The real writing life (or true confessions of a not-rich writer)
This post, I think, has been a long time coming, and what finally provoked me into writing it was a conversation on Twitter today with Alison Tyler. But that was probably the proverbial straw.
The common perception is that authors make a lot of money. And that authors who have a book contract have it made.
The reality is that a very few authors -- even those who publish traditionally with big publishing houses -- make a lot of money, and most authors have "day jobs." For those of us who self-publish? It may be several day jobs.
I have three jobs at the moment: freelance (which I'm behind on as I adjust to my new work scheduling) editing, marketing assistant at a romance publisher, and I also work in a grocery store bakery.
Note that nowhere in that list do I consider "author" one of my jobs. For me to consider it a job, I'd have to not lose money at it.
I have two books out. The first made a very modest sum that covered the cost of the cover art for the second book. That second book not only hasn't covered the cost of its own cover art, but hasn't covered the cost of the pizza I got my kids in celebration of publishing the book.
That's the reality for a lot of us.
It's very humbling to admit publicly that I am what is known as "working poor." I'm lucky in that I have a house, but I work three part-time jobs, none of which come with benefits. My struggle to pay mortgage payments is on a house that's too small for my family and needs constant upkeep, much of which goes undone. I wear clothes that are older than half my kids to struggle to pay my share of their activities, because I want more for them than what they currently have.
I am someone who grew up white, solidly middle class, and with a college degree. And yet writing -- the one place I consider "mine" -- has slowly had to take a backseat as I became a statistic: the woman who suddenly found herself dumped out of the middle class after a divorce.
My attitude toward publishing, toward piracy, toward ebook pricing, has slowly eroded over the years. The idea that readers have that people who publish a book are suddenly wealthy is frustrating. The idea that sharing books among friends without paying or downloading them from a torrent site or that a box set of 12 books should be priced at 99 cents or even free for "exposure" is galling now. Because it seems to be expected that your work have no value.
For many -- dare I even say MOST -- of us, writing is something we spend hours and hours on, taking time away from family, trying to carve out free time from schedules that have none. We aren't sitting in garrets with rich patrons funding us.
It is hard enough to make your own definition of success. Mine has always been to have at least one person who doesn't know me read my words and enjoy them. And in most cases, I've done that. But it becomes more difficult to keep at it, to keep going when the prevailing message seems to be that creating isn't valued, that there is an ever-growing group of people who believe you should offer your creations for free. And when writers aren't in a financial position to spend the money it takes to put out a quality book and then lose money on it, it becomes very easy for even the most talented writers to stop writing because they simply can't afford to.
It says a lot about the state of affairs that people are willing to pay more for a cup of coffee -- or the slices of brownie I frost at work in a job that pays more than writing does at the near-minimum-wage I am paid -- than a book. I can tell you it takes me a lot longer, and takes a lot more out of me, to write a book.
We should be rewarding talent and quality and effort rather than accepting whatever is shoved in front of us because it's free or nearly free. And we simply aren't.