Told Ya Not to Become a Writer

Time and again, erudition stems from behaving in emulatable ways rather than from counseling a course of action. The adage, “do as I say, not as I do” has long enjoyed popularity because of this truth. Among its many applications, this understanding suits the realm of writing and publishing.
Pedagogy on writing and publishing, whether pertaining to rhetoric or to more fanciful forms of expression, is inclined to wave hands at prescriptions while simultaneously looking away from coaches’ behaviors. When all's said and done, ideals get taught, but realities get lived.
Manuscript matrons may well rant about applying correct form when making submissions. All the same, rarely do they use those exactitudes. As well, word masters might seethe over cliché plot devices despite the fact that they accept their agents’ directions to employ such balderdash. Writing professionals who tsk-tsk about their students’ overreliance on social media, often, themselves, daily update their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Further, the editing tactics that many old hands endorse in their workshops are, on a steady basis, poles apart from the strategies that they exercise when placing their own books with producers. Regularly, writing teachers’ rules show themselves to be malleable guidelines, not intractable cannons.
See, while writing instructors might advocate using boilerplate letters to peddle their goods to broadcasters, those with relationships within the industry will usually exploit their links instead of following the advice that they provide green writers; they merely send out informal emails that let “their people” know that another book of theirs is available for contract. In the same way, those trainers will forego re-pitching to their business connections if those connections are willing to roll over existent contracts to include future titles. On top of those facts, many books that were deemed “scandalous” in the past, today, won’t get published, irrespective of the name recognition of their writers because those books are seen as either manifesting plots that are too humdrum, or as featuring characters that are too bigoted. Oftentimes, what’s taught about offering books to venues and what’s done vary greatly.
In the same way, when it comes to book selling, a gap exists between recommendations based on theory and actual goings-on. Even though pros might gain readers by lecturing, i.e. by appearing in person, at local meetings, especially at those events whose themes are relevant to their books’ topics, they might correspondingly gain readers by starting a listserv, a blog, or some other international, mediated communication. Equally, on numerous occasions, established authors, those known to be able to land multi title deals, find that themselves having to change up the whys and wherefores of their touting of their merchandise because of fluctuations in the book trade, notwithstanding the fact that those reputable men and women tell their trainees to be steadfast when staging products.
In a matter of rapid months, society vacillates per technology, per taste, and so forth. Decades ago: printed books were sold via mass media campaigns, author signings were a big deal, and few book companies advertised their goods globally. In contrast, at present, authors commonly: interview remotely, sell their books not only as printed pages, but also in audio and electronic forms, and, given contemporary publishers’ dwindling presentation efforts, directly take advantage of convergent media to reach readers from all over the world.
Above and beyond, modern publicizing, while more the task of authors than of their presses, is, at the same time, more sophisticated than was yesterday’s demographically-based hyping. Women buy DIY books as readily as do men. Race, religion, ethnicity, and additional demographics, too, have become less effective indicators of sales than have real or imagined memberships in social groups.1
Basically, what once worked to sell books no longer works in the majority of situations. Namely, writing instructors’ shepherding is, now and then, behind the times. Up-to-date works every so often unexpectantly become best sellers and every so often unexpectantly tank; surviving “golden yardsticks” for writing and publishing lack utility for operating with current variables. Both the nonfiction Fire and Fury and the novel Fifty Shades of Grey for instance, experienced unexpected sales.2 On balance, the two million dollar advance, for a two-book deal, awarded to Gordon Dahlquist, cost his issuer more than eight hundred thousand in lost revenue on that deal’s first title, alone. James Frey’s one and one half million dollar advance, for a single book cost his originator more than a million in losses.3
To boot, beyond single works, entire publishing houses or arms thereof have failed for reasons that would not have tripped them up earlier. E.g., HarperStudio went bust because of the extant book market’s fickleness.4 Likewise, five short years ago, the Big Six publishing houses; Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Books, Random House, and Simon & Schuster were reduced to the Big Five when Penguin and Random House merged into Penguin Random House. The domain of books has become frighteningly instable.
Accordingly, writing hopefuls are well-advised to become conversant with the newest channels for communicating ideas and, in turn, for hawking those communications. Nevertheless, they are, at the same time, far-sighted to not discount their tutors’ good information as worthless, or to otherwise embrace any silly sorts of extreme relativism. Aspirants should continue to esteem the good judgment of experts who take time to help them. They should also involve themselves with means of writing, pitching, and selling that previously were unknown. Breaking into the writing and publishing, as a livelihood, might be “difficult,” but it’s not “impossible.” The suggestions passed on to newcomers, by their well-intended, well-informed mentors, prove valid in the majority of transversed circumstances.
As with other concerns, wanting to be an author and actually becoming an author are connected, but dissimilar endeavors. Sometimes, accomplishment is less science and more art. Sometimes, it’s all mazel. “Shouldas, couldas, wouldas” taught at universities, gleaned from writers’ forums, or elsewise grasped from enterprises meant to teach writing and publishing are good to heed, but only when wrapped in skepticism.
Whereas the uninitiated are meant to listen to authorities, nonetheless, they ought not to necessarily copy them. By incorporating seasoned authors’ analysis with their own inventiveness, untested wordsmiths might achieve their dreams. Although most novices fail to become full-time writers, a handful eventually touch the sky.
1. KJ Hannah Greenberg. “”Writing to Sell to Readers.” The Jerusalem Post. Jul. 29, 2018. Retrieved Aug. 7, 2018.
2. Simon Owens. “How surprise bestsellers strengthen Amazon’s book industry monopoly.” [sic.] The Startup. Jan 11, 2018. Retrieved Aug. 7, 2018.
3. Boris Kachka. “Have We Reached the End of Publishing as We Know It?” New York Magazine. Sep. 14, 2008. retrieved Aug. 7, 2018.
4. Choire Sicha. “Bob Miller: Harper Studio Was a Failure.” The Awl.  May 13, 2010. Retrieved Aug. 7, 2018.