This post, by Chuck Wendig, originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 1/22/13. Note that it contains strong language.
1. This Industry Is Alarmingly Subjective
Despite the promises of certain snake oil salesmen offering to sell you a magical unguent that — once slathered upon your inflamed nethers — will assure that your book gets published, no actual formula for success exists. If it did, a book would go out into the world and either fail utterly or succeed completely. All editors would want to take it to acquisitions. All readers would snap it up from bookshelves both real and digital with the greedy hands of a selfish toddler. But it ain’t like that, slick. One editor may like it. Another will love it. Three more will hate it. The audience will run hot or cold on it for reasons you can neither control nor discern. This is an industry based on the whims of people, and people are notoriously fucking loopy.
2. One Big Collective Shrug
More to the point, just as the industry starts first with opinion, it ends on what is essentially guesswork. It’s not so blind and fumbling that industry insiders gather in a darkened room to examine the cooling entrails of New York City pigeons, but just the same, nobody really knows what’s going to work and what’s not. Their guesses are educated, but I suspect that nobody anticipated that 50 Shades of Grey was going to be as big as it was — that must’ve been like finding out your Fart Noise smartphone app sold a bajillion copies overnight. They don’t have a robot they consult who tells them: BEEP BOOP BEEP THIS YEAR EROTIC FANFICTION IS THE SMART MONEY BZZT ZING. ALWAYS BET ON BONDAGE. BING!
3. They May Like Your Book… And Still Not Buy It
Trust me on this one, you can get a ton of editors who love your book who won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. That’s disconcerting at first, because you think, “Well, you’re an editor, this is your job, you are in theory a tastemaker for the publisher, and here you’re telling me you love the book but wouldn’t buy it with another publisher’s money.” You’d almost rather they just send you a napkin with FUCK NO written on it. But then you realize…
4. It’s All About Cash Money, Muthafuckas!
At the very end of the day, publishing is an industry. That editor gets a paycheck. Everybody there gets a paycheck.When a book does well? Folks get paid, keep their job, maybe even get raises. Books do shittily, people get paid, but no raises, and some poor bastards will be punted out onto the sidewalk. It’s overly cynical to suggest that people in publishing don’t love their jobs. Generally, they do. Most folks I know inside that industry do this because they love books, not because they want to be rich. But despite what some politicians will tell you, companies are not people. And companies like money. Oh, and at the end of the day? Self-publishing is about money, too. Success is marked by books that sell well, not by books that were “really good but nobody read them.” Art must operate within a realm of financial sufficiency.
5. About A Billion Books Are Released Every Week
As I write this sentence, 50,000 more books will be released into the world like a herd of stampeding cats. By now, I think the books are actually writing other books in some self-replicating biblio-orgy of books begetting books begetting books. All in a big-ass mash-up of ideas and genres and marketing categories (MIDDLE GRADE SELF-HELP SCI-FI COOKBOOKS will be all the rage in 2014). Between the publishing industry and self-publishing, I think more books are born into the world than actual people (and just wait till one day the books become sentient — man, forget SkyNet, I wanna know what kind of Terminators Amazon is probably already building). Your book is sapling in a very big, very dense forest.