As I travel around and meet readers, invariably I run across someone who says something like this: “I think I could be a writer too. I have some great ideas for stories just simmering. Besides how hard could it be? You just write the book, send it to publishers, and make lots of money.”
Maybe they don’t say those exact words. But often, when they’re asking me questions about publishing, I know that’s what they’re thinking—that writing stories can’t be all that hard, getting published is a piece of cake (either traditionally or self-publishing), and in the end all writers are making lots of money.
But those of us who are in the trenches of the publishing industry know the hard realities of the writing life and of the publishing industry:
*Crafting stories is difficult, and getting them to sound like your two year old didn’t write them is even harder.
*Having a successful publication experience takes hours and hours and hours of work and there are no guarantees of success or sales.
*Most authors start off making less than minimum wage compared to all the time they put into their books.
When I meet people who don’t have a realistic view of writing and publishing, I don’t sit them down and give them a long lecture about the realities that await them. I don’t burst their happy bubble with stories about how hard it was for me.
And I don’t pull out my tax forms for the past several years to show them how slowly the income trickles in—even with books that have had good sales with a large CBA publisher.
Instead, I listen graciously, bite my tongue, and finally wish them all the best.
I know that eventually, if they try to write a book they’ll understand that putting the right words on paper isn’t quite as easy it looks. In fact, they’ll come to realize the truth of these quotes:
*Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
*What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. ~Samuel Johnson
I know that eventually when they get ready to publish their books, they’ll realize how overwhelming and intimidating publication and marketing are whether they publish themselves or traditionally.
And I know that they’ll eventually see their own sales figures (if they make it to publication and beyond), and they’ll realize what an accomplishment it is to get anyone besides family and friends to buy our books.
The truth is, anyone who sticks out a writing career long enough will have to take that writing career off the pedestal, stop glamorizing it, and start seeing it for what it is—a business.
I’ve had to look at my writing career much the same way others might look at starting a small business. We have to begin at the bottom and work our way up. We have to put in long hours with little compensation while we’re in the process of expanding. Often it takes years before we build a base of happy customers and finally begin to see some monetary profit.
In summary, what I want to tell aspiring writers who have that book inside them they want to write is: Go for it. You don’t need me or anyone else to talk you out of a writing career because of how difficult it may be someday.
But make sure you’re writing that book for the right reasons . . .
Make sure you love writing.
Because ultimately that deep, passionate love of telling stories is what's going to get you through all the difficulties in the days to come. Without a love of writing, what’s the point?
What about you? Are you writing for the love it? What keeps you going through the hard times?