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The Myths & Realities of Being a Published Author

Friday, October 22, 2010

Most writers start off naïve to the realities of publication. I suppose in some ways the ignorance is a good thing. If I’d known years ago what I know today, I don’t think I would have jumped in the publication waters with as much vigor or determination.

Writers need only start swimming to the opposite shore before we realize the distance is much longer and harder than we’d planned. Unforeseen obstacles get in the way and slow us down. Sometimes we get bit by the dangers lurking in the waters. Other times we get tired of paddling and want to give up. Maybe there are even moments when we feel like we’re drowning.

For the most part, I’m surrounded by other writers who understand the difficulty of the journey toward publication, who realize they won’t be on Paradise Island when they reach the coveted publication shoreline. Most of us who’ve been swimming toward publication long enough lose our false assumptions.

Yet, I’m learning that there are still plenty of people who think published authors live on Paradise Island. As I’ve rubbed shoulders with people at book signings, and the longer I wear my new published author suit, I’m realizing that THE MYTHS about published authors are very much alive and thriving. Here are just a few I’ve heard recently (And, yes, I really have heard each one of these):

“I suppose now you’ll be busy with all of your traveling.”

The Myth: Published authors travel across the country doing book signings, bookstores are eager and willing to host authors, and readers can’t wait to go out and meet them.

The Reality: Authors rarely travel anywhere except to the coffee pot and back to the laptop. The day and age of authors riding across the country for book signings is largely over. For the most part, book tours have been replaced by blog tours.

I’ve heard plenty of dismal book signing stories, where even more popular authors fail to entice busy, internet-oriented readers into the shop. My publisher has the philosophy that if book signings are something an author enjoys, then they’re willing to help with the promotion. But they don’t push signings because they’ve become unreliable in today’s busy society.

“With all the money you’re making, your husband can retire early.”

The Myth: Once your book hits shelves, you’ll be rolling in money. In fact you’ll be making so much money, all of your financial worries will be over forever.

The Reality: I wrote The Preacher’s Bride over three years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten one check—my advance which wouldn’t be nearly enough to feed and clothe a family of seven in a year’s time—not even close. If I spread the income over the three years I’ve worked on the book, then I’ve made only pennies per hour. When I explained that to my daughter she said, “Authors have to do a lot of work for nothing, don’t they?”

Granted, now that my book is on shelves, I hope eventually I’ll be able to earn enough to equalize some the work I put into the book. But there’s absolutely no guarantee. And before I can see my first royalty check, I’ll have to earn out my advance. So in reality, it will still be a while (possibly many more months) before I’ll see another check.

“Now that you’re an author you’ll probably move to the big city near other famous authors.”

The Myth: Being a published author brings us fame. We’ll become too popular for ordinary life and will need to move to places where we can rub shoulders with the rich and famous.

The Reality: Unless an author becomes a consistent New York Times bestselling author, there’s very little chance we’ll become a household name. There’s always the possibility we can become popular among the readers of our particular genre. They may send us fan mail from time to time. They may even tell us they’re anxiously awaiting our next book. But . . . most of the world is oblivious to all but the most noteworthy authors. The rest of us must learn to be content with obscurity.

“Oh, you mean you have to do other things besides the actual writing?”

Myth: The sole focus of our writing career is the book itself. We get many opportunities to take our lap tops to the beach or to the mountain cabin and type away at our stories for endless hours.

The Reality: Like any other job, a writing career has many various responsibilities. Sure, writing should remain the primary focus. But we’ll have increasingly more to do as we move closer to publication and beyond. We’ll need to respond to emails, write up interviews, network on Twitter and Facebook, craft blog posts, send out books to contest winners, work on intense edits on a second book, and eventually find time to start researching and writing a third book.

So what do you think? Have you ever heard any of these myths? Or have you ever believed one of them? Why do you think such stereotypes about published authors still exist?

