You’re Real

Lapin nain photographe

It is not the first time I heard this argument.  It won’t be the last.  Today, talking to a friend, discussing a definitely unfavorable contract I once signed, I got this answer “I’d sign that.  If I had just one contract, I’d know I was a real writer.”

Seriously?  Seriously, guys, you’re going to go with that?  Do you need your manuscript to be hand-copied by real monks too?  Or do you just need it to be printed in an authentic traditional hand operated press? Or will you just be happy if your books are stitched together by hand?

Look, ascribe this — and the fact this post is really late — to my having a blinding headache and feeling generally like an eighteen wheeler ran me over.  The reason Kate filled in for me yesterday is that I had a doctor’s appointment at eight am.  Today I have antibiotic from hell.  Which is good, because pain from a double ear infection and sinus and throat infection was making me scream and moan, sometimes in public.  (And no, you shouldn’t be worried.  This is all part of the edge I walk, between managing the auto-immune, with meds that knock out my immune system, then managing illness.  A single severely stressful episode (January.) can set it off and it takes months to stabilize.  On the good side, I’ve been doing this my whole life, and I’m still here.)  So, I’m crankier than usual, which is something NO ONE wants to experience.

However, you DO have to understand our field is experiencing a great change because of technology.  If you write non-fic you’re still fine, but if you write fiction, the traditional publishing slots will keep diminishing and traditional publishing will slowly shed anyone not a proven bestseller.  Why?  Because that’s the only way to support their greater expenses in publishing AND to make it worth it for a writer to sign a part of their profit away.  I expect in as many as ten years, as few as three, traditional publishers will be the people already successful authors sign with to go to “the next level.”  At least they will be if both sides are smart.

MOST people, and certainly most midlisters (including me.  I’m not being snooty) will go indie as a matter of course.  And many more of them will thrive than could under the old model.  And readers will be more choice.

BUT I also predict that any number of writers will sign bad contracts with small to medium presses that can do NOTHING they can’t do themselves, but which will happily take 90% of the author’s profit for…


Legitimacy, it seems.  It seems most of you are Velveteen Writers TM.

Well, no one ever accused me of being the blue fairy, but I’m here to make you all Real Writers TM.

How do you know you’re a real writer?

Real writers write, most of them every day or pretty close.  If you’re doing that, you’re already a real writer.

Ah, but you want to be a professional writer.  When is that magical threshold crossed?  Surely you need a contract for that?

Sh*t.  If you need a contract that bad, print one up and sign it.

Professional writers make a significant amount of their living from writing.  If you’re doing that you’re professional.

But what if you’re only making a few hundred a month from writing?

Well, congratulations.  You’re making as much as most traditionally published writers.  With first time advances not at 2 to 3k and a book a year for those without a following, you are probably making as much a year as most “professionals” eligible to join “professional” organizations.  I hereby dub you a professional.  Go get yourself a glass of water and celebrate.  And then work, so you can make more money.

But what if you only make a few hundred a year from writing?  If only you could get some contracts.

Sh*t and shovel!  I spent the first four years as a published author (short stories) making about $200 a year.  It was enough to take the kids out for pizza a few times.  This is known as semi-pro.  It’s also known as apprenticing.

A contract won’t make you real.  Writing more will make you real.  Indie and traditional both thrive on content.  The more you write the more you’ll make.  And in indie, this is all in your hands.  You don’t need anyone to give you permission.

Go write and publish.  Stop obsessing about being real.  I say you’re real, and in proof thereof, I’ve made the following certificate, which you can download, fill in and print at your convenience.

STOP GIVING AWAY part of you income for nothing, particularly to small presses of dubious value.  Write.  Publish.  Repeat.  Become a professional.

certificate of real

75 thoughts on “You’re Real

  1. I’m sure a lot of people think they’re not “real” until they have Fame (though Fortune seems more elusive.) Hey, not everybody is J.K. Rowling, and honestly, it takes a century or more to see who is really going to last, though we can surmise that notaries from the mid-20th century such as Tolkien who have a lasting impact will continue to do so.

    1. Eh, not het, but give me till this weekend and I could probably get a simple illuminated one up to post, incipient infant willing. Still not sure it would be official enough for some folks.

