This question came into my Facebook page earlier in the week: I am sure you are asked this question constantly, but do you have any advice for aspiring authors? i am so passionate about writing, i read often, and i hope to publish a novel one day and share my writing with others. it’s funny, i feel like saying i write constantly, because i always have ideas and stories in my head, but life is so busy that i seldom find time to write it all down! any suggestions would be very much appreciated! =]
Writers get this question a lot. It is second only to “Where do you get your ideas?”
I’m going to start my answer by posing a question: how far do you want to go with your writing?
It’s OK to recognize that you enjoy writing, that it’s important to you, and that you want to get better, but also knowing, deep down, that you’ll probably never make a living at it. But if you want to make your writing your career, if you expect it to pay your bills….
Warning: cold financial realities ahead…
….There is no nice way to say this. It is almost impossible to make a living as a writer.
Please don’t throw that tomato at me. Do not harm the messenger. I’m just saying what’s true.
I think the average advance for a novel might be up to $20,000 these days. (That is an optimistic number.) Your agent gets $3,000, and then you have to throw at least 30% of what’s left at the federal government for both halves of your Social Security and your income taxes, more if your spouse’s income or your other job boosts your tax bracket.
Let’s say it took you a year to write that novel. That means your take-home pay is around $12,5000…. for a year’s worth of work. And remember: it’s an advance against your royalties. Your book has to sell around 10,000 copies to pay your publisher back. (Last number I heard was that the average middle grade or YA novel in America sells 5000 copies a year. If I have that number wrong, someone please correct me.)
Using that average, it will take two years to earn out the advance. If the publisher hasn’t taken the book out of print, you’ll start to see royalties in Year 3. (This assumes a 10% royalty, which not every one gets. If your book mostly sells in chain stores, it will probably be subject to the deep-discount clause in your contract and you see a considerably smaller royalty.)
Of course you’re not just sitting at home, waiting for the mail to arrive with your check. You’re hard at work on the next novel. Excellent! That’s the approach that works. If you can write a solid novel every one to two years, if you can live frugally, if you can balance family and life and publicity efforts with writing, after about third or fourth novel (so Year 6-8 of this effort), you should be able to quit your day job and make a living from your writing.
There is no glamor in the writing life, no fame in the mode of Hollywood. It’s a life of quiet dedication. It’s a life of writing every single day, like we’re doing here this month. You don’t have to become a monk, or live in a cave (though that helps sometimes). But you’re probably going to have to prioritize how you spend your time in order to make a good chunk of writing time available daily.
It’s almost impossible to make a living as a singer, too, and a dancer, and an artist, and a film maker. The course of a creative life is littered with lots of crappy temp jobs. It’s nice to get paid for living your dream, but the truth is, the real benefit of an artistic life comes in the joy and excitement of the work itself, the moments that no one else can experience; when you are in the story and you are surrounded by magic.
So it’s OK to decide to have a paying job (with health insurance!) and to write on the side. In fact, many successful writers do this. They are smarter than me (and they have affordable heath insurance!) and I think about joining their ranks about once a week.
If you’re still with me, and you didn’t throw a tomato at the computer, here’s my advice:
1. Learn how to live inexpensively.
2. Focus on the quality of your writing, not the publication process.
3. Turn off the television and step away from the Internet. You’ll be shocked at how much free time you have to write if you cut back on those activites.
4. Surround yourself with all kinds of art and people who enjoy it as much as you do.
5. Make time to write every single day, if only for fifteen minutes.
Any thoughts about this? Am I being overly harsh? Am I being too optimistic? What is your experience with trying to make the writing dream your reality?
Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.
Today’s mindset: silly-creative
Today’s prompt: Today’s prompt is a riff on the Poetry Friday that so many folks enjoy. Start with an idea. I’ll give you a few to choose from in case you’re feeling stuck:
1. the love of your life
2. the battle over the whether the toilet seat should be left up or down
3. one hundred things you can put on a peanut butter sandwich
4. the presidential election
Now take your idea and shape it into a song. Feel free to borrow a tune (I cannot teach you how to write music) and turn your lyrics into something fun and loud. The style choice is yours; opera, country, scat, Broadway musical, blues, you-name-it. Write and sing!