Standards Within the Publishing Industry – Why I Will Never Go Trad

Every success story hides an army of failures behind it, though, and that’s the more troubling heart of it all.

For most authors, the ultimate dream is to be recognized by one of the Big Five (now Big Four) publishing houses and to see your name on the cover of a book in a book store. It’s exhilarating to think about, isn’t it? But then, as you get older, this dream loses its sheen somewhat. You see the kinds of books that get released. You learn the real goings-on of the industry. Year by year, this ever-shifting knowledge gnaws at you. It depresses you.

Personally, I grew up hearing the supposedly-motivational speeches. J. K. Rowling and her series that molded a generation. Stephen King and his horror novel empire. Every success story hides an army of failures behind it, though, and that’s the more troubling heart of it all.

I think the first real chip in my writing dreams happened in my youth. In my state, a teenage writer got famous for being published at 16. At least, I think that’s how old she was. All I mostly remember is my mother calling me to watch an interview with her on the news while I got ready for school. And I’ll admit, seeing a woman just a couple of years older than me, doing the thing I already dreamed of doing, was incredibly exciting. If she could do it, surely I could, right?

In our mutual excitement, my mother bought me a copy of her book and I rushed to read it. Afterwards, she would write a review in my stead on the Amazon page.

Unfortunately for all of us, that book was… quite a miss.

I still admired that author after the fact. A tiny part of me still does to this day. To be published young is not something many achieve… but this is a topic for another time, I think.

Over the years, there have been more blows to my faith in traditional publishing. I think anyone who has spent a lot of time in online writing spaces can understand why. From recent phenomenons such as #PublishingPaidMe to the long-winded publishing timelines that have been a staple of going traditional, the lack of diversity at every single level of publishing… it’s all one big headache. And as I’ve grown older and been able to see more of this dream for what it is… the less I’ve wanted it.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be published. At this point, I have two whole publications under my belt! Clearly, it’s still a dream I’m pursuing. However, aside from the above, there are plenty of other reasons why I won’t pursue traditional publishing.

I’m a bit of a control freak, for starters. I like having the final say on the things I produce. The title of my work, how the cover comes out… when I write books, I have a specific vision in mind for them, and it’s frustrating knowing that if I went traditional, I would have to budge plenty on my vision. That’s acceptable for plenty of people–otherwise there wouldn’t be a publishing industry to speak of–but not for me.

Another reason is the sheer difficulty in being accepted in the first place. Most major publishing houses won’t take unagented manuscripts, which means you first need to cross the hurdle of acquiring an agent. There’s plenty of agents to choose from, and that means you have plenty of chances to be taken advantage of. But say you pick a good agent, and you get lucky and they decide to take you on. Now you have to have them take your work–probably after having altered to their wants–and shop around with it. And maybe you get lucky here, too, and end up with a good opportunity. That’s great for you! However, it’s not the reality. All too often, though, it becomes an eternal slog after eternal slog. That’s just not for me.

If this wasn’t enough, there’s been… interesting trends in publishing lately, both in the books and in the general writing meta. For example, the growing push for authors to market themselves online in unusual means (like Xiran Jay Zhao, who experienced astronomical popularity and are now an unwilling example in promotional discussions.) Or how TikTok has brought to life controversies such as Lightlark. The self-censorship from TikTok has even bled into real-world book summaries such as:

[Redacted] is a dark retelling of Peter and Wendy. If you like your enemies to lovers romance with hot, ruthless, morally gray love interests, you’ll enjoy [redacted]. You can expect hate kissing, fighting, bickering, and ‘touch her and I’ll unalive you’ vibes.

Summary of a book published February 2022

This is not meant to be a post of doom and gloom, however. For plenty of people, traditional publishing has been just what they needed. Some even got lucky enough to make a living from it! However, there’s plenty of reasons why it isn’t for me.

But what about you? Is going traditional something you’ll ever consider doing?

Author: draconako

Alex is a queer writer, game-maker, and mountain of incomprehensible goo living in the Pacific Northwest. When they aren’t being paid to manage insurance accounts, they’re researching whatever interests them, reading from their arsenal of books, playing video games, or spending time with their partner. They can be reached at @draconako on most of the internet or at authoralexharvey@gmail.com

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