Writing as profession…
I was amused to read a would-be-author in New Zealand bemoaning just how HARD it was in his local paper. I’ll spare you his missive (and him the embarrassment) but he was moaning how unfair it was that living away from the big city/University scene he was unable to afford to attend the courses and meet the right people to get him ‘in’. And getting bought on merit was just too hard, because the public had such appalling taste, and the market for books written by native New Zealanders was too small.
His answer, was, like Norway (which has a fair amount of spare cash) the Government should intervene, and buy copies of books by citizens to give as gifts to the ambassadorial staff of all foreign embassies and visiting dignitaries.
I did stop laughing before I actually died of anoxia, but it was close.
His ideas on the volume of that market was hilarious. That wasn’t half as funny as the idea that any semi-sane country would want to promote the denigrating perception of their history and people which is just about universal in Modern Western Traditional publishing: ‘We’re horrible people, inferior in every respect and at least half our population are scum. And our history deserves nothing but pillory and loathing, and reparations’.
Great promotion. Foreign Dignitary: “After reading this delightful work about the revolting debauchery and brutal cruelty to innocents in your history, and the charming insults to your president and 2/3 of your population, yes we would just love to be your chums.”
It seems that when their books are not making them much of a living, many authors feel it’s not them, but the appalling taste of the readers, and the GOVERNMENT OUGHT TO INTERVENE.
It worked SO well in the USSR and East Germany. The books reflected the doctrine, praise-sung the leadership, and were jobs-for-incompetent-but-well-connected communists. They were as frequently read as instruction manuals, and produced the delights of the like of Frau Butthurt…
Not good for reading (which I happen to love and want to foster) and really, not good for writers unless you were a Commissar’s precious and spoiled but dim-witted only daughter. This wasn’t a path open to most people who wished to write as a profession.
So how do you make a profession of it?
Well, I have heard of the diet of Worms (see how they wriggle and squirm) but a diet of words can be… slimming. Look there are various studies on the average income of authors, which are pretty low, but the medium income is three parts of nothing at all.
Most authors cannot live on their earnings. Just hold that thought, because I manage (not very well, but we don’t need to bleg on patreon, (like a few Hugo winning authors) or rely on a well-paying second job or a well-off or working partner). The working partner certainly helps, but we did live without that second income for about 12 years. It’s, in my blunt opinion, what is best for the future of both reading and writing. It’s a goal I hope most of our readers here share. Actually I hope most of you not just to earn a living but become filthy stinking rich… because not only would you get a reward, but as someone who loves reading, so would I.
If the industry was driven to make good money off books which were popular, and for which they had to pay those popular authors through the nose, the selective pressures would see books that weren’t popular vanish without a trace.
Which might mean you and me. But as I’ve managed to get here, via the slush pile, as an unknown, with zero local contacts, no internet connection, and the social skills of a monkey. So: despite the table being tilted hard against me, it’s anything but impossible to succeed. (And I am not alone in this, many authors who are not of the modern American Left who are still successful must, de facto, be better than the author at the same level who had the process favor them (because the establishment is hard left and mostly female, and plays favorites in identity politics and intersecionalism and all the other buzzwords). It’s hard to guess where a level playing would have taken them. At a guess the top I’d say those out of favor with the literary establishment possible have a 20%-50% disadvantage, which grows to several hundred percent lower down.).
Now, of course, the answer might be to please these powers. That’s the game on easiest setting after all. Do your very best to worm your way into the literary establishment, parrot the right doctrine, kiss up hard and join all the right pogroms and attend the right cons, and get taught by the right well-connected at various writing courses (taught by the grandees of those circles – for money (think about that)) and then use that leverage to get in with a publisher like Tor that leans hard that way, and has power and influence to promote your book in reviews and Awards and brick-and-mortar stores. This may be your natural chosen environment, and reflect your beliefs and convictions. Or not. If not, I suggest calling for pogroms and leading a few witch-burnings. It’s a bit like being a sheep among wolves. If you don’t lead the pack to lots of sheep-killing, you’re next. (the most rabid ANC members calling for murder of whites… were always… white).
But the downside of this: if you actually dream of financial success or even just making a living… is that, despite this, most of them don’t. You see, being an author, or working at a prestigious NY Trad publishing house… has social status (at least in certain circles) and a sea of delusions too. ‘It’ll get better. It’s a toe in the door etc.’ Which is why young authors accept advances – which never earn out – which, hour-for-hour of work (or the years they spent on that novel in coffee-shops because that’s where the ‘cool’ writers write.) pay pennies per hour. They have (they HAVE to have) other sources of income – be a spouse or a trust fund or mummy and daddy, or a lucrative and not too arduous a day-job (so they still have the time and energy to write). There are exceptions, the single mum who works as a farm laborer days and raises her kids and writes from 4 AM to 6 AM every morning, but they are rare.
This means because being an author has status, (and being a bloke in big rubber boots that goes down sewers to unblock them does not) publishers get, de facto, a subsidy from the author’s support system, making the author’s work cheap. (Yes, they DO buy occasional books for large advances. Take a deep and careful at who gets those.) Sewer servicing companies have no such subsidy, and actually have to pay for the rubber boots too. Those guys get a very good wage as a result – they do not subsidize their companies to do their job.
The Publishing Companies themselves enjoy a similar level of perceived social status – which is why they are full of mostly young women, being paid peanuts (look at the adverts, one day. The pay scales for NYC, in publishing are dismal. But they must get employees, or they’d have to pay more.).
So you have vanity books being bought by vanity employees.
And mystery of mystery not selling a hell of a lot to those outside their social milieu – which exists, but is not huge.
On the opposite extreme you have some people making a very good living out of writing – mostly KU – and producing 12-18 books A YEAR. Yes –as Amanda wrote, plagiarism – and a host of other problems. But they can’t be accused of playing the game on easy setting.
I know that my best year I wrote 500K – so at the length of those books, 10 or so. You may be able to do better. I could not. I couldn’t do that two years in a row, either, and not for want of trying.
If you can: great. If you can’t…
It is still possible to succeed. I seriously believe we’re going to have a quality shake out in the next few years, AND, well, the old model of Trad is failing. It will take a while, but we simply have to come back to popularity as the driving force – and that’s popularity with a large number of readers, not just one very over-served sector.
It can and must be done.
Otherwise you could try writing the sort of book that someone might think was a great idea to give visiting dignitaries. Perhaps something that said: “We are best and greatest, and if you give us any shit, we will trample you like ants, and we’re going take all best things from your culture and make them to our taste.”