43 comments:

  1. Ah, yes - I've heard many of these. The most popular for me is, "So, when you get published, are you going to quit your job?" Not so much. :)

    I think you are so right - that the longer we're out in the water swimming toward the shore, the more we realize that the shore isn't going to be the heaven we make it out to be. I once thought getting an agent would be the answer. But life is pretty much the same with an agent. Lots and lots of waiting, only instead of waiting to hear from an agent, I'm waiting to hear from a publisher. And I'm realizing more and more each day that getting a contract isn't going to be the answer either. Jesus is the answer. The rest is all an awesome bonus....but often a bonus that involves blood, sweat, and tears.

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  2. I am so used to listening to all the daunting things that your list actually sounds a bit reassuring. The focus is on the writing. Good luck with the sales. I have yet to buy your book, but very soon I shall! Don't forget to eat chocolate today for Wombat Day!

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  3. Maybe blame some of the myths on the movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947 with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison) Widowed Mrs. Muir moves into a haunted seaside cottage. The ghost takes pity on her and helps her write a novel which solves the financial problems her husband left behind. After that first book, she's set for life.

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  4. I'm still holding on to one of those myths, but I'm a dreamer.

    I'm not sure it was something I ever thought about before seeking publication, but I think the biggest eye-opener for me when I started down this path was just how much work outside of writing the actual story an author does. I should have thought about this, being a business person and all. Maybe, I didn't want to. :)

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  5. I always laugh when someone thinks I would become rich when I sell a book. LOL I hear that one too often.

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  6. I think a lot of readers and new authors have Tom Clancy, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Nora Roberts in their heads. They associate books with a best seller's list, and forget about the million-billion other little books on the sales tables, at yard sales, in the used book store...

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  7. What? You don't plan on moving to NYC and using all of the money you're making to buy an apartment like Castle's?? :)

    Being a writer isn't exactly a fairy tale, but it is a dream job for me!

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  8. Yes! I've heard many of these as well. Writing to publication is a long hard journey.

    Like you, I think if I really know how dedicated I needed to be, it would have opened my eye more to the reality.

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  9. Jody, Heard 'em all, and learned that they're all #$@* lies. You're right on all counts.
    Jim Bell told a group I was in one time that the average writer would earn more as a greeter at Wal-Mart than from writing. Despite having two novels published, a third coming out soon, and a fourth on the way, I'd have to say I meet his definition of an average writer...doggone it.

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  10. I can’t stop envision you and a sea of other authors bobbing up and down in the water with that island just out of reach.

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  11. Just goes to show that it takes an enormous amount of heart and passion to be an writer...

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  12. I, too, have heard these myths. The authors of today must work harder than ever to keep up the buzz about their books and continue to find time to write.

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  13. LOL! Pretty much everyone I know asks when I'm going to quit my day job. Aack! I wish!

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  14. Being a math nerd and having kept careful records of my hours writing for my tax guy, I was able to calculate how much I earned for my three-book series. Just over $2 an hour. I made more slinging hamburgers at Carl's Jr in 1983. Royalty checks are pushing me closer to minimum wage, but I still haven't reached it. Am I complaining? Not on your life! I love writing, must write, can't not write! The fact that anyone's willing to pay me at all is a major blessing and a deep honor. But it makes me chuckle that so many of us work so hard to break into a profession that pays so little :)
    And as for myths I hear...no, Oprah has not called.

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  15. Hi Jody,
    I remember someone in my local writers group about ten years ago saying, "If you can stop writing you probably should." Now I know why. :)Never could stop though.

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  16. HI Jody,
    This post is so very true. I've lived every one of these myself. I let go of the dream of making money at this long ago. Last month I got a check for $3.08. This month, $40.06. It won't feed anyone, but the writing feeds me and hopefully, those who read it.
    Just keep on keeping on. P.S. I'm ordering your book real soon - promise!
    Karen

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  17. Well darn, you mean my husband won't be able to retire and become my full time housekeeper, nanny? This writing stuff is way over-rated. :)

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  18. I love this post, Jody. The truth hurts, but it's the truth that hopefully pushes us to keep walking (and often crawling) the journey.

    "Authors rarely travel anywhere except to the coffee pot and back to the laptop." Something about that quote is just awesome. ha ha :)

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  19. I've heard of these myths! I think other writers assume the grass is always greener on your side, without realizing there's a heck of a lot of weeds on ALL sides of the island.

