The Truth About Being An Author
By Suzan Tisdale
We’ve all seen it before. In movies, TV shows, and even books. Someone writes a book, a publisher picks it up, and voila! The aforementioned author is immediately wealthy. Rich beyond their wildest imagination. He goes from eating ramen noodles every night, to owning a mansion — complete with butler and guard dogs — and driving around town in a Ferrari or Porsche. He parties with Hugh Hefner and the President. He travels around the world where he meets all sorts of people who make great characters for his books.
I hate to burst your bubble, but it simply does not work that way!
Writing is easy. Writing very well? Not so much. Writing something people are willing to buy and share with their friends is even more difficult. Writing something that a publisher wants to pick up? Its easier to get a ride on a space shuttle.
Here are the simple facts.
1. You take a year or two to write your first novel. You ignore family and friends. You spend every spare moment in your writing cave, ignoring the spouse or significant other who is trying to remind you that you do have family obligations. You get upset when, right in the middle of writing the most profound sentence God ever let man create, your wife knocks on the door letting you know that dinner is ready, or worse yet, she is in labor. It completely destroys your train of thought and that beautiful, profound, elegant, gritty, gnarly, perfect sentence is lost forever. It takes weeks to get it back. Damn.
2. Once your book is finally perfect, you send hundreds of query letters and synopsis’s to every publisher in existence. You’ve got the perfect elevator pitch and the perfect answer to “tell me about your book”. All you need now is a publisher who agrees. So you wait for a response. You eat lots of ramen noodles, drink cheap bourbon, and drive your family nuts with questions like “Did anyone get the mail today? Was there a letter in it from –insert name of publishing house here–?” As the wait continues, you begin to question why you are doing what you are doing. You must be nuts. Crazy. It is self-imposed torture. You’ll never write again. Ever. It isn’t worth it. Damn.
3. When you do finally hear back from the publishers or as I refer to them ‘the Gods of War’, chances are it will be in the form of a rejection letter. You spend the next few days or weeks in a deep state of depression, again, questioning why you are doing this. I liken it to the grieving process after losing a loved one. First there is shock, then sadness, then anger. Are these publishers nuts? How could they reject what is by far the best piece of literary work ever written? How can they destroy peoples lives like this? You question again, why you are doing this. Damn.
4. Now at this point, only those authors who own a significant amount of intestinal fortitude will press on and continue to write. They’ll keep trying, again and again and again.
5. Then that magical day finally happens. A publisher wants to talk. This is the day you’ve convinced yourself that you’re waiting for. You meet with them, they tell you they loved the book and with a few minor changes, they can make it perfect. (You only thought it was perfect. A publisher’s idea of what is perfect and an author’s idea of what is perfect are sometimes quite different.)
6. The publisher presents you with a standard contract and say an advance of $5,000. You pretend that you need to talk it over with your husband. But you and I both know the truth. You don’t care what your husband says at this point. A publisher wants to publish your book! Your husband would be crazy to even suggest that you turn down this once in a lifetime offer. What does he know anyway?
7. This is where almost everyone outside of the writing world gets it wrong. The devil, they say, is in the details. The contract that the publisher presents to you is standard and the benefits of this contract lean in favor of the publisher, not the author. You will not be an instant millionaire. You will not be buying that mansion or hiring that butler anytime soon. And forget the Ferrari. You’ll be lucky if you can afford to upgrade your 1999 Toyota to a 2002 Impala. And you won’t be giving up your day job either.
8. This is how a standard contract between publisher and author works:
1. The publisher now has almost complete control of your work. They will edit, change, red line, and otherwise wage and all out assault on your perfect novel. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong. Publishers have lots of experience with publishing. This is after all, their area of expertise. They do provide a very useful service and they work very hard at it. We still need the big publishing houses. I just happen to believe that not every author needs one.
2. Once the editors are done with your book, the publisher will print, lets say 10,000 advance copies of your work. They send it out to all the book and mortar stores. YOU will have to schedule all the book signings and events. The publisher isn’t going to do that for you.
