A conversation between myself and a reader calling himself Network Geek in the comment section of my post about J.K. Rowling’s spending habits reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post on this topic for a long, long time and just haven’t.
Shame on me.
See, there are two dirty little secrets about the writing biz that hardly anybody in the outside world knows about or understands.
The first involves money.
The secret is, not everyone who gets their book published by a Real Publisher becomes a bestselling author who gets to stay home and write books for the rest of his/er life.
Hey, I didn’t realize it when I tried to get into this racket. And even now that I know, there’s still that heroin-like jones running through my veins whispering that the next one will be it. The next book will put me over the top.
Must be what a compulsive gambler feels like.
I’m pretty sure I lost a job in part because of this lack of perception among the general public (don’t worry, it was a job I was praying to get out of anyway). I told my immediate boss that I’d sold a book, in this case Ferman’s Devils, and she told me, “Well, you won’t want to work here much longer then, not when all of that money comes rolling in.”
I laughed and told her no, and tried to explain that for every author like Stephen King and Tom Clancy, there were a hundred – nay, a thousand – writers like me whose sales figures did not support staying home to write novels full time.
She didn’t get it. In fact, there was a fat lot of stuff she didn’t get in life – but I digress.*
This attitude is epidemic out there. When people find out I’ve published seven novels, I often hear, “So why are you still working a day job?” And in the comment conversation mentioned above, Network Geek confesses that his High School career guidance guide promised an income of $100,000 a year as a writer.
Yeah. Read it and weep, folks.
Still, we trudge on, ever hopeful.
In the meantime, things are getting worse. Better off are two friends of mine who are working on their first novels, than I am with seven published under my belt with middlin’ to downright discouraging sales figures.
See, the situation out there it becoming more and more like the music industry and Hollywood by the minute. Publishers are no longer looking for careers that can be nurtured as they once did (something I’ve long lamented in these pages). They’re looking for the next big hit – the next J.K. Rowling, whose work will become a household word and will fill their coffers with filthy lucre. The same stuff we’re looking for.
Heaven help us old warhorses with battles under our belt – battles with smug publishers who told us that their books sold themselves just because of the imprint on the label, or to put away that marketing plan, that their people had all the answers to selling their books, only to come back asking for that same plan after their efforts belly flop.
Still, there aren’t any shortcuts to hitting the New York Times Bestseller list. Yeah, the web has made a couple of exceptions, like the woman who self-published with an internet publisher and ended up getting picked up by the mainstream, or the blogger who got a huge book contract.
But where are they now?
Nope, ain’t nothing but putting hard into your craft that will bring you any reliable measure of success. Only now, you better make that first novel now as crafted and wizened as your tenth before you fling it out there.
Given this miserable state of affairs, why do we even bother to keep writing? Well, there’s that pathetic the-next-one-is-going-to-do-it optimism that still sparks inside of each one of us.**
Mostly, I think it’s the fact that we’ll go nuts if we stop writing. Over the years it’s become such a part of us that we’d sooner lose a limb than quit writing. And for most of us, writing is worse than nicotine. Yeah, quitting writing is easy. I’ve done it dozens of times. Seriously.
So that’s the the dirty little secret. If you still want to give it a go, then give it a go. I truly wish you the best. And know that once you start putting words to paper and knowing the pleasure of creating your own little universe, there’s a good chance it’ll get its hooks into you, whether you find success on the bestseller lists or not.
And that’s the other dirty little secret about writing.
Meet me tonight
Fifteen miles high
Nothing but the sky
Shining in your eyes
(via iTunes shuffle play)
* Oh what the heck, I’m going to digress anyway. This was the same woman who became jealous over the fact that a colleague and I would talk movies all of the time. One day she came in and bragged, “I was at the store last night and bought some movies!” What did you get, I asked, wanting to be polite. She named off a couple of titles that glazed my eyes over, and then she said, “Oh, and I got that movie about the Jewish people.” What movie about the Jewish people is that?, I asked. And she said, proudly, “The Silence of the Lambs.” I then told her, as politely as I could, to take the movie back unopened and get something else, without going into any detail. Considering the way she treated me, I’m thinking now that maybe I shouldn’t have. Christian compassion just got the best of me.
** Or most of us. I’ve pretty much gotten fed up with it all and am working on plays and writing songs at this point. But hey, maybe if I finished that edit of And that’s the end of the news…