7.11.2005

Courtesy of that really wonderful site ArtsJournal.com comes Patti Thorn, writing in the Rocky Mountain News about What Does It Take To Make It Big In the Book Business?

Once, a prospective client didn't sign with me because she'd heard me say "most writers don't earn a living from their work". She thought it was defeatist talk, and since she was sure she was the exception to the norm, she signed with someone who didn't tell her she'd be lucky to break even.

Eternal optimists, and you-control-your-destiny Tony Robbins and Tom Cruise (who I think didn''t graduate from high school but by god don't let that stop you from listening to his opinions on medical topics) aside...do you know the difference between reality and going in hock up to your eyeballs because you KNOW you're the next Big Thing?

As an agent my job is half cheerleader and half mother in law. Guess which part is more fun. Yes, we cheer you on. Yes we WANT you to be the next Big Thing. (Remember I make fifteen percent from all those lovely Big Thing Bonanzas so I'm VERY interested in you being a success). But, I've been here a long time. Most of the authors I have these conversations with haven't.

The truth is..keep your day job. And save a lot of money for promotion cause writing books is a HOBBY for most people. If they are LUCKY, they make money one year in three. Not all of course. But MOST. And unlike Lake Woebegone, dear snarklings, we are not all above average.

6 comments:

ScaramoucheX said...

Dammit,Miss Snark, but you are sobering...I have recently decided that I am a writer and I write to make myself so...the opinion of others cannot essentially matter to me, I cannot live in pursuit of their validation (readers, agents,producers, editors,students,et alia), because it is so fickle and may, as you have made so eminently clear to us, never come. So I write to polish that which inspires me until I see it glow, tune it until it hums,and then I seek an audience...And that is an experience wholly other...as it says in the bible,"Let not the left hand know what the right hand doeth".
Tell it like it is, Snark...

Anonymous said...

By "writers" here, do you mean writers who have been published by real houses? Its hard for me to believe they are lucky to "just break even." I broke even and made a profit with nothing but a vanity-POD book. If that's the best you can do with a real house...that's sad. Or do you mean by "writers" all people who have ever written a novel?

Anonymous said...

It's.

Miss Snark said...

I mean people published by "real houses". Given that the average advance for a novel is about $40,000 and most people write one every three years (these are averages) then take 15% for the agency fee, and 25% for taxes. Distribute balance over three years and that's just not a living wage.

My point started with the story of a woman who believed she would support herself with her writing.

Break even was meant perhaps less specifically than the accountants use it, and more metaphorically for "keep your day job".

And yes, it IS sad that good writers can't make their living doing this.

Hell, Philip Glass used to drive a cab to make ends meet. One night he picked up a fare in the Village. The fare looked at his hack license and said "wow, you have the same name as the guy who wrote that amazing opera Einstein on The Beach". Ya, well, love and genius don't pay the bills.

As some wag once said, the best thing to write if you want to make money is ransom notes.

Richard said...

My friends berate for calling writing my hobby after publishing stories for 30 years (my first book came out in '79, the last in '00), but I always think of writing as a hobby. Many people's hobbies, however, are at the core of their lives and that is how I feel about writing. Of course, I may just be a lousy writer...but I've seen so many people who started out with me publishing in the '70s become bitter and stop writing. I don't expect anything at this point but continuing to get published. Anyone who has a book published should consider it a privilege. Okay, now I have to go take my meds...

Rachel said...

Thank you for the clarification, Miss Snark. I'm not quitting my day job, but am definitely hoping that my writing earns me something more than just breaking even on my time and expenses thus far... a hobby is nice, but I am a practical girl, not a hobbyist, at heart.

I may have self-esteem issues, but money would certainly help to validate the seeming frivolity (OK, maybe that comes from my father-but whatever) with which I spend my endless hours outside of my day job.