Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, September 7, 2012

You'd Think the Book Business was the Place to Make Money

Anyone in publishing will tell you it's a tough place to make a buck. Yet the way groups and plans and promotions are springing up everywhere, you'd think that selling books is THE way to earn a living.

There's the mad rush for reviews. A zillion groups springing up for writer support. Non-stop Tweets on book links and promotion. Writers going crazy trying to get out more than one book a year so they can cash in quickly. Not to mention that everyone and their barber is writing a book these days.

It's like the Gold Rush Days of 1849. Back 150 years ago when the whole country went to California because a few people found gold and got rich. The real truth was that more of them lost everything and died from fever than actually struck it rich. Well, today with modern medicine and antibiotics, we writers won't die from fever, although some days the mad rush feels like insanity. Too bad we don't have antibiotics to cure our writer craziness. Some like chocolate for that.

And just when you think sense will take hold, when the Harry Potter, Twilight, Amanda Hocking and John Locke phenomenon has died down, you get Fifty Shades of Grossness. And it starts all over again, only this time with porn. Oh sorry, I mean erotica.

 I'm in favor of books and a fan of those who write them. But most of us won't earn as much writing novels as we can in other jobs. Most of us have day jobs. Even John Locke kept his day job. Or he did back when he was writing his "how I did it book" (which turned out to be a bit of a scam considering he actually bought 300 5-star reviews, didn't mention that in the book did he?)

Where did this idea begin that writing a book is the way to fame and riches? Even the famous authors of the 1920's and '30s weren't rich. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolf and others of their crowd went from one royalty check to the other, borrowing from family, living off the generousity of friends, getting constant "advances against royalties" from their publishers. Fitzgerald owed his publisher a great deal of money when he died, never having written all the books he had promised and his publisher had paid for.

Anyway, these are the thoughts rolling around as I surf the net and see the push to write more, publish faster, get more reviews, yadayadayada, like it's the way to great wealth. I just don't understand where that mindset came from.

Hitting it big with the next runaway bestseller is like winning the lottery. Where's it all headed? And when can we expect common sense to return, if ever? Or maybe careers in the arts are and always have been devoid of balance due to their very natures. What do you think?

34 comments:

  1. I'm definitely not in this business to make money, but to tell stories. But then again, I'm also a teacher--it seems I like to pick professions where I know I'll never get rich! :)

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  2. You speak the truth, but I know writers write for different reasons. They must all know that they must keep their day job, however they are seeking something else and it is a sense of fulfillment, that they touched others, and they did something they loved that was ppreciated by others.

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    1. That's what I think as well, so where is all this focus on sales and dollars coming from?

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  3. I think the get rich quick stories of other writers definitely perks some writers interest. For me it's making me slow down. I've noticed the craziness and I'm backing away slightly, just in case it's contagious!

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    1. Rebecca, Same here. I'm backing away slightly. Because it's not only contagious it gives me a headache.

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  4. I think that most of the population think its amazing to get a book published. They don't even care if it doesn't make you rich. They're star struck over it. After my book was published I felt a definite anticlimax and the money certainly didn't come rolling in. In fact when I recently started to receive my pension (I know I don't look that old, do I!) Mr A commented that it was the most money I'd brought into the house since I left teaching.

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  5. I think it's a long steady work-in-progress. You need to have a steady following. And a few books out (but not like the Gold Rush as quality is always much better than quantity.)

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  6. I read on internet news yesterday that with humans trending electronic reading, more and more new writers are being exposed. It seems most everyone, from many opinions, are willing to give the NEW writers a chance and many NEW writers are not selling their electronic books for scandelous prices - but, prices almost everyone can afford. The "sway" to New Writers shocked me - I think its great, SO - NEW WRITERS EVERYWHERE - keep writing, do not give up - I might even get to read your book, cause I search all the time - I LOVE TECHNOLOGY FOR IT HAS OPENED MY BOOK LIBRARY TO AUTHORS I MIGHT OTHERWISE NEVER HAVE HEARD OF. THANKS A BUNCH, EH

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    1. Kod, I love the term "new writers." I hadn't heard it before. I like it so much better than "indies" which I'm hearing everywhere and seems exclusive-- only those who self-publish.

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  7. I never did it to make money! I didn't even think my first book would be published. That my books have done well just blows my mind. That said, my third will probably be my last. I could never write at the pace required to maintain momentum in this business.

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  8. I think if any of us knew what the next big seller was predicted to be, we'd sit down and write it. The problem is, no one can know that, so it's best to write what you like and hope it does well.

    As far as self-promotion goes, it's a real talent for some. One thing that bothers me is the lack of support from bookstores and local media who won't help an author out. I can't keep sending press releases with no response. They're blocking my path to getting the word out about my book. It's depressing.

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    1. Amy, Which is why all of us "new writers" are online....Because the bookstores and local media aren't big backers. I have the same problem in my area.

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    2. Oh man, it's just not right. But I see what you mean about online power.

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    3. Hi Yah Amy - Do not worry about the bookstores and local media - like Karen says, "that is why "New Writers" are more and more online - I love online reading, and still read soft n hard covers, but the convenience of searching online is WONDERFUL and I have read many, many books by "NEW WRITERS", and have discovered many wonderful novels this way. Now, Amazon suggests New Writers to me based on my reading history. I guess I have a reading history - love it :)

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  9. It is sort of depressing though. In any artistic career, I think those that reach the pinnacle have to have a fairly healthy dose of ego as well - which is so difficult for many creative types. It'd be nice if we could all make a comfortable living doing what we love. I'd like that :0)

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    1. Jaye, And don't get me wrong, I'm all about promoting one's work because I think it's part of the job. But it's like the difference between Gold Rush fever and simply working the farm to feed your family.

