I did a Q&A on self-publishing for 49 Writers in Anchorage last week, and toward the end of it one of the participants took objection to my depiction of the downside of the writing business.
It is possible that, in my zeal* to present a realistic picture of the writing life, I came down too heavily on the negative. I apologize. There is great joy to be had in the craft of writing and the last thing I want to do is discourage anyone from launching themselves on that extraordinary adventure. Dorothy L. Sayers said that when you write something and you know it’s good, you feel like God on the seventh day. She was right.
However, God doesn’t put food on the table or clothes on your back or a roof over your head. Samuel Johnson said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” If you want to eat, a sensible understanding of the realities of the writing business is essential. Ignorance is not bliss in the writing business, especially today, when that business is changing pretty much between the blinks of your eyes.
Write for love. Write for money. You choose why you write, and thanks to the advent of the Internet and e-books you can self-publish your book across a huge variety of electronic platforms. Hell, you can blog it a chapter at a time. If you’re writing solely for love, you probably don’t care if you make money and yay you! I absolve you absolutely from paying any attention whatsoever to Hugh Howey or Jeff Bezos or Random Penguin.**
But if you’re writing to make money, you must have a working knowledge of your business. A carpenter knows both how to use a T-square and how to make out invoices. I ask no less of a craftsman who wishes to provide for himself or herself by putting words down on a page and selling that page as part of a story for which you want people to spend their hard-earned money.
If you can swing it, your best option is of course to write for love and money both. I try to do that every day on the job. Sometimes I even succeed. That, right there? That’s bliss.
* aka bloviating, blowharding, pretending like I know anything
** what I wish they’d named it
49 Writers is an Alaskan writers organization dedicated to alleviating the ignorance of the unpublished. Also the published. Click here to sign up for their newsletter, which will tell you about other classes and workshops and speakers like me.