I get it. The writing life is one of those mysterious things that sounds glamorous from the outside. That impression is helped along by the scores of books and movies that either show writers as Le Cirque-dining, book-touring, Penthouse-owning bestsellers…or in the case of Stephen King’s The Shining, a desperate creature just one step short of madness. You’ll be happy to know that the latter depiction is almost never true. Unfortunately, neither is the former. (I know, I’m disappointed too.)
So I’ve compiled a list of things that writers wish readers understood about how their lives and publishing itself works.
- We have a lot less input/control than you think. Yes, traditionally published authors come up with the ideas and we write the books, but publishing is still a business, so there are a lot of other people whose opinions count. The questions of which book ideas we pursue, when the book is released, or how it’s marketed is usually not left up to us. If we’re lucky (and I am), our publishers consult us and ask our opinions. But the final decisions are largely made by committee at the publishing house, not by the author.
- We’re not purposely torturing you with our release dates (see #1). Okay, I have to say this, because I’ve gotten some mean posts on my Facebook page, accusing me of dragging out the release date on Under Scottish Stars to make more money. First, this doesn’t make any sense, because I would make much more money on a book I could actually sell right now. Second, I wrote the book years ago, so it kills me to have it done but not be able to share it. And third, there are some very good reasons why the book was delayed…but they weren’t my call. Publishing is a complicated business with lots of moving parts, many people, and multiple distribution channels. Release dates are planned to give the book the best chance at succeeding. It’s one of those cases where we have to defer to the experts.
- Most of us are not rich. In fact, many of us gave up jobs that were much more lucrative to do what we love. This is why I get hot under the collar when anyone accuses an author of being greedy because they price their books above $1.99. On average, most authors make about a buck a book on a $14.99 paperback or a $9.99 e-book. Most books sell less than 10,000 copies. As you can see, the math doesn’t usually work in our favor. $10,000 seems like a lot of money until you realize most authors only write a book every nine months to a year… and it’s hard to support yourself, let alone a family, on ten to fifteen grand.
- The best way you can ensure your favorite author continues writing is to BUY THEIR BOOKS! (see #3) Sadly, a lot of authors quit writing because they have to go back to “real jobs” with steady paychecks. Others no longer get contracts because their sales figures are too low. So if you love an author’s work, support them by preordering it, sharing it, buying it for gifts! Those numbers, especially the early numbers after release, mean a lot to us. It shows us that there’s an audience for our work, and more importantly, it shows our publishers there’s an audience for our work. NOTE: If you can’t afford to buy a book new… request that your library buy it! Library sales are our bread and butter because they buy multiple copies and expose our work to new readers. No author will ever shame you for using your public library instead of buying a copy. Promise.
- We’re just regular people who worked hard and/or got lucky to do what we love to do. (see #3-4) In contrast to the image of the rich, high-society New York socialite writer, most of us have spouses, families, and plenty of undignified responsibilities. A bestseller list has never saved anyone from having to clean cat puke from the carpet in the middle of the night (though I personally think there should be some tangible, chore-related benefit). Dirty dishes still pile up in the sink; our children still tune out our voices; the red sock still gets mixed in with a load of whites. We’re just regular people like our readers, which is a) why we like to write regular people with real problems and/or b) write fantastical stories where no one ever has to fold and put away laundry.
- Reader email is pretty much the best thing ever. Don’t ever think you’re bothering us by emailing how much you liked the book or to ask questions. If you didn’t pick up the book, we wouldn’t get to do what we love! Plus, when we put a new book out, it’s kind of like laying our hearts and souls bare for the world… we hold our breath while we wait to see how it’s going to be received. Just remember, every time you leave a good review, an author gets her wings. (Isn’t that how it goes?)
So what do you think? Are there any surprises on the list? What else would you want to know about what the life of a professional writer is really like?
Tags: writer myths