Writers: Keep Your Day Job

When I tell someone that I’ve finished writing a novel, sometimes they ask, “So, when’s it coming out?” They know I have a number of novels already published. In their minds, I am an established writer, and each novel I produce ultimately goes to market.

This ain’t the case, at all. The writing world is much like the economic imbalance of our country: the one percent rich and the rest of us in the 99%. For argument, let’s say one percent of writers can life off their writing—they don’t have to teach or bake bread or pump gas for a living. They’re rich. Famous. The rest of us know that we’re better off to keep our day job, because, making money from books? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to giggle.

A friend once wrote a very good first novel that was bought by a well-established publishing house. He decided to quit his lucrative job at a major computer company, where he brought home six figures and had a retirement plan that would make an old man cream. His work schedule was such that he could steal away a couple of hours a day to write. But he chose to quit his job, stay home and become a full time writer. He wanted to live the dream of making it off his books.

His book did. . .okay, market-wise. But okay for a major publishing company is not, at all, okay. He didn’t sell another book. He got sick, and the private insurance plan didn’t cover as much as his corporate one. He had to sell his home. He now lives in a small apartment. He got a new job in a wee-little computer company, and makes nowhere what he used to pull in. And he’s not writing. He doesn’t have the time.

No one asked me to write this novel set in 1930s Appalachia Tennessee. I just wanted to write it. So I spent three years—three goddamn years!—writing a book that now, I have no idea if it’ll sell. Because the publishing world in New York is a mean one (More on that in following posts).

I don’t know any novelists, or writers of any genre, for that matter, who write on consignment. We just write. Because we’re compelled to, because we enjoy it, because we want to say something to the world, because we’re masochists, because writing gives us more life—all the reasons. But, that doesn’t mean anyone besides our mothers and spouses will read it.

But, we can be involved in the marketing. Don’t spend three years writing the Great American Novel and only three weeks trying to sell it. Build a strategy, from whatever position you’re now in. Today, one of the first things to do is get an agent’s attention. I’ll write more on agents later this week.

Marketing isn’t as fun as creating, I know. It’s a pain in the ass. But, once you start doing it, you just might find a strange enjoyment in it–because you’re fighting for a story you’ve created. Again, more on marketing strategies in upcoming blogs.

In the meantime, keep writing. And keep your day job.

One comment

  1. Oh Marcos, I was just trying to explain to someone the other day that parking your tush in the chair and doing the writing is about 5% (I didn’t figure in talent…) but agents, publishers, blah, blah, blah is 95% and the aggravation of dealing with some of the people involved cannot be measured. At least, we can always go back and read what we’ve written even if no one else does – not so easy for those wanting to be…performers and require an audience. Oy!

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