Thanks largely to TV and movies which tend to feature successful authors solving mysteries, appearing on talk shows, and living in fancy penthouse apartments in Manhattan, the public believes that all you need is a book in Borders and you’re set for life.
Talk about writing fiction!
As I’ve met more and more authors, interviewed them for this blog, and become friends, I am learning how rare it is to find an author who makes a comfortable living from their work. Seriously, I can only think of a few examples where “writing” is that person’s prime occupation.
One author with many books on the Science Fiction bestseller lists works as a secretary. Another has taken a part time job with the census bureau. There’s a NY Times Bestseller who has complained on her Facebook page about her real life job (but I’m not sure what it is).
Many have been able to find jobs related to writing: English professors and other educators are (not surprisingly) common.
And a few have been able to pay the bills by writing, but they write a lot — fiction, nonfiction, magazine articles, comic books, short stories — anything. This is a good strategy if you can manage it, but ironically it kind of requires you to not have a job first to have enough time to write that much.
There are some who are doing quite well, but not everyone can be J.K. Rowling or Steven King — just like every songwriting musician can’t be Bruce Springsteen or Elvis Costello.
I was on a panel with Lawrence Watt-Evans at a recent convention, and this subject came up. He’s an award-winning author whose books can easily be found at any bookstore. The uncertainty of income is a constant for writers. “One year my total income was $16,000,” he said. Of course, it’s understood that his income could have been ten times that much in the next year when a great bestseller would be released, but the lesson remains:
Don’t become a writer for the money!
There are creative people all over the world — artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers — and for every rich successful one out there, a thousand more are working as waiters while hoping for their big break. Being talented helps, but often the relationship between talent and success is blurry.
Write because you love it! I’m not saying to disregard the public — if you write stuff no one wants to read then it’s rather pointless — but be realistic about your future. Keep your feet on the ground.