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To Be A Writer or Not?

I officially started on this publishing journey twenty years ago last month. I’ve written millions of words before, just not for the public, but at some point (It was a sunny day), I pulled on my big girl panties and walked into a writers group meeting where there were other people who talked to the characters in their heads just like I did. They were the lost family I never knew existed and I was home. Since then, while the family I was born into (well, some of the family) supported my need to create, I worked my a** off to learn as much as I could about the craft of writing and to take advice from those who succeeded in winning the public’s hearts. Just when I reached a point that big houses doors were cracking open, the industry took a one-eighty turn. E-readers were released and like any new toy the techs in my generation and the generation behind me coveted them like chocolate. New businesses were formed every day to handle the need for authors to fill these readers with their stories, ie small epubs. You know the rest of the story. You lived it.

 

The one thing I heard constantly in the early years of my training was, “Don’t quit your day job.” Authors who had large followings, like SEP, Debbie McComber, Linda Howard, Susan Brown, etc. etc. stood on conference stages and warned us this business is fickle. You are up one moment flying high among the stars and then suddenly the floor drops out and down you’ll crash.  Yes, some authors will float down gently and might even hover in the sky like a kite on a gentle breeze  (because they’ve earned the large following) but most writers will not. Let me repeat that. Most writers WILL NOT make a living from this career. Those who do make a career out of writing are doing jobs that they might not love, like tech writing or free lance articles, editing, ghost writing. This in not something new. Writing, like any art, has always been a low paying career.  So why do it?

 

I can tell you that I plan to continue to write, because creating stories I love is what I love to do. I’m going to be smart about where I spend my income (no second house or new car). While I think conferences are important to attend, I’ve got to be very choosy which ones have valve to me. Maybe an on-line class or retreat would feed my muse better. I also need to spend my advertising budget where I get the biggest bang for my buck.  A few things I will not lower my standards on is editing, copy-editing and covers.  If I need to supplement my funds in order to publish my future stories, I will. I’ve taken a part time job, because I love writing. I love myself. And I love my family.  I will not take from family funds, but I will work at a job that brings in a steady income, and I will spend a little of the money earned on my true desire.  Who knows, one day I might write a story that will be on the shelves generations from now. That book might help my grandchildren in their retirement years.

So what are your thoughts on the down-turn of the industry? And how do you plan to handle your writing career?

 

FYI: Did you know Edgar Allen Poe never made a living as a writer? He couldn’t support his family from all his works and died penniless.

 

 

 

18 responses to “To Be A Writer or Not?”

  1. Barbra Campbell says:

    Thanks for this very honest article. As a newbie, I have no idea what to expect. One friend talks about a $2.34 royalty check while another got 6 figures, but most don’t mention numbers. Keeping up the family budget and not counting chickens before they’ve hatched seems to be the way to go.

    2+
    • I think the wise words from the women who were our mentors were lost in the gold e-rush. I never wanted to get rich from my writing. I just wanted to touch hearts and to pay for the business expenses and maybe a nice vacation once or twice a year. But not everyone has the same dream. Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Addison Fox says:

    What a great post, AJ. I think it is so important – essential, really – to separate the love of the writing from the business.

    We spend a lot of time talking about the business and we should. Being educated and informed about our work is important. But it’s also key to know when to turn that off OR when to ensure that the business distractions don’t spill over to hating the writing.

    GREAT post!!

    3+
    • I think most writers struggle to keep the business side of writing from affecting our creative brain. It’s hard not to let it since we need to be on social media to connect with readers where we also connect with other writers who are friends and as friends we listen to their woes of falling or no sales. I would love to help them and I do try by posting their books to my followers but sadly my list contains many of the same friends as theirs does.

      Writing not an easy business to be in. And if the dream of making a lot of money and more money and more money until you retire is yours… SIGH it happens but to a very few.

      You don’t stop trying, and if and when you make money save 50% and put the rest back into your business.

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  3. Amen, sister! Great blog.

