In the last handful of years, social media platforms have offered the space for published authors to open up and share about their process – from plotting to querying to how they were able to make writing their full-time career. As a frequent viewer of these story chains and tweet threads, I have come to learn a lot about what it takes to be a professional author, both traditionally and self-published. Like most careers in the entertainment industry, it takes an incredible amount of years and work. It also takes a lot of luck and privilege.
I don’t mind hard work. I know I personally struggle with seeing projects through to the end, but that’s my own distracted brain, not an aversion to doing the work. But I now have a better understanding the odds of being a successful New York Times bestselling author. And they aren’t amazing. Even for a privileged, white person like me. It’s a reality I’ve come to accept over the last few years – that I will be happier writing because I love it, rather than writing with the expectation of success and recognition.
It’s more than just the market, the career odds, or the process for me.
Over the last couple years, I’ve been grappling with the idea of my privilege and this industry. Let’s say, for a moment, I finished a manuscript to shining perfection and it’s magnificent. I start querying and get an agent. Yay me! Maybe I even get a publishing deal at one of the big publishing houses. All of this is great for me, right?
But the publishing industry is very problematic.
I’ve been thinking about who I am (a white woman) and the experience I can offer (the same as is already so widely available) and wondering if it’s something I should, morally, pursue. There are only so many chairs you can fit around this table, only so many openings, and if I got one, whose seat did I take? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, not just in regards to my dreams and personal aspirations, but in the space I take up on a day-to-day basis. What voices should be in the conversation that are not here because a seat was not offered to them? If I didn’t take this spot, would they be here instead, creating a more rich and diverse experience and allowing them to have the representation that they have to fight so hard for?
Basically speaking, I don’t want success as a writer at the expense of stealing an opportunity from a BIPOC voice. Or a member of the LGBTQIAP+ or disability community. People whose authentic stories struggle to make it mainstream.
Maybe down the road, when the industry takes the necessary actions to be self-aware and to purchase more and more diverse authors and increase marketing for marginalized or otherwise underrepresented authors and communities, my feelings will change. As the publishing industry stands now, this is something that bothers me a lot.
Anyone else? I know I’m not anywhere near the point of actually moving forward in a career in writing, but as I craft my stories, this is a topic I think about often.
Have you ever struggled with wanting to do something with your life, but not wanting to take the opportunity from someone else? What did you do in that situation? Would you go back and change your reaction? Let me know in the comments!