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The Rat Race of Writing Gets More Ridiculous

January 12, 2019

(image via wikimedia)

When it comes to money, writers hardly ever get good news.  The Authors Guild (whatever that is) just released its most recent survey of author earnings , and to be blunt, the money sucks.

The simple version is that famous authors are earning more money than ever, and the rest are earning less.   Most authors can’t make a living off of their writing alone.  If you want to be a writer, you probably shouldn’t do it for the money.

The Authors Guild puts some of the blame on self-publishing independent authors for flooding the market with more books.  Yeah, that’s true.  There are lots of self-published books available now.  On the other hand, nobody is forcing readers to choose self-published books over traditional books.  I’ve purchased a few self-published books, partially to support independent authors, and partially to stick it to the establishment.

The rich and famous authors don’t get hurt by independent authors.  Authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, and Michelle Obama are doing just fine with book sales.  It’s the authors that nobody has heard of that struggle making enough money.

Streaming services like Netflix are also cutting into the average person’s reading time.  Television shows are now designed to be binge watched, and that takes time, especially when there are more and more shows getting put out on more and more outlets.   When I was a kid, there were only three television networks (PBS didn’t count) and no internet or video games, so reading was a good way to pass spare time.  For some people today, there is no spare time for reading.

I’m not complaining.  Even without money, there are benefits to writing.  As famous author Elizabeth Gilbert once said,  “Writing is f*cking great!” At the time, she was criticized for the comment because she was already a rich author; of course she thought writing was “f*cking great.”  Nobody cared that she said f*ckingF*cking doesn’t have the shock value that it used to have.

I agreed with Elizabeth Gilbert, even though I’ve made almost no money from writing.  And I’ll get to why in a moment.

The Authors Guild president James Gleick got a bit melodramatic about the income inequality when he said, “When you impoverish a nation’s authors, you impoverish its readers.”

Impoverished?  As a reader, I don’t feel impoverished.  There are more books out there than ever.  And that’s not going to change, unless the grid gets shut down.  And if the grid shuts down and society collapses, then the lack of reading material will be the least of my worries.  Except for survival manuals.  Survival manuals will be the most valuable books out there.

As long as there is an audience (and the grid is working), writers won’t stop writing.   Writers will write, even when they’re broke.  I figured out years ago that I wouldn’t make a living off my writing.  Instead of depressing me, it’s freed up my writing.

Since I’ll never be published by a major company, I have the freedom to openly mock James Patterson’s books, even writing the occasional James Patterson joke.  People might not laugh at my Best James Patterson Jokes Ever, but I have the freedom to write the jokes.

Since I’ll never be represented by a literary agency, I can openly ask the question: Is Stephen King a hack?  I’ve asked the question several times, and I seem to change my mind each time.  Stephen King fans might threaten violence, but they don’t usually follow through with it.

Don’t get me wrong; I love it when people buy my books.  Yeah, they’re cheap (and they’re pretty good, I think!) and I don’t make much from them, but it’s still a blast to see it happen.

Besides, money is just one currency.  Time, health, and freedom are all important in their own ways.  I need money, but it doesn’t have to come from writing, so I make my income with a job that has nothing to do with writing.  When I’m done with my job for the day, I have the freedom to write what I want.

Some writers choose the other path, and I respect that.  But it’s tough.  There are a lot of writers out there, probably more than ever.  And every time one writers quits out of despair, two more are there to take his/her place.

Because of the odds and the numbers involved, I’ve dropped out of the rat race of writing.  I still write because the opportunity is there, and it’s fun.  When I write, I can express myself with thoughts and sentences that I can’t put together when I talk.  And even if I become impoverished (I hope that doesn’t happen), I’ll still think… you know it what I’m about to say… writing is f*cking great!

8 Comments
  1. The realities of being a writer are discouraging at times, but I’m glad you’ve found the more positive side of being a lesser-known author. There’s a lot of pressure to become “The Next Big Thing” and to let that go and just be a writer can be very liberating.

    Side note: I kind of agree about Stephen King. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a “hack” as I think his prose are quite good. However, there are certain tropes in his books that get a bit grating after a while and most people are too enamored by him to point them out. Perhaps this is just a by-product of him churning out so many novels. After a while, I suppose you start ripping off yourself.

    • Yeah, I go back and forth on the “Stephen King is a hack” issue. Sometimes I’ll say “Stephen King is a hack!” with authority just to watch his fans get mad.

      I don’t do that very often, though. It’s probably kind of obnoxious.

  2. After another rejection a couple of days ago, I slumped into my usual ‘what’s the sodding point, my book/writing/ideas/style must be dreadful for this to happen. I should just give it all up and save myself the heartache.’ This process usually lasts about 24 hours. Then my brain starts to turn over the plot problem in that short story I was writing, I notice someone watching me from a high rise balcony in the early morning and think ‘what if?’ and I’m off and running again.
    The money does suck – I’ve earned bits and pieces from published work, but very little really – but I just keep coming back to the stories, coming back to how much I love just sitting at a laptop writing.
    Great post and very timely for me, a reminder of why I do this – just cos I love it

    • Those rejection letters are never fun. But you have a great blog, and you seem to write what you want to write, and you have an audience.

      20 years ago, I knew a couple writers who would drink themselves into oblivion whenever they received rejection letters (and they got drunk a lot!). Now we just blog. It’s probably healthier.

      • True – at least now when we get rejections we can all boo-hoo over each other and write a blog post about it. Better for the liver! Thanks for the comment about Word Shamble. I do enjoy all this nonsense

  3. I’m going to do it anyway.

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