It takes a family…

Most of my blog posts have writers as their target audience. Not this post.  Today I’m addressing our families.

Living with a writer can be a tough job.  We’re odd creatures.  We do things that would get other people locked up—like hearing voices.  Sobbing randomly.  Plotting murder.

You, our loved ones, worry about us.  You wonder sometimes if you should stage an intervention. You have questions.  Lot of questions.  If you are wise, you have not asked them.

So–to family and friends–I invite you to find answers here.

Q: How long does it take to finish a book?

A: It takes as long as it takes.

Jordan Spieth won U.S. Junior Amateur twice (a record he shares only with Tiger Woods.) At 17, he earned a rare exemption to play in a PGA Tour championship event. This man showed serious talent from an early age!

But he didn’t become a major success story overnight. He took lessons, practiced daily, and won many amateur tournaments.  And he doesn’t take each victory for granted. Every day is another opportunity to practice, train, and win. Hard work allows Jordan Spieth to hone his natural talent into a marketable force.

Writing is like a sport.  For some it will be a sprint; for others, a marathon.  Either way, writers have to persist for as long as it takes them to “win.” Writing great books takes talent, training, and time.


Q:  What does it take for books to sell? 

A:  Selling books requires three elements:

  1. a great story,
  2. a receptive market, and
  3. magical timing.

The author controls the first element. The other two?  Not so much.

It’s estimated that only 1% of completed manuscripts are ever published.  I’m confident the other 99% of unpublished manuscripts include some amazing books. Perhaps the market isn’t ready for that risky-but-beautiful manuscript from a debut author.  It could be that I have written the best fill-in-the-trope romance ever, but no one is buying fill-in-the-trope romances any more.  Or the reason could be much simpler: the book market is just too tough and getting tougher each year.

Hot trends change.  Economies cycle.   Great writers persevere.


Q: Do you really need to find an agent?

A:  Some authors want an agent.  Some don’t.  It’s a personal choice.

Have you ever tried to sell a house?  If so, did you try For Sale By Owner, or did you sign with a real estate agent and pay the commission?

Authors have a similar choice. Since I’m not a details kind of person, I sought an agent. She takes care of the business end, so I don’t have to.  Before putting my “property” on the market, she gives me advice to improve its curb appeal.  When we’re ready to sell, she can find a larger pool of buyers than I would on my own.  Once it sells, she’ll negotiate a price and handle the contract.

My agent does what she loves—making deals.  I get to do what I love—writing books.  Authors who like the details can choose to manage both. We each follow the path that makes the most sense for us and our careers.


Q: How much money will an average book make?

A: Gross amount? Not much.

Net amount? Half of not much.

In traditional publishing, book advances can be all over the map.  A four- or five-figure deal ($2000-$10000) is perfectly respectable, especially for a new author (depending on sub-genre). But the advance amount is the gross.  How much will an author actually take home?

As an example, let’s say I receive a $5000 advance for my book.  The first 15% goes to my agent.  Next, 25% (or so) goes to Uncle Sam.  10% goes to promotional items, such as websites, book signings, and marketing materials. That’s 50%, right off the top.  My advance is down to $2500, paid in two or three installments.

Self-published books have a different set of issues. Self-pubbed authors pay production costs up front–and get higher royalty percentages downstream.  But, just like trad-pubbed books, the need to sell units and promote your stories in a crowded market can be very difficult–and the revenue hard to predict.

Even if it’s not much money at first, once an author has a happy, loyal fan base, the numbers will get better.


Q: Isn’t a ‘no’ just a ‘no’?

A: No.

Babe Ruth is one of baseball’s homerun-hitting legends.  He also led his league in strikeouts.

Rejection is an experience shared by all writers.  No one, published or not, is spared.  It comes at us from all angles: editors, agents, readers, reviewers, even friends.  Rejection is such a constant in publishing that writers view rejections as a matter of degree.

baseball game

  • A simple ‘no’ from an agent tells me nothing: Did I hit the mark? Did I miss? Hello?
  • A ‘no, but…’ includes advice to improve performance: You hit fouls ‘cause you don’t follow through.
  • The ‘no, burn this drivel’ hurts, but it’s just one person’s opinion: I got kicked out of this ballpark, but there are others I can try.
  • Then there is the ‘wonderful no’.  It’s followed by something like If it weren’t for the current market, I’d snap this up.”This time, I hit a line drive to the shortstop; next time, he won’t be in the way and my hit could drive in 3 runs.