  2. The there are only two reasons I want to sign contract at this point. The first is to increase my readership via a publishing company’s distribution. (and hopefully make more money).
    The second is to be able to walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelves (and finally tell my mom, yes I am in bookstores – she’s old fashioned).
    Of those two reasons, the first is the only one that really matters. Because I stink at marketing and need all the help I can get 😛

    1. Exactly. If I sign a contract, the clause I’ll look most closely at is exclusivity. As in I want none. Zero, or as close as I can negotiate. And very soon after the small-royalty traditional book hits the stands, I’ll have 70% royalty indie books to follow. I’ll bet in the time it takes a traditional publisher to get one book out, I can have four to six indies ready to go. They get the lion’s share on the big book, and I get the lion’s share on the smaller books. Win-win.

      1. Don’t bother looking at exclusivity. It is not negotiable. No publisher will buy print-only rights, no publisher will buy non-exclusive print and ebook rights, and only in the rarest circumstances will the publisher buy the rights without also demanding unlimited right of first refusal on any related books – which they may choose to interpret to mean ‘anything at all in the same genre or any related genre’.

        The clause you should look most closely at is the noncompete, which may forbid you to do any indie publishing from then on. (In extreme cases, it has been interpreted by publishers to mean that authors cannot even write blogs without written permission.)

        The catch, of course, is that noncompete clauses justly have a bad name, so to avoid the odium of having a noncompete clause, the publishers do not label any clause ‘Noncompete’, but scatter the language sneakily through other sections of the contract. One reason why publishing contracts have become small books in themselves is to provide foliage for the really bad and damaging clauses to hide in.

        Also, they will do nothing to help you sell the ‘big book’, except make it available for distribution to Barnes & Noble and the other handful of large retail accounts that still do not accept indie books. They will expect you to spend your entire advance promoting their book, and will in all probability budget none of their (lion’s) share of the proceeds for any kind of marketing.

        It is just conceivable that, after saddling you with every disadvantage and expense and keeping all the money for themselves, they will accidentally blunder into good sales – or you, by your own unpaid efforts, will manufacture good sales for them. Don’t count on it. Unless you are getting a big enough advance that someone will be fired if the book flops, you are an afterthought to them.

        1. Although WordPress does have a “Like” button which can be found if you hunt hard enough, it doesn’t give a publicly visible record of likes the way that, say, Disqus comments do. So consider this a public +1.

      2. I’m a lawyer, but if I were to be offered a contract I would hire an IP lawyer to read it, too, even though I did a little IP work back in my salad days. (Why is “salad days” for youth when we have to start eating more salads as we get older?) I know what I don’t know.

    2. I freely admit, and there were witnesses, that the first time I saw my non-fic book on a shelf, I squeed and took photos to prove it. The other people in the shop were amused, as you can imagine.

      I decided that I’d stopped being a Velveteen Author (TM) when I got my first one-star review. Now people would know that it wasn’t just friends reading my stuff.

      1. That was a gleeful feeling, even in an anthology.

        And the first time I had my copy in my hands I flipped to my own story and read.

  3. Bwahahaha! I think I’ll frame it.

    A lot of the problem I see is a mixture of needing an outside source of legitimacy and reluctance to tackle new tech.

    Dudes! Really, you’ve leapfrogged the breaking in pains. It’s dead easy now. I didn’t own a computer until I was thirty-something, didn’t get on the internet until I was forty-five . . . and managed to publish myself on Amazon at 58.

    If I can do it, you can do it.

  4. We need to know the font so we can fill it in properly. Otherwise it won’t be real.

      1. Yeah, I stopped worrying about real when Stan said I was real. Hard to argue with Stan.

        But how can I pass up a certificate?

              1. After seeing the image at the top, I kinda hoped the certificate would have a bunny…

  5. Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been feeling like this lately. Especially after second book in series didn’t sell great and didn’t make a huge bump of the first and other books.

    Seriously been thinking lately I’d do better if I had a “real publisher” instead of just me. That they’d plug me into anthologies and market me and I’d magically get this sales boost.

      1. I know, or at least, have heard. I just still have that myth of a publisher lifting me up to the promised lands of sales in my head and sometimes I start to believe it again.

        I am lost on how to market better, but I know logically that a publisher wouldn’t do much for me there.

        1. I know — I am still trying to work that out myself.
          Figure out where your readers are likely to be — and get your book in front of them. That’s the theory, anyway.

  6. As someone who can identify with what you’re writing about — glares at Sarah — part of it is that there are still so many out there who don’t think indies are “real” writers. Of course, if we’re honest with ourselves, they wouldn’t think we were “real” writers even with a “real publishing” contract. At least not unless we reached Stephen King levels of sales.

