12 Things Wrong With Online Publishing (and How It Makes Writers’ Lives Harder)

It’s not all bad … but a lot of it’s pretty bad, sometimes.

I’ve worked in online publishing for long enough to both appreciate its benefits and loathe its drawbacks. I’m grateful for it — it’s because of it that I can afford to eat and work on my own projects outside normal business hours. I’d recommend the industry to anyone who wants to be a writer.

But there is nothing about it that’s “easier” than more traditional methods like working for a newspaper or selling a book with the help of a literary agent. Self-publishing, freelance writing, and the like are so common now that the same problems arise on the internet — and some unique ones, too.

1. Sometimes it feels like if you don’t stay “relevant” on social media, no one will buy/read your stuff.

2. It often prioritizes quantity over quality.

3. You don’t have to be good at writing to make money writing … which isn’t always fair for people who are good at writing.

4. People without degrees sometimes miss out, and people with degrees sometimes feel like they wasted their time.

5. It creates the false belief that “anyone can do it” but doesn’t tell you how to do the work to make it happen.

6. Ads. Ads. So many ads. People hate ads, yet they don’t want to pay money to read an article.

7. There are a lot of people who don’t want to pay writers what they’re worth — or anything at all.

8. Readers also take free content for granted and aren’t readily willing to pay creators for their hard work.

9. So sometimes writers resort to cheap methods to get clicks (think “clickbait”).

10. It’s oversaturated. Everyone is trying to do the exact same thing you are at the exact same time.

11. And many writing jobs are given to those willing or able to work for less than the average U.S. minimum wage.

12. There aren’t online support groups for struggling writers … or are there? ;)

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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11 thoughts on “12 Things Wrong With Online Publishing (and How It Makes Writers’ Lives Harder)

  1. I self published two books in the past two months using KDP and am currently trying to make a living as a writer. While I know the road is filled with other people with the same dreams and aspirations as me, I feel it is so important for me to focus on what I can control in the process. And I am learning that is simply writing everyday, improving everyday, and learning everyday. It is like starting an excercise program, if I go into it with a goal to lose 15lbs I will quit when I reach my goal, but if I go after living and being the healthiest I can be for the rest of my life, well then I will probably drop the weight and live a pretty healthy life. I can not come to the page with fear of a lack of work or readers, I have to come to the page because it is what I love to do. Thank you for the article. I love reading new information about the journey I am on.

    1. Your perspective on this is so on point! On one hand, it’s important to be aware that you’re competing with other people and that it isn’t going to be easy. On the other, though, if you spend all your time worrying about what others are doing, you won’t be able to put as much energy into your own projects. So YES — focus on you and what you need to do. This is a great reminder, even for me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. Number 2 is something that I’ve thought for a while myself, some online publications I’ve seen tend to pump out content just based on social media threads but ultimately, the articles themselves don’t really mean anything. I also agree with numbers 5 and 9 very much.

    1. Ah, I’ve definitely worked for sites like that (and have stumbled upon plenty). it’s the way a lot of places do it, but that doesn’t make it right in my opinion.

  3. I can completely relate to this it sometimes strikes me that people do not realise how hard we work and having to work on other things as well makes it tiring. But we should always stay focused.

  4. I think the distinction between traditional and online/self publishing represent a very interesting conversation piece. Either way a writer has to convince others that their writing is worth reading. The only real difference is who/how many a writer has to convince.
    In traditional publishing, the writer has to convince a few people (literary agents, publishing house staff, editors, etc.). They then vouch for the writer, giving the general public a reason to believe that this particular text is worth their time and attention.
    Self-publishing allows writers to “get published” more easily, but it shifts that essential “prove it” step entirely onto the general audience. Instead of convincing a handful of professionals, the writer has to convince many people directly.
    But at the end of the day, no matter which path a person chooses, it all comes back to finding a way to quickly earn a certain amount of trust/faith, and then making sure to deliver on it.

  5. Wow. This is so true.
    I have been paid much less so many times that I sometimes wonder if these client know the pain and process it takes to write.
    So sad.

    And I hope we get those online support groups…

  6. Hi everyone! I’ve been querying agents since January 15, 2019. I’m piling up rejections, so far 19 of them. I have a cushy job in the IT industry, so I didn’t write my book for the money. I’m simply trying to share my unique vision of the world with others. The long drawn wait, however, is killing me. Agents take months to respond and some of them don’t even bother to do so. It’s a bit frustrating. I’m seriously considering self-publishing, but I much prefer the traditional route. I’m working on my second novel, so I guess I will wait it out a bit longer. Good luck and blessings to all of you :)

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