Because of factors that extend beyond me, I think a lot about the realities of making a living as an author. I’ve encountered three different camps on the subject. And the advice they offer all seems to make sense. Some of it conflicts. I’ll do my best to share it here.
One writer laid it all out for me.
I don’t know anybody who makes a living really from writing. Everyone I know supplements with day jobs, teaching, and other things. Think about that and plan accordingly.
I look up to this writer. And she represents what a lot of writers ahead of me on the path have said.
It also seems true that everyone these days, even the most prolific and successful artists, have more than one thing going on, more than one creative outlet, business, or job. Maybe one thing doesn’t have to do it all. Though one thing does always seem to be primary. And that’s the thing people will really expect from you.
There’s another camp who say they make a better life and living, as authors, than they ever did at their earlier careers.
Most of these writers are published independently, or have hybrid careers. They focus on business, as well as art. They all have a direct connection to their audience. A few are published traditionally, and have the types of books that connect with readers in a lot of different markets, or get turned into other projects like television series and movies.
Some of the advice I’ve gotten from authors in this situation includes:
You’re really vulnerable in the early stages.
Don’t share your dream with anybody.
Most people are going to tell you it’s not possible. You can’t listen to them.
Take small steps.
Don’t expect people close to you to understand.
Choose your first readers carefully.
Finish your drafts.
Finish your drafts.
Finish your drafts.
Most of the time the story will take shape in the edits.
Connect directly with your readers.
Build and own your list.
Write a lot of books.
Do the best you can now, and then plan on getting better over your career. No one starts out perfect.
Plan to market yourself, even if you get a traditional deal.
Write what you like to read.
Choose your editor, agent, and beta readers wisely.
Plan on it being a job. Not some romantic fantasy.
Then there is a third camp that sounds something like:
Yeah, you can absolutely make a living, if you happen to write romances or thrillers. Otherwise, good luck, sister.
I do love a good romantic subplot. But, for the most part, romances and thrillers just aren’t my thing. Ultimately, I figure people can tell if you don’t really love what you’re writing. So I have to focus on what I’m into. And I’m into stories that include some romance but aren’t about the romance. So that’s what I tend to be drawn to when writing.
You know, when I was a kid, I had this romantic notion of success, that it would somehow connect to safety.
But then I started looking out in the world and realizing that the more successful you are with anything, the more vulnerable you are, not less.
The more opportunities you get the more help you need, not less.
The more people are interested in your work, the more pressure there is, not less.
The more you experience your dream coming true, the more complicated things can sometimes get with family.
The more you’ll sometimes disappoint people.
The more carefully you have to think about yeses and no’s, and how much time and energy you want to devote to each aspect of your life.
And the more important and challenging, it seems to be to hold on to what you actually love about what you do.
Expectations run high, and other people’s expectations can destroy the joy, and the passion, and the spontaneity, and the creativity in anything.
Is making a living at a thing worth the risk that it could destroy everything I love about it?
On the other hand, I feel like artists need to own more of everything.
We need more ownership over ourselves.
We need more ownership over our time.
We need more ownership over our work.
We need more ownership over our platforms.
And that’s part of what keeps me going as a creator, when the path is a lot clearer and safer, doing pretty much anything else.
We. need. to. own. more. of. all. of. this.
It also seems like the more power artists have the better stories are, actually the better a lot of things are.
Nowadays, I value irl, one on one, moments of fun and meaningful connection more than anything, even anything I find on a screen or on a page.
But there are still a lot of days when the page is only place I can escape to and the only place that make sense to me.
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— Armstrong Watts