How Amazon Saved My Life
by Jessica Park
I am an author.
I still cant
get used to that title, but I suppose after having written seven
booksfive of them traditionally publishedthats
what youd call me. The funny thing is that I feel more like
a real author now that I self-publish than when I had the (supposed)
support of a publisher behind me.
How did I end
up on my own? It began when I couldnt get my first YA book,
Famous, published, despite getting stellar feedback from
editors and nearly selling the film rights to a teen pop star. I
was at a loss for what to do. I couldnt keep writing books
without selling them. What if the next thing I wrote flopped? I
took a risk, in many ways, and wrote Flat-Out
Love. It was the first book that completely came from my
heart, and it was a book that ignored all the industry rules. I
knew in the back of my head that I could self-publish it, but at
the time it seemed like that would have been an admission of defeat.
I spent months
thinking that I needed a big publisher in order to be a writer,
to legitimately carry that author title. To validate
me, and to validate Flat-Out Love. I needed a publisher to
print my books and stick a silly publishing house emblem on the
side of a hard copy. They were the only way to give my books mass
distribution, and having them back me would mean that readers would
know my book was good.
I also, apparently,
thought that I needed to be taken advantage of, paid inexcusably
poorly, and chained to idiotic pricing and covers that I had no
I was, it seems,
It turns out
that I was entirely wrong. I was missing what I really wanted. One
of the major reasons that I write is to connect with readers, not
publishers. The truth is that I couldnt care less whether
New York editors and publishers like me. I dont want to write
for them. I want to write for you. The other undeniable truth is
that readers could care less that my books arent put out by
a big publisher. They read for the content, not the publishing house
I have a lovely,
smart, powerhouse agent, who tried to sell my next book, Flat-Out
Love, to every major publishing house. She adored the story
and thought it would sell. Fourteen editors turned it down, although
each one said how strong the book was. But, editors seemingly didnt
give a crap about whether or not they liked the book. What they
did pay attention to were their totally misguided ideas about what
would and wouldnt sell. I heard two things over and over again
about my book. The first was that my story starred an eighteen-year-old
college freshman, and that age was categorically too
old for YA books and too young for adult books. It seems that one
is not allowed to write about characters between the ages of eighteen
what? Twenty-five? Because
not sure. The second thing I heard was that because my simultaneously-too-young-and-too-old
heroine was not involved with anything slightly paranormal, the
book wouldnt sell.
Did I cry over
some of these rejections? Absolutely. Did I feel inadequate, untalented,
hurt? Yes. Did I doubt my ability to craft a story that readers
could fall in love with? You bet.
And then one
day I got yet another rejection letter and instead of blaming myself
and my clear lack of creativity, I got angry. Really, really furious.
It clicked for me that I was not the idiot here. Publishing houses
were. The silly reasons that they gave me for why my book was useless
made me see very clearly how completely out of touch these houses
were with readers. I knew, I just knew, that Id written a
book with humor, heart, and meaning. Id written something
that had potential to connect with an audience. As much as I despise
having to run around announcing how brilliant I supposedly am and
whatnot, I also deeply believed in Flat-Out Love. I knew
that editors were wrong.
And I finally
understood that I wanted nothing to do with these people.
the book back from my agent and self-published it. With great relief,
I should note. I could finally admit to myself that the only thing
I had really wanted was to be told, Youre good enough.
You know who gives me that? My readers. My generous, loving, wild
pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it
comes to pricing, and if I see one more friends NY-pubbed
ebook priced at $12.99, Im going to scream. They do minimal
marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author.
Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they
fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious
moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing
in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit.
If it tanks, you get the blame.
No, thank you.
Im all set with that.
You know who
I do like, though? Amazon. Well, all online ebook sites that let
me self-publish, but Amazon is the true powerhouse right now. Say
what you want about this company, but its because of them
that I can continue writing. Its unclear to me how a big publisher
thinks that I could live on their typical payouts, and why they
think I should drop to my knees in gratitude for their deigning
to even publish my book in the first place when Ill do all
the work myself. Im not going to be grateful for that nonsense,
but I am going to be grateful as hell to Amazon.
trad-to-indie-author Barry Eisler, famous for turning down a six
figure deal from St. Martins Press to go out on his own, took a
lot of heat for having compared an authors relationship with
a big publisher to Stockholm syndrome. The truth is that its
not a bad comparison at all. Snarky, funny, and exaggerated, perhaps,
but there is more than one grain of truth there, and I just know
that authors across the country were nodding so violently that we
had collective whiplash. When writing for a publisher, you learn
to be overly thankful for every pathetic little grain of positivity
that comes your way. A disgustingly awful cover? Smile broadly and
say how gorgeous it is. Contracts arrive months after arranged?
Whip out your pen and sign with no complaints. Youre eating
Ramen noodles while they are taking all of December and January
off and while they essentially shutdown during the summer to vacation
on the Cape? Slurp your soup and be happy.
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