The Dark Side of Being A YA Author: Piracy, Pay, and Cancel Culture

It’s no secret that publishing a book isn’t always the most easy, nor the most glamorous process. However, recent discourse on both Twitter and Instagram have brought up a vital point: authors, especially YA authors, struggle both mentally and physically for several reasons. The issues of piracy, pay, and cancel culture quite literally control the livelihoods of countless authors.

First, let’s talk about piracy.

Piracy is, by definition according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, “the unauthorized use of another’s production, invention, or conception especially in infringement of a copyright.” It can also mean robbery on the high seas but I don’t think that applies at the moment.

Piracy is a tough topic to discuss, because you might have underprivileged areas without libraries or Internet struggling to make ends meet desperate for access to media many of us take for granted. That being said, it’s often not recognized just how severely it affects the author and the future of their work when people who do have access to libraries and make a decent income turn to piracy. YA author Sophie Gonzales, known for several YA contemporaries including Only Mostly Devastated, made a Twitter thread discussing her own personal experience seeing a tweet from a white woman on vacation claiming that it was okay to pirate Gonzales’s and several marginalized authors’s books because they were “well-off”.

This is a problem that goes far beyond piracy though.

Gonzales goes beyond her initial tweet to describe the toll being an author has taken on both her mental and physical life.

I’m making 1/4 of what I was as a pysch, but being a psych and an author at the same time was making me sick from stress and exhaustion.”

-Gonzales

She also shared that she’s cracked three teeth in her sleep from stress. Yes, three. You might be wondering: why don’t authors just get paid more? Wouldn’t that solve all these problems? And the answer is simple: no. Gonzales mentioned an important aspect that we as readers don’t usually recognize.

“What a lot of readers don’t realise is that publishing only supports authors that sell well, and they’d rather throw an author out if they’re not making great sales and bring in someone new and fresh that might sell thousands, than keep trying with an author who’s only selling okay.”

-Gonzales

At the end of the day, this often becomes a matter of selling books to keep a job, rather than selling books to make more money. Roughly a month ago, there was a big #PublishingPaidMe hashtag that went viral on Twitter. Authors self-reported their advances by genre, publisher, debut, and whether or not they were a minority. One Twitter user who goes by the handle fictograph, created a spreadsheet compiling responses.

It’s interesting to note that advances can range from $10,000 to over $150,000. Of course, that also brings in the complexities of already established readerships, and privilege as a whole. On July 18th, two authors tweeted their own experiences with how difficult obtaining advances have become when publishing a book. One is Linsey Miller, a relatively mid-list YA author, and the other is Seanan McGuire, who is of decent fame in the book community.

“The average advance in YA publishing is around 30,000.

That’s 30,000 spread across YEARS.”

-Miller

“People ask why I publish so much.

They never want to hear that it’s so I can afford to eat…I’m a solid upper midlist author who HAS won major awards, and if I shuttered my Patreon, I’d be in serious trouble.”

-McGuire

The stress of being a YA author isn’t 100% the publishing industry’s fault, though. Authors have continually shared that they are increasingly responsible for marketing their own books, meaning a larger social media presence. However, readers often get so riled up about anything an author does, says, or has written about, that the author and their books can very easily fall into the trap of cancel culture. Over on the Instagram side of things, several authors have shared their perspective on this topic. Adrienne Young, author of beloved YA books such as Fable and Sky in the Deep, has an entire highlight reel pinned to her profile where she discusses the dangers and stress of being an author, as well as ways readers can help support authors.

The reason authors don’t talk about this is terror. Complete and utter terror of that focus, that spotlight, being turned on them.”

Being a YA author means automatic connotations, especially if you’re a female. Dealing with the stress of “if this doesn’t sell well, I lose my job” on top of piracy, hate, constant marketing, and the fear that making the slightest off-putting remark could result in being “canceled” is an absolutely horrific way to live. I’m not saying that we should just allow problematic content to flourish. However, we as readers, and especially those of us who are reviewers/influencers, should always practice discernment when sharing our thoughts on books and authors. Personally, I’m hoping to see some changes in the book community in the future, whether it be acknowledgement of privilege, authors getting more financial support, or even readers/reviewers showing more responsibility for their own actions online. Please, share with me your thoughts on this topic!

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27 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Being A YA Author: Piracy, Pay, and Cancel Culture

  1. this is a great post! piracy is definitely rly bad but also lowkey we need to acknowledge that in this internet age it’s not going away anytime soon and I feel like the conversation should be more about publishers supporting their authors, especially marginalized ones, more

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is so well expressed. It can be tricky discussing these topics lately. The fact that authors make so little while book prices rise AND authors are being expected to do a majority of their own marketing is ridiculous and disheartening.

    Liked by 1 person

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