    This is why I think it's important that we write because we love it, not because we want to be rich or famous!

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  20. "Authors rarely travel anywhere except to the coffee pot and back to the laptop"

    Ha ha! This was great. Most people still believe that getting a novel published is very glamorous, when the reality is less so. Thank goodness I have a day job that I love, and I feel blessed that I get to do the writing thing on the side. Sharing my work with even a few readers has been quite a pleasure.

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  21. If it's money you want, there are way better ways to make money.

    Most of the people who subscribe to those myths are non-writers, or newbies. My family keeps talking about how rich I'll be when my book(s) start hitting the shelves, and I humor them, but I told my wife last night that we'd be doing good to get couple of grand out of any books sales.

    My first royalty check for a story in a short anthology was less than $100.

    So there you go. Dinner's on me! The rich-and-famous writer!

    I let them have their myths. So long as I don't have to live there, no harm no foul.

    - Eric

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  22. Great post, Jody! I think these are definitely pervasive amongst non-writers. And being a writer is definitely not a get-rich-quick (or get-rich-ever, in most cases) scheme. That's why the only people who should get in to this field are those who simply just love to write. :)

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  23. Oh my, I've heard every single one of these since my book deal was announced last February. It's hard not to laugh, but those outside the publishing world just don't know how far off the mark they really are.

    My genre is romantic comedy, and my idol is the queen of rom-com, Jennifer Crusie. She had a blog post awhile back titled, "The life of the NYT bestseller." Here's an excerpt:

    "When I first made the NYT list, my agent and editor called me on conference call to tell me while I was mopping the mud off the kitchen floor (dogs, you know). We all said, “Yay!” and told each other how awesome we all were, and then they went off to have champagne in Manhattan, and I went back to mopping the floor. “New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Crusie Mops Up Mud,” I thought, and laughed, and then went back to my regularly scheduled life. After that there were many NYT headline moments, some of which some of you may remember. There was the “New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Crusie Sears Chin with Pizza Cheese, Looks Revolting for Book Tour.” There was also “New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Crusie Narrowly Escapes Death Driving Through Manhattan with New York Times Bestselling Author Bob Mayer at the Wheel.” And of course “New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Crusie’s Office Now Rated Most Disgusting on the Internet.” I have a milion of them because Lani and Krissie and I keep adding to them. “New York Times Bestselling Author Anne Stuart Buses Table of Person Not Finished Eating at Panera” is one of our faves. Also “New York Times Bestselling Author Lani Diane Rich Explains To Daughters Why Curtain Rods Are Not For Swinging On.” The last one was loud. Pretty much everything is a headline when you’re a New York Times Bestselling Author. Our lives are just full of glamour and luxury (“New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Crusie’s Dog Throws Up on Bed; Film at Eleven)."

    The whole post is here, and makes me laugh all the time:
    http://www.arghink.com/2010/01/12/the-life-of-the-nyt-bestseller/

    It is good to keep this stuff in perspective. Even though we might secretly fantasize about fame and fortune and twelve-figure royalty checks, the reality is that I'd be happy with a cup of coffee and a donut most days.

    Love the post!
    Tawna

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  24. Ha! I love your line about traveling from the coffee pot to the laptop. That's the truth!

    Yes, I think there are many, many misconceptions about writers!

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  25. Some of those myths sound appealing and some don't. I think I prefer reality where I'm still mom at home and there's a stack of dirty dishes waiting to put it all in perspective. ;)

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  26. Hope you balanced the portrayal of the starving author with another example, in case your daughter had any thoughts around being a writer. Terry McMillan said her first royalty check for Waiting to Exhale was like $2M.

    Needless to say, most authors don't earn anything near that, but the possibility does exist. Wouldn't want to kill the dream by being too firmly planted in reality. ;-) Great opportunity for conversation about pursuing one's passion vs. seeking compensation. Alas, writers mostly pursue their passion because for too mahy, the compensation doesn't add up to a lot.

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  27. Thinking that once you're published you'll be rolling in dough is a huge misconception! I'm so lucky to realize that an author doesn't early on in my writing so I can practice the art of patience that I'll need after I'm published!