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  10. I think we need to be realistic about the very real potential that we could write for years and only make a few hundred dollars (or nothing at all). If we are still compelled to write knowing that, then we should write.

    I know plenty of people that run that will never win a marathon or an Olympic medal or whatever, but they still run every day. It's who they are.

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  11. I think there's a certain percentage of people in any profession who are in it strictly to make a buck, but I still like to think most of us find greater satisfaction in other non-monetary kinds of fulfillment. Sure, nobody wants to go hungry, but happiness doesn't require a six-figure paycheck or a manic need to be the center of attention. (Yeah, I know; I'm too old to be so naive.)

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  12. Jane Austen wasn't very rich either, but she continues to inspire generation after generation. The possibility of putting something out in the world that will inspire others for years and years to come influences my love of writing. Making lots and lots of money is an added bonus!

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  13. I think that in all the arts (the performing arts are most affected, IMO) the 'Industry Around the Industry' thrives on the backs of the hopeful. Witness all the lovely places you can 'get published' (if you only pay $XYZ) in our business and the oh-so-may ready to teach you the how to, for, again, some $$$...
    A professional must remember they are not charged, they are paid. And whatever the pay, it's unlikely to put you in a palace.

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  14. I think that those of us who are truly here because we love writing are in it for the long haul, not the short term money grab (if there even is such a thing as a publishing gold rush!). Writing is about much more than money.

    Jai

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  15. Only about 300 authors in the USA make a living just on their books. That should tell people something.

    This may sound terrible, but do you know what goes through the back of my mind sometimes? If we were all authors, who would buy our books?

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  16. Yeah, these creative businesses are just like that. Those who strike it rich strike it REALLY rich and some people get stars in their eyes thinking they can have that too. I was thrilled just to know my book would be out there in the world but the amount of pressure other people put on you to sell more, write more, whatever more, once you're published is incredible. I try not to let it infect me, but it's a difficult thing to fight sometimes.

    P.S. I think you'll like this list I started at Goodreads:
    80s Flashback: Current Books with 1980s settings

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  17. Like with so many of my posts, the best part is the comments. Thanks everyone, for your insightful and thoughtful feedback. I want to put stars and arrows around each one of these comments.

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  18. sometimes i wonder if authors think "if i get published, that validates my work." and once they're published, i wonder if they think "being on the bestseller list or making money at writing will validate my work." i think if one person enjoys the writing, your writing has been validated. but that still doesn't validate us as people.

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  19. I think that it is partly that the arts just aren't a lucrative industry, as it were. It depends on people's emotions and personal tastes, and those certainly aren't the most dependable.

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  20. I think writers make more off the movie deals than the books. It does seem to be the new dream way to make money. I'm hoping someday to be a millionaire off my writing too - just have to find the right idea. And then write it, edit it, promote it, publish it . .

    Yeah, that alarm clock isn't in danger of losing its day job any time soon . .

    ........dhole

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  21. Karen, this was an interesting and informative post! I'm so behind the curve of everyone who responded; I just wish I lived in a family that reads, appreciates books, and considers the time I spend writing worthy of my time. I have no illusions about becoming rich and famous. But it would be nice to have a book accepted for publication, and to be slotted into a regular publishing cycle, such as those writers who write for series publications. They have a built-in audience that way, and earn a living to boot.

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  22. Good discussion here, Karen. I've noticed the trend and figured it has got to do with our economy. People are out of work and self-publishing is free and easy, so why not create a glut of crap for poor readers to sift through?

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  23. Boy, Karen,

    You said a mouthful. I have to agree it is LUCK more than anything else. Over the past few years of blogging, I have found some of THE most amazing works to read from fellow bloggers. Hundreds of times better than many published books.

    So why haven't they made it? Again, luck. One must be in the right place at the right time. Like in the art world, music world, and movie world, it's all luck and timing.

    Amazing talent is all around us. Almost too much, but as artists we MUST create. We were born to. It is a tragic life for many, having to live with hopes and dreams that may never happen.

    So WHY do we do it? It's our life's blood. It saves our sanity ... it is our escape. To create worlds we can lose ourselves in if need be. A world so much finer than the one we breathe in. ANYTHING is possible, ANYONE can be a hero, ANYONE can be rich, famous, successful, murderous, angry, nasty, vindictive, etc. And it's all in our minds ready to be woven into a magnificent piece of fabric, which may or may not be well received.

    Gee, I said a lot. That's the writer in me. LOL.

    Hope you've had a great weekend Karen.

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  24. I think you're right and it's all madness. A word of mouth (or electronic) recommendation from a friend is worth more than all the tweets and glowing Amazon reviews. Not that I don't crave five-star reviews, but I think people are increasingly wary of their worth.

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  25. Great post and discussion Karen.
    At the pace I'm going, I'd be a homeless writer. I guess that's because I'm getting nothing done...

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  26. Dear Karen, in 1984, I had the thought that I'd quit my job as the director of the curriculum department at Winston Press in Minneapolis, become a free lance editor, and write several romances so that I might earn enough money to quite editing and concentrate on a novel. I wrote a romance but Harlequin turned it down. I think they recognized that I've never been involved in a romantic adventure!

    In 1992, Crown did publish a book that I feel was given to me by the cat with whom I lived for seventeen-and-a-half years. But since then I've been unable to find an agent or an editor interested in my writing.

    For many years I bemoaned not being a published novelist. But fortunately I've now come to realize that it is the writing that brings me joyful sustenance. The getting publishing--and making whatever money that would mean--is simply the frost on the cake.

    For most of us, I think money speaks because we live in a society that so values "stuff."

    Peace.

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