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  • Writer's pictureMary

To Error Is Human

This is going to be one of those awful ranting writing shop talk posts. So if you're not into that sort of thing, close this tab right now and go back to loading up your online shopping car with things you can't afford! If not, you were warned.

This week, I'm very proud to have released my latest novel, Book 10 of the ongoing Fortune's Fool series: Born Broke, the Ainsley Ashcroft story.

Yes, Ainsley Ashcroft, the hunter princess Simon O' Shaughnessy loves to hate (and maybe you do as well) finally has her own book.

So this should have been a great week for me. A week I've been waiting for for months and months, as I've read and reread and reedited the text a terrifying number of times until my contacts are about to pop out of my eyeballs.

But the very first day the book was live on Amazon, when reviewing my online sales, I discovered that someone had bought and returned the previous 9 books of my series, all within the Amazon 7-day window for returns. In other words, I had a complete sale of my entire series a week ago, and just as the return window closed, the entire series was returned, making my net profit zero for all nine.

Now, I want to stress this isn't a Kindle Unlimited borrowing and return thing-I get paid as an author for every page people read! Rather, it's a trend, an online "hack" for people who are reading eBooks and returning them, essentially meaning authors get zero royalties. As someone who has always striven to make her eBooks as affordable as possible, as well as offering them through KU-despite knowing about this trend-to see someone do this was gutting on the day of my newest release.

Now it's not that people haven't returned books they have read before, long before eBooks existed. But at least there was a challenge involved--reading the book without cracking the spine. Now people can relax in the bathtub with a Kindle, spill spaghetti sauce all over the wipeable device, and return it, so long as they read quickly enough.

I certainly understand accidentally clicking and unclicking--I have no problem if people return a purchase genuinely made in error, but when an entire series is purchased and returned precisely within the return window, I admit I'm a bit dubious.

A question I often get asked is how much I make as an author. I don't feel comfortable sharing my entire financial statements online, frankly, but I will say I do make far more than the $500 average profits often quoted as typical of a self-published author (this figure is often smugly quoted to me by traditionally published authors who stress they'd never lower themselves to self-publishing) but I'm not making close to a living at it, even by the standards of a low-cost-of-living-area (which I alas do not live in).

I bring this up, because it's times like this I question my sanity at moving forward with writing. I am immensely grateful for self-publishing. It has saved my life and lifted me up from depression, and also made me the writer I am today (as have my readers). Something that I don't think the "self-publishing is a backwater" crowd realizes is the immense benefits of consciously writing for a particular audience. Publishing has made me a better writer. Of course, there is value just journaling for pleasure, but it's the difference between shooting hoops in your backyard by yourself versus playing a real game. Someone who just shoots hoops may gain some personal athletic benefit, but to become a better player, ultimately that talent must be tested against others on the court of competition. Publishing has sharpened my eye as an editor and disciplined me.

That being said, being a one-woman publishing house has its downsides. I know I could never have found a publisher willing to publish queer horse books for adults, starring a sweary gay male protagonist with a penchant for an obscure equestrian sport, fast Thoroughbreds, and The Killers. I am glad to have found my people online.

But I've also found that marketing myself and making myself available to others has resulted in well, a bit too much informality. It's rough publishing a book, without the support of a publishing house or-to be honest, much family support-to turn to, and then to get very well-intentioned and friendly annotated emails right away with lists of every possible typo, a description of how they'd have written the book, even friendly offers to proofread.

Oh, and there are and there's going to be typos in this text when I'm done with this blog post, because The Law of Irony dictates that a blog post about typos WILL have many typos.

My sales frankly are not so great that I can afford to do a round robin with all my readers, offering free copies to proofread, getting everything back, incorporating all the edits, and then publishing. Also, I'm not a big fan of "writing by committee" (I hope no one is hurt by my saying this). If self-publishing offers me one luxury denied to the traditionally published, it's being able to bring my characters to life in the way I wish. Maybe I'm paradoxically old-fashioned in this, and eventually every text will just be a gigantic Google doc that everyone can edit like Wikipedia and everyone will be happy, but until then, Ainsley and Simon and the whole crew will be guided by me alone, and I hope all of my readers are willing to follow along.

Still, I've already started Book 11, so maybe I'm a glutton for self-punishment? I'm beginning to see more queer books even by the traditionally published (with little thanks to the self-published or fanfic who paved the way, of course), so maybe that will nudge me out of the biz, too. Much of the freelance work I've used over the years to support myself over the years has dried up, either to increased online competition driving down prices (I've been doing this for more than 20 years) or AI (to refer back to my original post). It's especially galling to know that actual fiction writers are apparently using AI to write books, probably making a higher profit than I am, with apparently nary a peep from their readers. Or to be told that yes, while my copy is certainly more engaging than a robot, unlike a robot, I'm not willing to entirely work for free.

Anyway, I'm doing the best I can. I'm very grateful for everyone who has read or will read Born Broke, added it to Goodreads, or even just read this blog post to this point. However, I must confess that I'm at the point where I'd never advise anyone to study writing or even to attempt to write a book, unless it's to check something off heir bucket list. And I assure you, whether you write 14 as I have or 1, you'll get the same bland reassurance from some, "no matter what, writing a book is a big accomplishment," if you make a peep about profits or professionalism. And that never feels good.

Like my most recent main character, I'm feeling a bit broken myself, and although I've always stressed the need for emotional distance between author and character, maybe I have become my characters in the end. Or they were never as far from myself as I thought.

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