By: Joelle Charbonneau
You walk into a bookstore and see lots of fabulous books on shelves. You walk out of the store with a bag full of books because you love reading. You love the written word. You can’t get enough.
The first book you read is pretty good. The second not so hot. And finally you read one that makes your blood boil until you say – I can write better than that. So you sit down at the computer and write. Because hey – you hate your day job and you think that writing a book has to be a really easy way to make money. After all, you make your own hours. You control your own destiny. And books get made into movies all the time. Cha-ching! You’ll be rich in no time.
I believe writing is a wonderful career choice. The process of sitting down and building a story line by line is challenging and incredibly rewarding. But let me debunk a few myths about the writing life.
Yes – you make your own hours. That just means that often you are up at 4a.m. to write pages before going to your day job or (like me) you’re up until all hours of the night getting your goals met. You’ll also find that you’ll need to work every day and that it will be a struggle to take a day off when you are working under contract. Just because you are technically working for yourself doesn’t mean things are easier. They’re just—different.
Yes—most writers have a day job. They aren’t striking it rich with a book deal. Most first time traditionally published novelists get advances between $3,000-$10,000 a book. $5,000 is probably the most typical number. Now that is an advance on your royalties, so if the book sells well you’ll make more, but don’t count on it. And even if you do make more, royalties start getting paid about 6 months to a year after the book comes out. (This is different if you self-publish, but those authors I know who have done REALLY well self-publishing and have been on the Kindle best-seller lists have often pulled in around $10,000-$12,000 a year on a book…the more typical number is lower, so that’s not the best way to get rich quick, either.) Yeah – the old adage of don’t quit your day job is pretty important advice when it comes to being an author. I’m lucky that I can make my living as an author…but I am also aware that can change at any time. An author is only as good as their last contract and their last book. So you have to keep pushing forward and hoping that your work connects with readers or you’ll be out of a job.
Yes – books get made into movies all the time. But I have heard that the percentage of books that have been optioned and actually made it to screen is somewhere around the 1% mark. There are lots of stories being told on the page. Just go to your local bookstore on a Tuesday when new titles are being released and you’ll see how many are there…and that is only the books that store is stocking. Catching the eye of a film producer and actually seeing the book turned into a movie is a lot like catching lightning in a bottle. If it happens – WHOO HOOO! But don’t think that’s the norm.
Yes – in many ways more than ever authors control their own publishing destiny. There are lots of ways to get a book into a reader’s hands. YAY! But I think too many writers are far too busy worrying about their publishing options and whether they’ll make a million dollars when they sit down and write. Because while those are the really cool, often impossibly unattainable aspects of being a novelist, they cannot be controlled. The only thing you can control in the business of publishing is writing the book, getting to The End and then going back and making it the very best book it can be.
If you want to be a writer and you are busy thinking of the flexible hours and the potential movie deals – find something else to do because you’re just going to be disappointed. If you want to write the best book you can—welcome to the club. Writing isn’t always easy. It isn’t always fun. But it is rewarding. And I can’t imagine doing anything else.