A batter can miss the ball six out of ten times and still end up in the Hall of Fame.  For authors, rejection is just a tool to make us stronger.


Q: Why are you neglecting me?

A: I’m not neglecting you; I’m taking care of me.

You wouldn’t want me to stop writing.  Really.  The stories in my head demand to be heard. If I were to put the pen down, there would be a void in my soul too wide to fill.

Please trust me.  I can be the person you love because I write.


Q: What can I do to help?

A: So many things! Let’s negotiate.

You can take care of errands. Listen to me agonize over plot points. Beta-read stuff in which you have no interest at all.  Take vacations in places where I want to do research.  Refrain from complaining.  Be patiently sympathetic when I’m discouraged (and I will be discouraged. Often.) We can talk about what I need, and what you need, and then find ways that we can both be happy with this maddening career that has chosen me.


Q: When are you going to give up on this dream?

A: as soon as my dream appears in a bookstore; as soon as I sell my first million copies; as soon I hit the NYT Bestsellers’ list; as soon as…


Are there other burning questions family members want answered about writers or writing? Leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer. 


32 responses to “It takes a family…”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Brilliant information, Elizabeth!!

    I hope all family members of writers get a chance to see it!!

    • Julia Day says:

      Yes, and I should show it to mine, although–the invitation to ask more questions might flush out some I don’t want to answer 🙂

  2. Gwyn says:

    Loved this. So difficult to explain to non-writers how fictional characters and situations can consume your time and energy, leaving you drained and/or irritable. How they can steal your sleep and interfere with any and all other interests until they are appeased. How writing can be both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Which explains why most of us are slightly unhinged, at times. *G*

    • Julia Day says:

      So true! Characters can become family members.

      My husband and I were in a bookstore once, and we were talking about mountain biking–which a character MARK in my first book loved. A neighbor heard us talking about Mark and biking and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a son.”

      Without a pause, my husband said, ‘Yes, we do. Mark’s a great kid.”

      • Paula Huffman says:

        Your husband must be awesome, Julia! I bought Chick-fil-a cards in my characters’ names this year. One night, I left a receipt on our table that showed Griffin Palmer bought a spicy sandwich and fries, and my husband calmly said, “Oh. I see Griffin’s buying tonight.”

  3. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    EXCELLENT post, Elizabeth!
    After being in this business 10 years, so many of my family and friends just don’t get it. Or take the time to try. *sigh* Love all the analogies. Make understanding easier, for sure.

  4. I LOVE this, Beth. This is a crazy business and I’ve often wanted a primer for the care and feeding of a romance novelist. Thank you! 🙂

  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Beth this is great not only for families but answers questions newbie writers have. Thanks. 🙂

    • Julia Day says:

      You’re right. I think some of the painful parts (like how long things take or how much you might earn on average) can be unsettling when you’re new.

  6. Alyssa Henderson says:

    Wow, fantastic information. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. Thank you for the insight. I smiled and nodded throughout the whole time I was reading. There was a time when I was not so forthcoming about what I was writing because people in general and my family didn’t get what I was doing. I call their interest “the glazed eyes, deer in the headlight look syndrome”. My husband, however, never wavers from his position of being my rock, my confidant, my consultant, my biggest fan and voice of encouragement. As for the friends and rest of the family, they are slowly coming around.

    • Julia Day says:

      You are so fortunate to have your husband as your rock. I do too–but I know so many authors whose partners aren’t always so supportive.

      That’s why I often use sports metaphors with families and friends. “How hard can it be to write?” or “Why does it take so long?” Because it does! Ballerinas, painters, architects, homerun hitters–they don’t just auto-magically hit success the first time they try (at least, most don’t). It takes time.

  8. Great post, Julia.

    Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be fully understood by our families. I get the smile and “that’s nice or good” comments once in while, but behind the words and smiles I can see they really don’t recognize all the work and dedication it took for me to come as far as I have. Sadly art is still considered just art.

