean your family and friends made the same decision. Maybe you don’t want to tell the world about some health issue or your religious beliefs or some family drama or your sexuality. That doesn’t make you fake or less you. A persona is deciding what parts of you are meant for public consumption and which are private. That’s it. There’s nothing fake about that, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep your family or some element of your identity or even your address or phone number out of the discussion.

“You’re a writer, not a marketer” and “Plugging your stuff just feels…ugh.”

You became a marketer the moment you decided you were going to take your writing and try to sell it to readers. Also, plugging your work is how you tell the world it exists. A writer who hates promotion is like a singer who hates their own voice. You’re a writer and the writing always comes first, but if you want to sell books, get comfortable with the idea that you’re now also a marketer. Yeah, it sucks, but so do a lot of other truths. Now get with the program and sell some books.

There are no guarantees.

There are no quotations marks around that one. They’re not there because few things are as true as that. You can work super hard and get nothing. You can hustle every damn day and never get lucky. An agent, a good advance, readings across the country, literary awards, a Netflix deal: whatever your dream is, you’ll have to hustle for it…but there are no guarantees that you’ll get it. Yeah, that sucks, but it’s no reason not to try. If you don’t try, then I can guarantee you shit won’t happen. The one thing we don’t talk about is luck. I know superb writers who are publishing with indie presses and kinda sorta making a go of it. I also know mediocre writers living in mansions and collecting fat advances. That’s life, folks, and it’s no different in publishing: luck plays a huge role. That said, luck likes to find you working, so get to it.

Writing is the alpha and the omega

Everything I’ve talked about happens because of and after the writing is done. Writing is everything. Writing always comes first. Writing is what brought you here and what will take you there regardless of where your destination is. Don’t get caught up in the marketing and forget the writing. Don’t let the hustle to sell and to develop an audience ever get in the way of writing. We’re done for today! Stay tuned. Next month will discuss the realities of indie publishers. No go write something awesome.

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