I was at a regional writing conference last year (and I’m pretty sure I’m swearing off the foolish things forever) where the authors who had traditional publishers—even if they never saw an advance*—behaved poorly around the crowd of indie authors who were in attendance. From my conversations with the two groups, both seemed pretty well versed in publicity and book promotion methods. Both were focused on craft improvement. In fact, the only difference I saw between the two groups was that the Indie authors were making money on the sales of their books. And the trad authors, well, weren’t. (*Interesting note: The authors who had gotten sizable advances from their publishers didn’t tend to act like jerks lording it over the indies but the ones who hadn’t gotten any money up front, kinda did.)
It seems to me that there are two ways to claim success in any given field:
- You either produce something of quality that has your peers (or the general public) raving,
- Or you are well-paid for the thing you’ve produced even if nobody breaks down your door to tell you how marvelous you are.
After thinking not very long at all on this, I realized that my idea of writing success involves getting paid for my efforts—at least enough to live on. I don’t have to win the lottery, but I’d consider a thousand bucks a month still “hobby” status. (I’ve been a freelance copywriter nearly my whole adult life so it wasn’t
that big a jump for me to see writing fiction as something I should be paid for. I tend to believe this, in spite of the fact that artists and authors through the ages typically weren’t able to support themselves on their earnings. No one is more surprised than I am to realize that getting paid for my work—even work that doesn’t sell gym memberships or Lexus cars—is a baseline expectation of mine.
And of course, before you ask—yes, I’d do it even if I never earned a dime.
Goes without saying.
So along those lines is of course the other big reason to write. In fact, probably the main reason. It’s the reason most writers all started out with, and it’s the one that sustains us through the brown bar of shame on our Kindle Reports, the one-star reviews and the $1,000-plus editor and cover design costs.
John Gardner said it best, I think, on the last page of his book, On Becoming A Novelist when he wrote:
“The true novelist is the one who doesn’t quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga or way, an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious—a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfaction no non-novelist can understand—and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.”
So which is it? Do you write for money? Or for recognition? Do you have to have both to consider yourself successful? Or do you just write for yourself and book sales are irrelevant?
Love to hear.