    For myself, there is another factor as well. I recognize the publishing landscape is changing and none of us knows where it will be in a couple of years. Yet I feel as though I haven’t accomplished a goal I set for myself some years ago. That goal was to get a contract offer from Baen. And I hate not reaching goals, even if the business has changed. Because of that, were Toni W. to offer me a contract, I’d be hard-pressed to say no because — duh — Baen.

  7. I wanted validation. For anything. Short fiction, novel, whatever. I wanted someone to tell me that my stuff didn’t suck.

    So Sarah kicked me in the keester and I published something. It was my weakest piece, but it was the only thing that wasn’t completely awful that wasn’t out somewhere for consideration.

    When it hit the Amazon bestseller list, I took it to mean that I was, indeed, a real writer. 🙂

  8. Thank you Sarah! This is about the best business advice I could think of for new writers. I for years wanted the “real contract” until I realized that’s just middleman hooey.

    1. LOL! Reminds me of when I only knew Sarah online. I used to ask if she was a real person. Then our friend Sofie went to visit her and I had to acknowledge that yes, Sarah is indeed real. Thank goodness.

      And for the record, Sarah is also the one who told me I am a real writer. I don’t argue with her. Ever.

      1. ‘S OK, I’ve met Sarah in person and she’s still not entirely certain that I’m not really a ferocious spotted kitten. *licks whiskers* Not certain what the difficulty is. *rumples tail*

        1. *chinrubs your shoulder* I have no idea what she’s on about. She seems to keep insisting I’m a little grey cat. *washes face* I mean really. Mist, I could take. The fog and the night both come in on little cat feet. But grey? Grey? Do I look like a fanfic hero?

    2. I might be just a spambot, so there is no real evidence that I write much.

  9. If Sarah says someone is Real, but said person thinks he’s Imaginary, does that mean he’s really Complex?

      1. Sarah Hoyt discriminates against the transreal! Oh, the oppression! I may just faint.

    1. Ah, but sir, you forgot the “sur.” Sur Real. Only for the hoitiest of toities. One raises ones’ pinky finger when one says it. *chuckle*

  10. I’ve reached the stage (knock on wood) where my writing business is finally paying for itself, which seems like a big step in the right direction towards being a pro. More than a couple hundred, not enough to start paying bills, but this year for the first time I owe self-employment taxes on my earnings from writing. That makes it a little too real 😛

    1. Yeah, now there’s a metric for you! “I pay income tax, self employment Social Security and everything else, I’m not only real, I’m a professional.”

      1. Yeah, “The government thinks I’m real!” Not *exactly* the kind of thing you can boast of at parties, but it helps treat imposter syndrome 😀

        1. I’m hoping to cross that threshold this year. Not because I like paying more taxes, but because more income is a good thing.

    2. I got to the point where my writing earned me roughly . . . the same amount as I make in a single shift at my job.

      But that’s still better than before.

  11. Don’t forget these contracts don’t just disappear when you do attain a certain level of success. If you shackle yourself to a particular publisher and then your books start selling really well – you still have a crappy contract – but now it really, really HURTS.
    I started writing about five years ago. Each book that comes out gets a little burst of action for about three months and then it tapers off. But it never drops back as low as before the latest book. Each release leaves you with more readers and a higher BASE READERSHIP.
    If you have ten books out and they are all tied to a low paying contract(s), then you’ve thrown away a huge chunk of all that work to build your name and craft. The ‘glory’ may seem to be worth it when you are only making a couple hundred dollars a month. But when you realize it is costing you $4,000 or $5,000 a month and it is like starting over to get out from under that – You are going to be sick.

  12. Right now, I’m tired from “writing down the basic plot” of this story.

    Now, I’m resting up before trying to make it into a story. IE Making the characters real and telling the story through their interactions.

  13. Thanks for the certificate, Sarah. I’m going to print it and sign it. ~:D

    Then I’m going to finish my combat-drop on Mordor.

  14. Great advice. I imagine it is similar for other things going digital. “You’re not a ‘real’ musician until you can hold the record” has probably passed. “You’re not a ‘real’ actor unless the movie can be seen at the local cineplex” is the next hurdle.

    I have to admit that seeing my book on bookstore shelves does have some appeal. Part of it is probably an age thing. That was what made you a real writer when I was growing up. The next generation (well, next after me, but currently alive) will probably not have the same hangups.

