A friend asked me if trying to become a successful author is worth the investment of time and money. Not only do writers have to hone the craft, they need to attend conferences, workshops, hire editors and publicists, build websites and promote.
I wish I knew the answer to my friend’s question. Now that my books are nearing their release date, I’ve been spending most of my time on the internet researching how to promote. And I still don’t know how to do it. Blogging, of course. Publishing articles. Making connections on Facebook and Gather. But to become successful, writers need to go beyond the obvious. Nor do I have the money necessary to do all that is required, including attending conferences, joining national writing groups, traveling to booksignings. So I have to do it on the cheap.
Is it worth it? I won’t know for a year or two or ten if I’m going to be a successful author, so right now, I’ll leave you with the daunting facts: one and a half to two million books are written every year. 150,000 are published (about half of those are self-published), and since many carry over from year-to-year, I figure that at least a million are being peddled as we speak. 75% of published books (including some with big advances) sell less than 500 copies. 85% of published book sell less than 1000 copies. 84% of books in a bookstore sell less than 2 copies. A book is considered successful if it sells a total of 5000 copies. Considering the time it takes to write, edit, and promote, that comes to about $1.00 an hour for the author. Woohoo. (And that doesn’t take into consideration the sometimes hefty amounts people shell out for conferences, editing, classes, etc.)
Because time as well as money is at a premium, we feel guilty when we promote and let the writing lie fallow. And we feel guilty when we write and don’t promote. Juggling with fire would be easier, and less complicated, especially when the fireballs being juggled include jobs and family.
On the other hand, what choice do we have? We are writers. We need to write, and we need readers.
November 15, 2008 at 2:14 pm
Great article, Pat! I would add that most of the writers I’ve met write because they have to – because for them it is a source of sanity in an insane world. It doesn’t allay the guilt felt when neglecting other aspects of our lives for our writing, but it does help to explain it.
Asking a writer why they write is like asking a marathon runner why they run. If you have to ask, you’ll never understand.
Though I have to admit, making a little money at it would be nice;)
November 16, 2008 at 11:53 pm
It is so distressing when people ask me what I do. If I say I write, then the next question is invariably “Have you been published?” For awhile now I’ve been able to say yes, but then the next question arises: “How many books have you sold?”
I don’t understand why people think they can get away with this question, which is intrusive. Would you ask a obstetrician you met at a party how many babies she had delivered, or a stockbroker how many clients he has?
But for some reason, as writers, we are asked to prove ourselves, again and again, to everyone who meets us. Thoughts as to why, Pat?
November 17, 2008 at 10:04 am
Suzanne, Because everyone writes, if only a shopping list. And most people want to write a book, though only about 10% of those who want to write do. People are only impressed by that which they cannot do.
Why ask the number of books sold? Because they aren’t smart enough to ask an important question, and because the number of books sold tells them where you fall in the heirarchy of writers. (Though they have no idea what the numbers mean.) If you sell only a few copies, they can brush you off as insignificant, which makes their not writing less of an issue. If on the other hand you sell a lot, they can feel better about themselves because you got “lucky.”
One thing I’ve learned — Whatever people say or do, it’s all about them, never you.
November 20, 2008 at 12:50 am
Lately it seems as if all readers are writers and you wonder if anybody just reads anymore. 🙂
Catching up with your blog and loving the posts! So very true – all of it!
November 25, 2008 at 9:43 am
Maybe so many readers become writers out of self-preservation. These days, it seems that if you want to read an out-of-style book such as a cross-genre one, you have to write it yourself.