|Lots of players and itchy trigger fingers in today's romance world.|
When people ask me how long I’ve been writing, I often answer, “All my life.” I think it’s that way for most writers; we can’t remember a time when we weren’t creating stories and putting them to paper (or screen). Writing isn’t just something we do, it’s something we are.
And yet so many of my fellow authors are experiencing a kind of existential crisis right now. After five or ten or fifteen years of professional publication—either through traditional means or self-pubbing—they are giving up. Those who went the trad route made it through the gauntlet of contests, querying, rejections, the thrill of “the call,” more rejections, winning the contract at last, cover squabbles, revisions, release day, and anxiety over sales—sometimes multiple times. Those who went the self-pub route had to find an editor, find a cover artist (or do it themselves), format the manuscript, pay for all that, pay for promo and agonize over sales—sometimes multiple times. But despite overcoming all those challenges many authors are realizing the gain is no longer worth the pain. From author after author, the publishing world is hearing, “I quit.”
You can’t blame them, really. Institutions that used to encourage newbie writers, indie authors, niche genres and slow, but steady performers are drying up like ponds on the African savannah. RWA® is eliminating the Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts after having tightened requirements for membership in its Professional Authors Network to the point that only high-performing pro authors need apply. We almost lost the most comprehensive website for SFR book listings, SFR Station, until a “retiring” SFR author stepped in to take over from its founder.
RT Reviews, a digital romance magazine that was a trusted source of reviews for SFR and other romance novels, folded without notice this summer, taking with it the RTBooklovers Con. That convention’s “replacement,” the BookLovers Con, which still focuses on romance, limited author participation in next spring’s event in New Orleans to “invited” authors only. As you might guess, those invited authors are the big names who can post the big sales numbers.
But even more discouraging is the kind of gold rush mentality that has overtaken the self-pubbing world in general, and the romance community in particular. It's common knowledge that you can use certain skeezy techniques to manipulate the sales and promo algorithms on Amazon, especially as relates to Kindle Unlimited. Scamming the system is apparently easier and a lot more profitable than actually writing decent books and trying to promote and sell them legitimately.
With the encouragement of certain “gurus” like John Konrath, who promise untold wealth via self-pubbling, and the meteoric rise of new adult erotica in romance bringing in hordes of wannabes hoping to cash in on the latest craze, self-published romance on Amazon is the Wild West right now. Gunslingers, card sharps, scalpers and carpetbaggers of all descriptions abound, and it’s damn hard to find a place at the bar with all the bullets zinging past your ear.
So, what to do? Well, there are only two ways to go. Get the hell out of Dodge. Or keep your head down and write. Me, I don’t have a choice. I’m a writer. I’ve been doing this all my life.