    1. but then you see only one book on the shelves, because the other one was shoplifted. Seriously.
      And then there was the year I had SIX books released and never saw ONE on any shelf.

  15. Most of the little things I pub’d, back in the dusty mists of time by now, were ‘nym’d. I don’t really want to be a real writer (terribly introverted and bad with people, me), I just want *real* money that spends! As long as the check validates, my ego will get over it. *grin*

    Speaking of, back to the scribbling. As soon as I can get plot points nailed down, it’s dialogue time. Again.

    1. As long as the check validates, my ego will get over it.

      Your attitude is healthy and correct. The publishing industry hates you.

  16. I just was told not to submit a story to an anthology because the editor said he wanted to promote unknown writers and I already have a following. That was news to me, but I guess it means that I’m real.

  17. I’ll let myself be real when I finish this book. 😉 (But I’ll make my own certificate, because while I’m as amateur a calligrapher as ever was, I enjoy doing it.)

    …actually, I got paid for comics by Patch for a while in there, which theoretically involved writing. (Work for hire indemnification blah blah blah, but it’s not like I was going to do anything else with single-panel comics about what happened in Woonsocket this week.) Maybe I’ll claim it now after all. 🙂

  18. We also live in a universe where people call Larry Correia, who’s in the top less-than-one-percent of writers sales wise, not a “real writer.” Or who sneer at best-selling authors because they produce “garbage” or “pulp” or stories without “social significance.” Some people will always look down on you, because that’s how they get their kicks, or convince themselves their lives aren’t totally worthless.
    You can’t let the detractors and haters slow you down; that’s what they want. Me, I’m happy doing my stuff, and my latest novel actually outsold John Scalzi’s latest masterpiece (well, only for two days, and only on Kindle ebooks, and only on two days when my book was on sale, but still). I may never see my books on store shelves, but I’m fine with that. Back when I was writing RPGs, I had plenty of books on (mostly gaming and hobby) store shelves, and I was making maybe $1,500 a year. I like it better this way. The money is real, the people getting entertained are real.

  19. Ah, but see, by the new world of publishing, I can’t be real yet – I don’t have my first one-star review! And I don’t have a second book out. And…

    *grins, ducks, and runs* Let’s see if the carp-conveyor to the freezer works this time! Incoming feeesh!

    1. I (or we because my daughter is my co-author for the Luna City books) finally got our one-star review. The daughter-unit was PO’ed – but I was OK. Because all 4 and 5 reviews on Amazon IS slightly suspicious ,,,

  20. When it comes to traditional publishing, this is a much more accurate version of Velveteen. Warning: offensive as Hell.

      1. One summer evening in 2011, I was standing on a corner minding my own business in downtown Tulsa. I was in the middle of brokering a deal involving Eastern European mineral rights when Misty drove by in a Bugatti Veyron. Triggered me with white supremacism. Emergency room security threw me out on my rear.

  21. It’s too early… I’m reading Blue Fairy, and trying to dredge up that old shaggy dog story that has the punchline about “Hare today, goon tomorrow.” Groan. Just don’t go knocking them in the head, okay?

  22. I do NOT consider myself an author or a writer (and I identify as “mythical” anyway….) but if I were and wanted to consider myself a “real writer” I think the payment for the writing is all the confirmation I’d need. And if someone disagrees? Not my problem. “You’re not a REAL…” “Well, of course not. I’m mythical, you silly creature.”

  23. Alas, I cannot claim that certificate right now. I’m merely a U-List author, and I don’t think aspiring to write, if only I can find the time, counts as being a real author.

    Heck, I’ve been suffering immensely from Impostor Syndrome at my work. I’ve been pretending to be a software engineer for several years now, and it’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve been feeling as though I’ve been able to do good enough work that I didn’t have to fear every “ping” indicating I have a work IM message or a new work email was the harbinger that I’m going to be fired immediately.

    But I won’t claim to be a software engineer, even now. I’m only pretending to be one, after all. The best I can claim is that I’m confident that my acting skills in software development are getting pretty good.

    I am also, however, aspiring to be a mathematician: I’m always thinking about mathematics, but I wonder when I’ll ever be able to find the time…but, hey, we all have to start somewhere! (Strictly speaking, I have a math dissertation, so I’m technically probably more than just “aspiring”, at least by training, so it’s more of having fallen back, and now wondering how I can climb back up again…)

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