3. Here is where it can get quite ugly. Lets say you only sell 5,000 copies of your book in the first year. Now what? Well, you will end up owing the publisher money for those 5,000 copies that didn’t sell. It is true. You don’t get a royalty check until you sell a certain number of books. And if you don’t sell a certain number of books, you owe the publisher money. There went the mansion and the Ferrari. And you thought writing was the hard part!
4. And even if you do sell all 10,000 copies, your royalty checks are going to be quite small. Again, everything is in favor of the publisher. They are, after all, putting up a good chunk of change to get your book out there. It isn’t cheap for them to hire editors, cover artists, or advertising. This is a very expensive venture they’re in. If they’re going to put up all this money upfront, then they will reap the rewards. All you did was write the book. They did the rest
9. It can take years, if not decades to become a successful author. There is no getting rich over night. Unless you are J.K. Rowling, it simply doesn’t happen over night.
10. So why bother? Well, today authors have other options on how they get their work out to the masses. As an author, the first thing you must ask yourself if why do I write? The answer is different for each of us. Some of us write because we simply must. We’ve got all these thoughts, ideas, scenarios, and creative monsters running around in our brains and if we don’t write (or as I call it, purge the demons) then we will go nuts. Other authors are blessed with the ability to tell a story easily and beautifully. For many authors, we write because we have a story or stories that we want to share with the world.
The next question you need to ask yourself is what do I expect in return? For many of us, it isn’t about the money. We simply want to share our stories with the world. We want to leave something meaningful behind, once we’ve left this celestial plane. We want to inspire or encourage. We want people to go, “wow, that book was amazing!” Or we want to have a positive impact on society.
If you’re writing simply because you want to make money, then I suggest you stop now and find another avenue. Yes, you can make money at this. I’m a perfect example. Because of the success of my first two novels (that I self-published), I was able to give up my day job in October of 2012. But you have to know that this does not happen for everyone. And you have to know that I didn’t go into this because I wanted to make money.
I write because I have to purge the demons AND I write because I want to share my stories with other people. I want whoever buys my books to be able to escape from the day-to-day stuff we all have to deal with. I want to encourage others through my characters. I write from my heart, not my wallet. I write because I love writing. I never, ever, ever, expected the success that I’ve been blessed with. I did not publish my first book thinking “now I can sit back and rake in a million dollars.” Quite the opposite.
When I published Laiden’s Daughter in December of 2011, it was meant as a gift to my mom. I thought maybe, just maybe, I might sell ten copies. I thought that would be a really nifty number. I didn’t know a thing about self-publishing. I didn’t have a twitter account. I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t (and still don’t) spend money on advertising. I don’t troll the internet saying “BUY MY BOOK!!!” I don’t do that. I simply write for the joy of writing.
I didn’t know a thing about publishing a novel until after I published my first. I didn’t know about contracts with publishers. I didn’t know anything about self-publishing either. I simply wrote my novel and uploaded it to KDP so that it would be on the Kindle I wanted to give my mom for a birthday present.
Honest to God the thought of selling 50,000 copies in one year never entered my mind. I never thought Laiden’s would ever be on Amazon’s Top 100 Best Sellers list. She’s been there for over a year now. I never imagined making enough money at this so that I could write full time. I figured I would write full time after retirement, in my 60′s. Now, I write full time. I am blessed beyond all comprehension. And I certainly never thought that people would leave reviews or contact me to tell me how much they love my stories.
I think the point I’m trying to make is this. If you write because you love to write, then GO FOR IT! If you write because you must purge the demons, the GO FOR IT! You might be the next JK Rowling. You might be the next James Patterson. Who knows? But write for all the right reasons.
But if you’re writing because you think it is an easy way to make a quick buck, or if you’re self-publishing because you think you’ll make a million dollars in your first month, then you are in for a rude awakening. You can’t take three weeks to write novel, slap a $12.99 price tag on your ebook version, upload it to KDP and expect to sit back and rake in the money, and then complain when the sales are not what you expected. Life doesn’t work that way and neither does self-publishing.
Write from your heart, write with passion, with zeal, with fervor. Your heart will never let you down.