On a recent episode of the Functional Nerds, I blathered on about being an author and making money. I fully admit to being gunshy on the subject, and therefore, the point I was trying to make was misunderstood. For years, I’ve been trying to articulate how I feel on the subject of writers and having a writing career, but I continue to fail at it. If I’m being intellectually honest, I fail because this is such a touchy subject, and a hot-button for a lot of folks. I’ve been on the receiving end of some heated words over this. People are passionate about being an author/writer, and what that means, and how to define ‘professional’.
I am not trying to get hung up on a title like ‘professional’. What I’ve been trying (and failing) for years to say, is that choosing to be a writer, shouldn’t mean choosing to live a life of poverty eeking out a meager existence doing side jobs and day jobs that bring you no satisfaction. A writer should be able to write and make a living at it. I’m not talking about being rich, or becoming a Clancy or something – just making a living. There are writers out there who are doing this, and they don’t get a lot of attention or a spotlight on what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. Everything out there (interwebz, books, conferences) about being a writer, is focused on writing a book and getting that big traditional publishing contract, which means you’ll have that book out in 18 months, and maybe a second/sequel out 18 months after that. But the contract and what you get paid for those books, will not support you. And it might even prohibit you from writing books for other people, further limiting your ability to earn a living as a writer.
So I want to throw out the titles – this isn’t about pro versus wannabe versus semi-pro blah blah blah. It’s about choosing a career path. You don’t choose to be a Dentist, and then work as a UPS driver in a day-job to support your Dentist dream until you have enough clients to open an office. Typically, you work for an established Dentist, as (get this) a Dentist. Am I oversimplifying? A career path means this is what you do, and what you get paid to do, and you earn a living doing it.
Perhaps the best breakdown of the whole thing, comes from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose ‘Rusch on Business’ blog posts are a must-read for me every week. Recently, she talked about A Career Versus Publication.
From the post:
People make different choices when they’re looking at a career as opposed to the choices they make to achieve a single goal.
If all you want to do is be a published writer, then you will give up a lot to achieve that dream.
If you want to make a living as a writer for the rest of your life, if you want a writing career, then you will not (or should not) give up many of those things just to get one book published
That is a powerful excerpt and I want you to reread it. (Heck – I want you to go read the entire post and then come back. I’ll wait.)
Kristine goes on to delineate writers into two terms for ease of use: the one-book writer, and the career writer, and describes them as:
The one-book writer wants to be published, to maybe have a book hit a bestseller list or win an award, to be legitimately called a writer who has credentials. The one-book writer believes that he will never make a living as a writer or at least, a living as good as the one he makes at his day job, so he doesn’t even try…The one-book writer wants to achieve a goal. It’s a bucket-list sort of thing. It may be that way because the writer has no idea that a career is possible or it may be because the writer has other interests and would rather focus on them.
The career writer is in this for the long haul. She has dozens if not hundreds of books in her. She wants to make a living—a good living—from writing those books. Her goals are twofold: to have books in print, yes, but more than that. This writer wants to spend her life telling stories and/or sharing information. She’s not in it for accolades or wealth, although those are nice side benefits. She’s not in it to get tenure or to show her literary bona fides. She needs to make the rent and do so while pursuing a non-traditional career. That takes planning and foresight, and an ability to roll with the punches.
This is what I haven’t been able to articulate.
I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. I want to write stories and have people read them for years and years to come, and be able to do it while earning a living. Is that a fantasy? Why? The system is setup to make this the more difficult path, and I don’t understand that, either. Or maybe I do and don’t want to open that box.
There are writers out there who do this – who make a living, and they are often looked down upon. They aren’t ‘artists’. I’ve heard them called ‘sell outs’ and ‘hacks’ because they’re not spending years on one book, but rather, put out several in a year, plus some short stories, and reprints because they’ve been doing this so long, they have stuff reverting back to them. And they make a living.
They have a career.