by Patrick LeClerc
Several of the QM staff were on a panel recently entitled “So You Want to be a Writer,” where we tried the old “scared straight” approach to save aspiring authors from this life. Not sure we did a very good job. Anyway, it made we think about why somebody would choose to follow this path. Why I did.
After careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that you shouldn’t, and that I didn’t. I never made a conscious decision to write. It was just something that I was going to do, whether or not I got success or money or praise. Which is convenient, because there is no guarantee that you will get any of those.
If you are thinking of writing as a career, or as a source of additional income, there are almost certainly better choices. You will put in thousands of hours before you get a penny. If everything goes perfectly, it will be a year between sitting down to write and seeing the book for sale. Probably longer. The average payout is less than if you spent those hours doing almost anything else for money. And you may never be published. And if you are, you’ll do even more work promoting your work if you want to sell any books.
Becoming a best selling author is like becoming an A list actor. It happens, but for every start who gets a million dollars per movie, there are thousands who still wait tables between gigs. Even a solid mid list writer makes less money than an electrician. You can more or less live on a writing income, but modestly unless you have a day job or a pension or some other income than writing.
Yeah, J K Rowling is doing alright, but not everybody is J K Rowling. And you can write a good book, but unless you write a good book and get lucky and hit the right spot in the market at the right moment, you won’t be J K Rowling. Even a success like George R R Martin, who is doing well enough with his Game of Thrones checks, wrote for four decades, making a modest, mid-list income before the big TV deal. A Game of Thrones itself was published in 1996, so it took almost 20 years before the big payday.
So we don’t do it for the money.
I do it because I can’t stop. Writing is almost pathological, really.
Some of us just need to tell stories. And we’re going to do it anyway. So if you’re going to do it anyway, you should strive do it well. And then you should strive to get it out there where it can be seen.
So, if you want a stable, successful life, with a solid income and financial security, learn a trade.
But if you are one of us, one of the Misfit Toys, just embrace the life and excel at it.
And know that the rest of us will be here for you. Because we were chosen as well. As the great philosopher said: I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.
And keep your stick on the ice.