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  28. I write because I love to. Yes, there was a time when I just hungered to be famous and make some money at it, but then I grew up. :) Yes, I still hope to get published some day and maybe meet a few fans of the book, but honestly I'm already doing what I love. Writing and being a Mom. In fact, early on I figured out that writing would be a way to do something I love WHILE being a Mom. Thankfully I found a wonderfully supportive man who makes both possible. :)

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  29. Oh yeah, I've heard all these--and probably even believed some of them in the past.

    I mostly still hear pre-published author inaccuracies, like "So once you finish writing a book, you just send it to a publisher and they publish it for you, right?" Ha! My dad actually said that to me recently. Well...I told him it was a little more complicated than that. :D I don't think he believed me, though.

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  30. I am actually glad to hear your life doesn't change much and you can continue to live in obscurity. I was under the wrong impression that publishers expected their authors to go on booksignings across the country. Ten years ago I was a graphic designer at a bookstore and we constantly had booksignings (several authors a month.) I think those numbers have probably gone down, but I didn't know those days were "largely over" :(

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  31. Hi Jody -

    I've heard them all. I'm not sure I'd want notoriety. I like my privacy.

    As an aspiring author, people get this awestruck look when they find out I'm writing a book. Of course, when it's not published in a week, they lose interest. LOL!

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  32. Let's just say, don't quit your day job. I sure hope we aren't in it for the money...although it would be nice. :)

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  33. I have heard all these stereotypes and laughed at it. Our royalty cheques are nothing much to write home about, keeping the hard work we put in. Most people think writing is easy,I tell them to try it.

    As usual a lovely post, Jody. Have a nice weekend.

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  34. Hi, Jody!

    I came over from Julie M's site and this is a great post. I'm sure these myths persist because the only time people really think about authors is when they see Collins, King, Rowling, Meyer, on Oprah or something and they're doing... very well! :D

    I look forward to reading your book~

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  35. I've also heard these-- I have friends asking me all the time why I haven't quit my job now that I have a book deal. I wish! But my advance didn't even come close to a quarter of my annual salary for my day job-- and like you said, that came almost a year and a half ago. I do hope to one day quit my job and write write write but I think that's one of those things that's a long way off!

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  36. My fiancé just got signed his first book contract and I cannot count the number of times we've been asked when the book tour is and where it's going. Everyone he knows who's not a writer also tends to think he's already gotten or is about to get some huge check. I wish!

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  37. Thanks for sharing Jody! We have to be willing to give up our words! :)

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  38. Jody, these all sound right on! Thank you for speaking the truth in love ;) hugs, Jenn

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  39. I'm still waiting on that big book tour we published authors are supposed to do. So far, I've been to one event outside my home town and I had to drive six hours to get there only to do a reading in front of four people. As for the bajillions of dollars I'm supposed to be making, not in this lifetime. That said, I love writing, I love interacting with fans on facebook and twitter and I'm happy to balance a day job with my writing aspirations. Thank God I found an agent this year - that will free up some time to focus less on the business and more on the books.

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  40. Yes I have heard of all of these and experienced them all too. Children's picture books pay even less than adult fiction and I KNOW I can't live off of my advance check. My book signings were successful largely in part to a very supportive group of friends and family. So why do I do it? Writing is my passion and I hope that I be able to reach some children with my stories and for that reason I will continue.

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  41. Ah, the "leaving the day job" myth...

    I got that only today from a colleague (not sure if she was joking!) - I pointed out that my day job pays five times the average income of a professional writer.

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  42. Hi Jody, I just discovered your blog and think it's fantastic! You offer such insightful info for authors. I recently sold my first book to HarperCollins and I feel like I have NO IDEA what's going on. :) I definitely still believed in these author myths, and one by one aforementioned myths are crumbling before my eyes.

    I really appreciate that you share this kind of information because most writers *don't* -- and that allows the myths to perpetuate!

    So thanks again. I'll be following from now on!

    -Susan

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  43. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for finding my blog! And congrats on your book deal with HarperCollins! That's awesome! Wishing you all the best!

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