There Are No Magic Bullets
I hate "success stories." I hate the weight loss "success stories" in magazines that make women believe their lives will improve 1000% if they lose ten pounds. I hate the "success stories" in the news of some cute kids who made big bucks on a line of cheeky t-shirts or a website their daddies made for them, as if launching an actual business did not take years of sacrifice and suffering, only to end in bankruptcy.
And, as no doubt fueled in part by my own bitterness, I especially despise success stories of authors who make ten million dollars in two weeks just by putting a single book online.
This is how the template goes:
I've had this manuscript sitting in a drawer for, like, ten years. All of the big publishers turned it down because they had no idea how to market it. But then KDP came along, and I thought, "Why not?" So I spent a half hour putting a cover together, and I got my husband to upload it for me. I didn't do any promotion or anything, but a month later I had already sold a thousand copies! Within a year I could quit my job. Now I spend more time with my kids, and I can finally write full time, and I own a small island in the Caribbean, and it's all thanks to Amazon. I love this new world of publishing!
Variations include starting out in the humble forums of smutty fan fiction, suffering the harsh rejections of blind editors who passed on brilliance, and being inundated with offers from publishers who now want to buy the stories for millions.
It's a great story. Really. I'd be happy for them if I wasn't too busy eating my sour grapes. But for every lucky duck who makes a million dollars, there are a million other ducks, who worked just as hard or harder, making goose eggs.
Writers, in general, have been chasing that magic bullet that will catapult them from poverty to international prominence for years. Before self-publishing outfits took off, that magic bullet was the big trade publisher. Authors spent years grovelling at the feet of agents and editors, checking the mailbox each day for that one letter that said, "You've made it, kid. We're interested." Now that we can bypass the middlemen and tap into the market directly from our couches, the magic bullet is Amazon. Just put your file up, sit back, and watch the numbers tick.
The fact that it doesn't actually work this way for most people doesn't stop us from clinging to the idea that it might for us. Just as writers used to be willing to defend the system of agents and editors with their lives, modern writers can be vicious about guarding the self-publishing dream. I have made the naive mistake of writing the words, "I don't really like Amazon," in a comment or two before. Hoo boy.
And the thing is, the people who get up in arms about it are the ones who are just as poor and unknown as me. We jump for joy if we see that a single person has bought our work in an entire month. Yet we believe that, somehow, some kind Amazon fairy will float on by and sprinkle enchanted dust on the cover thumbnail, and our big break is just around the corner.
Is the option of self-publishing at least better than the older system? Eh, probably. At least we have full control over our own work, even if the success of it is up to a dice roll on public opinion. We don't have to worry about unscrupulous publishers and agents enslaving us with sneaky non-compete clauses, or under-reporting sales to skim profits off the top. We can literally get our words out there within minutes, not months or even years of negotiation and coordination after we've signed the contract.
But it's still not a one-way ticket to success. I expect it to take years of masochistic devotion to my work for me to scrape together a meager following. If I'm one of the more tenacious ducks, I won't break under the stress of failure before my luck turns around. I'll have to let bad reviews and million plus rankings roll off my back for a long while.
Maybe one day I'll be a "success story" myself, and I'll frustrate thousands of other writers who suffer in obscurity. But it will be thanks to me, not PubIt or KDP or any other magic bullet.