  9. Heather McCollum says:

    Great post, Julia/Beth!
    I always tell people who want to be writers – do it because you must to stay sane. Do it because you love it. Do it because it fills your soul. Don’t ever do it just for money or fame. The hill is way to steep if that’s the reason you want to be a writer.

    One of the most irritating questions/comments I’ve received was not from a family member but a neighbor. “Maybe I’ll just quit my job, stay home, and write a book. That’ll be easier than what I’m doing now.” (No, she wasn’t a rocket scientist or hostage negotiator). My answer to that is always a pleasant smile, nod and “Sure, go ahead. Good luck with that.” Bless her soul.

    • Julia Day says:

      “Easy” is a red flag. Like you said… “Bless your soul. Let me know how that goes for you.”

      For me, it hasn’t gotten easier either. Some things come more smoothly with practice. But for everything that seems like “finally, I got this”, something new pops up in its place that is HARD. Like a skillset whack-a-mole.

  10. Tamara Hogan says:

    Julia/Beth, answering questions from people who aren’t familiar with the publishing industry poses its own set of challenges, doesn’t it?

    At the coffee shop where I write, there’s a sweetheart of a customer who asks, every month or so, “How’s the writing going? How are sales doing?”

    My thoughts:

    – “I’ve written one chapter since you last asked. It’s going…much the same, thanks.”
    – Considers trying to explain the continually-evolving publishing ecosystem, and resulting crashing sales
    – NOPE NOPE NOPE. Be nice, she’s genuinely interested
    – Consider saying, “Well, I might be able to pay last month’s cell phone bill with my last royalty check. Or…not.”
    – NOPE.
    – “I’m going to a conference this year, absolutely ensuring my business will once again be in the red tax-wise…”
    – NOPE. Just…be…quiet.
    – “I had great fun killing a character this morning. So satisfying! Let me tell you all about blood spatter and rigor mortis…”
    – NOPE. Shh.

    What I say: “It’s going fine, thanks. How are you today?”

    Thankfully I love writing. But publishing? Sometimes not so much. 🙂

    • Julia Day says:

      The good things about coming up with pithy responses that you can never say is… one or more WILL end up in a manuscript some day. So all of those awkward questions, family and friends, keep them coming–unless you don’t want to see it quoted in my book.

  11. June Love says:

    Julia/Beth, this is a great post! We’ve all heard these questions and you’ve answered them brilliantly. I will refer to this post when faced again with these questions. I especially love the last one. Never give up the dream. I’d thought about it not long ago, but I just couldn’t do it. Writers write. It’s in our souls.

    • Julia Day says:

      That last answer may have been one of the hardest ones to write, because there is no definitive answer. Every milestone we reach has another one on the other side.

      This is the song that never ends…

  12. I love this so much! And I so very much agree. I feel bad for my husband. Being married to a writer is not easy, but he’s a musician so he understands a little. Emphasis on the little.

    We’ve had many a conversation about where my head is at in any given moment. Mostly, not where he would prefer it to be, but he’s come to expect it. We actually came up with a cue that he says to me so I can snap back into the present and have a decent conversation with him. Husbands can be so demanding!

    • Julia Day says:

      The den is my spot to write. Hubs comes in, sits on the couch directly in my line of vision, and says “I’m here when you’re ready to listen.” It’s a good compromise between patience and loading on the guilt. (Ok, the guilt part is totally self-induced by me.)

  13. Addison Fox says:

    Oh, I love this post so much!!!!!!!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE – and every point you made is so spot on.

    Thanks for the perfect post today!!!

  14. What a great post. Thank you, Beth/Julia!

  15. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    My mother (aka: 2ndary CP) keeps wondering when she’ll receive the next several chapters. & my answer is, when I “hammer them out & think they are fit for reading”. Fortunately she has no problem with me talking to myself or sobbing or laughing…she’s known me for 65 years so is used to that by now;)

    Good advice…good post…thank you!

    • Julia Day says:

      I think it’s wonderful that your mom supports your writing. My mother is more puzzled than anything else by my writing. Fortunately, my husband and daughters are the best. The question about “how can I help?”–that’s all about them.


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