There is a whole world of the writer of which most readers are completely unaware. (That’s probably a good thing.) If they think of us authors at all, they might think we’re at swanky coctail parties or hosting charity auctions.TV shows like Castle (although I admit I love that show) don’t help.
But the reality isn’t tinsel and tiaras. I recently read this 2004 article of confessions of a semi-successful author both surprising (because she’s not been living the jet-set life even though she’s reached what most authors aspire to–The New York Times Bestseller List) and at the same time, the article came across as a little whiney. She talks about how many copies she’s sold, the advances that she got, and her struggles with agents and editors. But, I mean, come’on. She’s made a chunk of money in a profession at which most people who attempt it fail to make a brass farthing. Heck, I remember how thrilled I was at the first publisher that offered to pay me in copies for one of my stories.
A Twitter-friend posted something about this same article called Mopey-Midist-Authors where she said, “A lot’s happened since 2004, but one thing hasn’t changed. That thing is this: There are lots of writers, very few of them are published, and even fewer of those make kajillions of dollars doing what they do. (Okay, that’s three things. It’s Sunday and I don’t have to count if I don’t want to.)” Jen is right. Publishing is changing. But some authors seem more focused on the fact that huge advances are no longer the norm, publishers don’t shell out for publicity tours for most, and contracts are turning into huge grabs for the publishers. The truth is, most authors (even celebs) don’t earn out their advance, so it’s understandable that publishers no longer want to lose money on the majority of books they publish.
I think it’s all about adjusting our expectations as professional authors. Do your research. There are ways to find out sales figures for books, and know that although bestsellers sell millions of copies, a debut author will do well to sell thousands.
But you know what? So what? So, the job doesn’t pay well for 99% of those lucky enough to get accepted, published, and receive actual money. Get over it. As author BobWeinberg said:
Writers are driven. We are obsessive. We are the describers, the explainers, the comforters, the storytellers. We write not for the money, the fame, the fortune, but because it is in our blood, in our genes. We write because we have no choice. We write because if we did not, who would?
I would just add to that: We are the lucky ones.