Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Writing toll roads

Some of us spend too much time reading discussion lists instead of writing.

Mea Culpa.

So a couple of recent discussion threads on one list or another--they all run into one another after a while--bemoaned novelists' lack of market power in relationship to publishers and the sorry state of trying to make a living while writing fiction for a living. Connected to these discussions are threads concerning how certain organizations that profess to represent writers seem have deemed certain publishers acceptable (on an "approved" list) versus unacceptable (not on the organization's list).

From these threads and a recent review comes this week's blog. And yes, riding a motorcycle is in here too.

With the phrase "starving author" being redundant, we should realize that these two complaints are not the sole property of novelists: starting salaries for journalists are among the lowest in any profession, business technical writing now comes cheaply since corporations have turned to offshore writers, and (Thanks to this month's Esquire magazine for this) you can tell the dumbest actress on a movie set because she's the one sleeping with the writer. It's a well-worn bar joke, in fact, that when asked why one writes fiction, the answer is "I'm in it for the money." Every author in the house smiles wryly, then has another drink--ensuring they order what's on special. A few mutter "don't quit your day job."

Of course you're in it for the money. If you're not, you don't get to take certain deductions on your Federal Income Tax. Consult your tax adviser for details.

A few authors make good money and even fewer make big money. Most make a pittance. My last royalty check was so small, I wouldn't let it go out of the house unsupervised.

I have spent some time with accountants. Good people, but when they calculate the return on investment I receive on my writing, they shake their heads. I don't blame them--I often question my own behavior just as a recent Novelist's Boot Camp reviewer did. Now, I like this reviewer, since I like anyone who buys my book and who then gives it 4-1/2 stars. That said, the reviewer wrote (probably for free) that "[Novelist's Boot Camp] stops short of actually putting together a proposal that will sell said novel to an agent/editor who can in turn give your book true bestseller potential."

Absolutely true. And intentional. And never mind that you don't sell fiction on proposal unless you've sold a dozen manuscripts already.

It's not about the destination, it's about the ride; it's not about the sale, it's about writing the damn book.

I believe writers and authors and "creatives" in general are monetarily under-rewarded for their work. To attempt to earn one's daily bread by writing for a living is a career choice. The sad and unfair fact but fact nonetheless is that if you make the choice to do so, you are choosing a career field in which monetary rewards--the occasional headline mega-advance notwithstanding--are most often meager.

So that brings us back to why ride motorcycles and why write?

Because we can, because we must, and because we will.

1 comment:

Gwen, Publisher@Dragon Moon Press said...

I read, but don't normally comment, but here I just need to add my two cents :)

As a publisher, I too must keep the day job. Even publishing 9 books a year doesn't put food on the table. So much like starving authors, starving publishers are out there too - and we too do it because of some weird addiction. I've laughingly said I stay in it because I'm in too deep to get out, and while that's pretty close to being true, really I'm in it because of my wonderful authors.

But it still doesn't put food on the table.

This is a road we travel together. And I guess the lesson is, thank god for day jobs to support our habit.