Continuing on from last week’s entry, I thought I’d address some major misconceptions for people who are specifically setting out to make money from writing fiction.
People are misled by the big popular books. They look at the mega-seller of the year, whether it’s a Harry Potter or a Da Vinci Code or a Twilight and that’s what they expect for their own book – and they often think it’ll be easy enough to write one to boot.
Writing is hard. Writing a publishable book is even harder. Actually getting it published is like winning the lotto (me to a friend: and maybe I’ll get published, hah hah. Friend to me: and maybe I’ll win lotto, hah hah. True, yes. Supportive, not quite).
And getting it published and then having it go on to not only out-earn its advance, if you even get one, but to sell several million copies? I don’t even have words for how rare that is. Well, OK, it’s like being hit by a meteorite.
Consider this. Crime writer (and writer on The Wire) George Pelecanos said in an interview last year in the Guardian’s Observer Magazine that he was paid $2500 for his first book and not much more for the second; for the sixth book, he got $7500. Only then did he get a two-book deal for $90,000.
So he had to write six books with low advances, and then he had to write two more to get what amounts to a yearly salary per book.
That’s eight books – eight books that sell enough to keep your publisher happy – before you can even think about quitting your day job. And most B-writers, even with lots of books out, still have to have outside work to maintain themselves. That’s why you can’t measure your success by how much you earn.
By all means, have lofty goals, aim high, reach for the stars. First-time authors hit it big sometimes. Long-time authors hit it big slightly more frequently. It does happen. But it doesn’t happen often.
And not only do most writers not ‘get rich’, it certainly isn’t ‘quick’, even putting aside the need to write many books. If you’re staring down the barrel of mortgage payments or imminent retrenchment, sitting down to write a bestseller is not going to solve things for you.
Let’s assume you are after all the next Dan Brown and that you’re a NaNoWriMo veteran and knock up your MS in a month. It still has to go through the whole submissions process (months in a queue) and, once accepted, publishing (editing, formatting, layout, proofs) process. Likely you won’t see any money from the thing for a good year or more after you’ve typed the final full stop.
I would say most authors who move on from writing as a hobby to wanting to see their work published daydream, even a little, about having a bestseller. That’s OK. And it’s OK to want it and to work towards it – it’ll impel your writing and, especially, marketing efforts.
Even optimistically expecting it to happen can be self-affirming and motivating to the personality type who thrives on eternal positive thinking. Though, having read Enough by John Naish, I think this approach is dangerous and will lead to discontent and unhappiness, personally.
But to rely on it? And to write solely for that purpose? I think most attempts at that fizzle. I don’t think it can be sustained in the face of the realities of the publishing business.
Unless you’re a celebrity already. Then it’s a Get-Richer-Quicker Scheme.