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What are some of the hidden difficulties of being a writer?

Last week I chatted about a couple of the more obvious, oft-talked about difficulties that writers have in the industry. This week I want to talk about some of the more hidden, possibly insidious difficulties that writers face.

1) Reader Retention

Reader here can reference anyone from general audience to editors and publishers to even agents.

Most people write on the side rather than as a full-time gig because of spotty payment, lack of health insurance, and inability to pay bills on that level of income. This means that writing can often take a secondary or even backseat to other priorities, which can lead to a less consistent output than in other industries. Couple this with the difficulty in actually selling stories, first to agents or editors, and then to readers, there can be some lengths of time between publications. (Both of which I talked about last week.)

One of indirect results is that readers will forget you. They’ll forget your name, forget the stories, the way those stories made them feel, etc. Editors/publishing houses will then take that into consideration when deciding to buy the next book, because why buy a book that might not make as much as someone else’s?

Example: one author I know of had started a well-selling series, but then had some life difficulties. 11 years later, he tried to sell the next book in the series to the same publisher, who turned him down because of that giant gap in time would lead to less readers.

Now, most authors don’t wait 11 years to write the next book, thus that is a more extreme example. However, in publishing, despite how slow they seem, there’s a high expectation of constant and quick publications. If you’re not publishing at least 1 book a year in traditional publishing, you’re too slow. If you’re not publishing every 3-4 months as an indie author, you’re too slow.

Which makes for a frustrating conundrum because the world of publishing is incredibly slow, yet expects far more out of its authors in terms of product.

2) Plagiarism

Most people think of plagiarism in terms of school and papers and expulsion. In the publishing world, it’s about money.

There exists a horrible set of disgusting people who decide it’s better to steal someone else’s work to pass off as their own in order to make a ton of money with minimal effort. That is, they will copy published work, throw together their own book based on it and set it up for sale via online distributors. Because they can easily do this with A LOT of work, they can end up with a decent amount of money in their pocket.

But that’s not even the worst part.

The most disgusting part of this is that the distributors will sometimes claim that the plagiarist is the copyright holder and will send take-down notices and warnings to THE AUTHOR! Even when the author is a famous or successful one. Even if it’s clearly proved who wrote and published the book. So authors don’t just fight plagiarists from stealing and profiting off their work, they have to fight against distributors from pulling their legal books and blocking them.

3) Financial Annoyances

I wasn’t sure what else to call this since financial annoyances happen to everyone, but there are a few specifics that occur with writers.

Firstly, writers don’t have things like paychecks and paycheck stubs as proof of income are required for things such as loans. This can make it difficult to buy big items like cars and houses since the banks are looking for consistent income levels and writers have anything but consistent income levels.

Secondly, we have to keep track and do our own estimated taxes since there is no company doing that for us (a lot of people have this difficulty, but I wanted to add it in.) Also, there are generally a lot more income streams that need to be recorded and it’s easy forget one since not every magazine or house one works with might be completely on top of sending tax documentation.

Thirdly, if one works with traditional publishing, your money goes through the publishing house first, who then cut a check to your agent, who then cuts a check to you. This means that your money is being filtered through multiple places before it even gets to you, with very little regulation within the agenting business. There are many, many horrible stories of both publishing houses and agents scamming writers, holding author money hostage for months on end, etc. Crap that wouldn’t fly in most other industries, at least in the U.S.

Fourthly, guess what happens when a publishing house folds? You don’t get paid. They pay themselves first with the money your book earned regardless of what they owe you. If your company goes under, you lose your job. If a publishing house folds, quite often, the author is ripped off from their contractually-dued royalties because the publishing house “needs it more” despite legally binding words that state you should be paid out of that gross amount.

Fifthly, have you seen what Disney did recently? Essentially, they bought the rights to publish/use certain material (ie, Disney bought a contract, similar to how mortgages get bought and sold, etc.), and then insisted that they didn’t have to pay the author the contractually agreed upon royalty. They literally stated that they bought the rights, not the obligation to pay the author, despite the fact that they bought the entire contract. This shit is rampant in the industry and bigger companies are grossly negligent when it makes them more money in much the same way small press can be.

These are just a few of the hidden difficulties in the publishing industry, the things that are less talked about in the wider world, yet can affect writer careers in very real ways.