Thursday, July 17, 2014
What's in Your Wallet?
I don’t know about you, but here’s what’s in mine: not much, these days. If this keeps up, I might have to start looking for a job.
Here’s the bald truth about writing fiction for a living: it’s damn tough, and there’s no guarantee you’ll make any money, or how much, or when you’ll get it. At least with a “real” job, you get a weekly paycheck. Or biweekly. Unless you’re fired or laid off. Or the company goes under and closes its doors. Or your job gets outsourced to India. All of which has happened to me over the past three decades, with depressing regularity. You can understand my reluctance to put myself through that again. Clearly I’m not very good at doing the employee thing.
So why can’t I make a living as a writer? I don’t want to say it’s because I suck at storytelling. I’m not as good as some, but I know I’m better than others. We’ve all read books we ended up throwing against a wall and wishing we’d spent the money on a decent movie instead. And yet, bad as they are, they got published. By a company that pays advances and sends physical books to brick and mortar stores, so you ended up with something to throw in the first place. I don’t recommend pitching Kindles. Way too expensive.
But before you slammed that book against the wall, before you bought it on impulse at the Kmart because you liked the cover, before some committee convinced another committee to shell out big (or at least medium-sized) bucks for this tripe, somebody had to write it. Somebody applied their butt to a chair for the weeks or months required to string 200+ pages of words together. Maybe not the best possible words, or you wouldn’t have hurled it like that. But the authors sat themselves down for however long it took to get the sucker done, then made a list of best possible markets or agents and kept sending their brainchild out until some publishing house said yes.
And that’s why they have money in their wallet and you don’t. That, and the fact you shelled out $8-$15 for their book. Twice that much if it was hardback, in which case you now have to pay to fix your wall. Think twice about chucking those bloated hardcover epics at drywall. They do damage.
Here’s what us artsy writer types sometimes have trouble grasping: writing is a business. Not just for the publishers, but for us too. When you’re a writer, you’re the whole show: boss, employee, clerical support, bookkeeper, marketing department. If you don’t show up at your desk, Cyndi from the steno pool isn’t going to cover for you. If you opt to watch TV instead of finishing a chapter, that chapter ain’t gonna get writ. It doesn’t get written, you have no product. No product, no subs, no money in your wallet. Got it now?
This is really difficult for us slow writers, who take a month to finish a page. E-publishing and self-pubbing favor the speedy. If you’re prolific, you can earn a pretty penny. If you’re slow … well, maybe you should have a job, or a spouse with a job, or be independently wealthy. You’d better have something in your wallet that’s not dependent upon words strung together.
I haven’t given up just yet. Just the thought of having to hunt for a job in the current economy is enough to get me to park my butt at the keyboard and commit 1000 words a day to the hard drive. Do that every day for a month and you’ve got a 30,000 word novella. If you picked the right 1000 words every day, somebody will pay you money for it. See how easy that is?
You don’t even have to put up with an idiot boss or annoying coworkers. You are the idiot boss and all the annoying coworkers. Didn’t know you were that versatile, did you?
Right now I’m ahead of the game: in spite of all my farting around, I managed to finish a book this year, got it out to market and had it accepted. I’m working on the edits now. If I’d been faster I could have had a couple other things finished and out working for me by now. Maybe I’ll pull a James Patterson or Tom Clancy and hire other writers with empty wallets to write my books for me. Instead of being Stephen King, I can be Donald Trump. YOU’RE FIRED! Hey, that does have a nice ring to it.