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  4. Rita Henuber says:

    I don’t think of it as a down-turn. More like a course correction. One, IMO, that’s been coming for three years. It won’t ever be like it was five years ago. As writers we may need to re-tool and fine hone what we’re doing. It will all shake out. Books and writers will always be here. I’ll keep writing, reading and studying craft.

    1+
    • I love your use of words, course correction. It’s spot on.

      I think readers are and will continue to wise up to the writers who haven’t studied the craft and their selling techniques and in the years to come, mid-list authors businesses will flourish again.

      Good advice to just keep working on making your writing stronger.

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  5. I didn’t know that about Poe, but it does put things in perspective, doesn’t it? There will always be pendulum swings in this business – both financial and emotional – and those swings can wear on a person, but I definitely love it enough to keep going and as long as that is true I will keep finding ways to write. Great post, Autumn. 🙂

    1+
    • Thanks, Vivi.

      You’re a great writer. I love your stories and I’d hate to see you stop producing them. So yea! I’m going to have great books to help me escape from the daily grind. Thank you!

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  6. Tracy Brody says:

    I think the happiest writers are those that do it because they love creating the characters and stories. Those who naively think writing is easy and won’t put in the time and work to learn to be a great writer or expect to write one book and be the next J.K. Rowling or James Patterson and get rich have unrealistic views and expectations to see them through this tough business to success. It’s hard. It’s work. You have to take criticism and it takes patience. It has to be for love of story over love of money.

    2+
    • THIS!! It has to be for love of story over love of money.

      You nailed it Tracy. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

      I see you on SM. How do you keep focus on the joy?

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  7. This topic has been popping up a lot on a FB group and on PAN. I’m glad to see it, because I feel like I’ve been suffering in silence.

    I have 7 indie books out, and I haven’t broken even on the production costs. At the rate it’s going this year, it will be 2019 before the breakeven point. In 5 years of being published, I’ve had a profit for 2 of them. (Admittedly, my expenses tend to be high. Fortunately, I love my day job and have no plans to give it up.) My trad pub books are funding the indie books.

    I approached an indie author that I’ve been auto-buying for the past 6 years. She’s known I was a fan from the beginning and I’ve even beta-read a couple of times for her. I asked her for marketing help, and she told me to “figure out your brand and your business plan before worrying about the marketing. If you don’t know what you’re selling, marketing it won’t help.”

    That’s been great advice. Now, if I could just produce more than 1 book per year…

    4+
    • That is wonderful advice. You need to know who you are before you can sell who you are. I’m saying you, because everything we have experienced and come to know goes into our stories.

      I believe we had a blog post here on knowing our branding. We should repost it. Thank you for being so open about your career. For what it’s worth, recouping my production costs is taking longer too. I’ve already started saving for the next project which I hoped to get out this fall, but like I said above my personal finances won’t be touch.

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    • I’d love to be able to write more than one book a year too, but that seems to be my comfortable speed.

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  8. What a great post, AJ! I have been thinking about this so much with my series ending at 13, a novella, and a few short stories. I keep wondering what’s next. I have a million ideas, of course, and I am beyond fortunate that I have a fantastic foundation of readers, but will they follow me to a new series? I think they will, but even my agent has warned me that readers will not always follow across series or, especially, genres. I guess we’ll see.

    2+
    • D, You’ve worked very hard to achieve the level of success you have and I have no doubts that you have angst over starting a new series, but lady you have a wonderful voice and readers are going to love whatever you decide to write next. Congrats on a completing a long series. (Handing you cyber-bubbly) Here is to the next one.

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  9. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    I’ve read this post a couple of times already and it resonates with me. I did, however, quit my day job…i.e.: retired. It will be three years this month.

    That being said, had I not, I would not be 72K+ into a book I never knew I had in me and am moving ever closer to the next step(s). I very much like Elizabeth’s quote from her writer friend /acquaintance: “figure out your brand and your business plan before worrying about the marketing. If you don’t know what you’re selling, marketing it won’t help.” Sound advice for the next baby-steps.

    Thanks so much for yet another peek into your journey, AJ

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