Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Reality of Being a Published Author

When I was just out of high school, I used to constantly say to myself that if I could just have six months in a quiet house with no bills and no responsibilities, I'd write the perfect book, get it published, and then never have to work again. I held on to that dream through much of my twenties, using it as an excuse for not writing.

Well now I'm published. I never found that six months of responsibility-free solitude. What I did find is a reality that bears a sadistic non-resemblance to my dream. I've heard a lot, recently, of the type of wishing that I used to do and I thought I'd shatter some dreams for fun. You know, because it's Wednesday and I'm bored.

So here's the reality: Writing time is carved out of real life. Working on my current project, brain storming, revisions, more revisions, uh...more revisions, all have to be done around my normal stuff. I have a 40-50 hour a week job. Some times I manage to leverage some time during my day to sneak in some outlining or typing, but mostly those are hours that are lost. Then I have a dog who demands much of my time, a house that often needs cleaning, friends who send up signal flares if I don't hang out with them, family, other hobbies. Plus, I gotta know what happens on the last season of Lost.

Those things mean that I have to find time to write whenever I can get it. I work noon to eight two days a week, so I use those days to get up early and write. I usually write from about eight in the morning until I have to get ready for work at eleven. I do most of my revising and editing in the evenings when I get home from work while dinner's cooking, or on a lap desk while I catch up on Dexter. Then there are the weekends. I follow the same morning routine, except that I write from the time I wake up until the time my brain turns to mush.

I make those writing times sacred to me. Even if I have no project to write, I write projects that I might want to work on later to see if they're better ideas than actual projects (something which occurs more often than not).

Much of the rest of my life suffers for my writing. I became woefully out of shape because I sacrificed working out for writing (something I'm currently taking back), I see my friends less than I want, and have less time to do other things I enjoy (paint, learn the guitar, play on my computer). But those are the realities. I'm published, yes, but I still have to find writing time where I can find it.

The reason is because most new authors (and many, many authors with multiple books) can't live off of their advances. My advance was modest. There are quite a few upsides to that, which I may or may not have spoken of in other posts, but the point is that my advance isn't enough to live off of. Sure, if the book does well and I earn out my advance, eventually I'll receive royalties, but my book doesn't come out until June 15 of next year. And publishers only do royalty statements twice a year. And, with returns, I likely won't earn any royalties in my first six months. Therefore, if I earn ANY royalties, I probably won't start seeing them until 2011! And if I do, they probably won't be for much.

Hopefully in the future, I'll sell another book, and then another. But IF I sell another book this year (or likely next year) that takes in another modest advance....well, you get the picture. Making a living with this writing thing is not at all like the dream.

But, you're saying, what if I get a superstar advance my first time out? Well, as unlikely as that is to happen (I know a couple people who've done it) if it does happen, it doesn't really put you into any better of a position than me, except that I haven't got six figures tumbling in my brain making me make bad decisions. See with my modest advance, I figured out my tax liability and then put that in a savings account. Then I paid off some bills. Then I treated myself to something shiny. Um...then it was gone. Seriously, aside from taxes, I treated it as bonus money. Money I didn't expect to have.

With a larger advance, you'll have a bigger tax liability (and you'll likely have to pay quarterly). But is it really enough to quit your day job? Probably not. Because unless your book explodes, you're probably going to be earning out your advance forever. You'll likely never see royalties, which means you won't have income. You'll just have that one check. And unless you have the next book ready and sold, you might be living off that check for a very long time. Hello Ramen noodles.

That's it. The reality. The reality is that selling your book and getting published isn't this magical thing that to a land free of responsibility. It is, however, one of the coolest, most amazing experiences in my life. I've learned how to be a better writer, met the most amazing people, and generally had a good time. I hope that in the future I'll create a sustainable career that will enable me to put my day job aside, but until then I just keep writing what I love and living the best life I can.


  1. Aw! You soul crusher of dreams, you.

    But seriously, very interesting post!

  2. Fantastic blog. We all secretly knew all of this, but just hate to admit to it. But that's not why we write, is it?

    Congratulations. NOW I'm going to spend some time checking you out properly.

    Great Blog.

  3. A great, honest post. So much about doing this is dedicating the time to do it. I know of an author (w/ kids) who gets up at 4am to write because she figures no one could possibly want anything from her then.

  4. I've seen a lot of these posts lately about the reality of not making a living as a writer, and I'm happy to read them. The sooner I can banish the fantasy from my mind, the better.

  5. Truthfully, I think a lot of potential writers (like I was when I was younger) need to know this stuff. The funny thing is that without my day job I don't think I'd be able to write as effectively. Just knowing that I have a steady income that's not dependent on me writing the next book makes it easier for me to do my best work.

  6. Reality bites.

    Here's hoping you hit it big. What can I say? I'm still a dreamer!

  7. Hi Shaun,

    Go Tenners! Thanks for stopping by my blog and voting on the pic. We are geek kindred spirits; I watch all the same shows as you and isn't Buffy Season 8 AWESOME! Looking forward to your book :)


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