Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Most Authors Aren't Really "Making It"

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Authors lie. In fact, lying is our job. We are told to create plausible impossibilities, and to tell them to you in such a way that you believe, in some small part of your mind, that what you're seeing is the truth. We make you invest in this lie we're telling, and when it draws to an end, we make you want us to keep lying to you. To draw that illusion out over another book, and then another, until you can live an entire life inside this place that doesn't exist, with people who never were.

For a penny a page, I'll lie until the world fades away.
This isn't just something we do on the page, though. We do it all the time. If you meet us at signings, or at conventions, or just talk to us on social media, we spin a fiction about who we are. As a result, we tend to look put together, professional, and confident, even if we're anything but. And given that most of us are professional tale-tellers who understand how to create a certain impression, most people who make our acquaintance don't realize something very important.

We are, by and large, broke as shit.

The Simple Secret of Most Professional Artists

Now, I don't claim to know everyone who writes books. I certainly don't know everyone who paints, sketches, sculpts, and animates. However, I go to a fair number of conventions, and I've been a professional writer for over a decade now. So what I can tell you is that, in my experience, artists who are "making it" (here defined as not needing to work a "day job," and making enough money from their art alone to live a comfortable lifestyle) are sort of like unicorns. You may hear about them, and meet people who claim they've met one, but seeing one in person is always a little breathtaking.

We captured one here, a long, long time ago. Rowling, was its name.
The difficulty, I think, is that people who aren't in the industry only hear about successful authors. They hear about J.K. Rowling reaching billionaire status, and they hear about Stephen King buying a radio station out of political spite, or they hear about George R. R. Martin's latest Song of Ice And Fire sales, and they think well surely other authors are still successful. Maybe not millionaire successful, but if you write books, and put them out there, it should be possible to make a living, right? After all, authors like Ben Reeder get bestseller status for their latest books before they're even officially released, so surely it can't be that hard?

That sound you're hearing? That is the laughter of most authors in the world.

For every one author I meet who sells enough books to cover their house payments, I meet a dozen others who feel like beggars, holding out their books instead of wooden bowls or change cups. It's much more common to meet authors who live at home with their parents, who depend on a partner's income, or who have already retired from a previous career, than someone who actually makes grown-up money in this field.

But we can't tell you that, because it sort of splashes mud over our image when we're trying to sell our talent, instead of a sob story.

I'm Not A Unicorn (Just A Workhorse With A Taped-On Horn)

I'm an author. I work primarily in short stories, but I contribute to roleplaying games, I write two blogs, I keep an InfoBarrel archive, and I actively work on a dozen projects at a time. I'm not a 10k words a day sort of fellow, but I spend most of any given day in front of my machine either writing new material, or marketing material I've already put out.

You know, like this book. Go read the free sample now!
Do you know what all of that earned me in 2016? Between independent articles, ghostwriting, book royalties, short story publications, blog ads, and the contributions of my loyal Patreon patrons? The total was about $13,000 and change.

Now, if that was my earnings from any, one source, that would be pretty spectacular. I'd gladly take $13k in book royalties for a year. Or in ad revenue, or in Patreon patronage. But that's the combined total of everything I put out in the whole year, and the royalties for everything I'd put out in the years before that.

On the one hand, that's the way the market rolls. Those who write popular articles, books, blogs, etc. make bank, and those who don't... well, don't. However, I want to let folks know that, in some circles, I'm considered a success story. So the next time you're wandering through an art show, or you talk to an author at a convention, remember that you matter. Your purchase, your review, or even just you becoming a follower might be the pebble that starts their avalanche.

And even if you're not, I can assure you, no author is so successful that they'd say no to one more reader.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Hopefully I've shone a little light into my corner of the industry, and folks here found it interesting. If you'd like to support me and my blog (maybe to make 2017 a slightly better year), then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page today! As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and it gets you some sweet swag as a thank you from me. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet... why not start today?

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