Care and Feeding of Authors: Why Do They DO This?

Yesterday one of my author friends was lamenting the fact that another friend had decided to quit publishing.

We’re hearing that more and more these days…authors giving up because the current publishing paradigm makes it difficult to make a living.  Now note that above, the author in question didn’t say she’d give up writing. She just wanted to get out of publishing.

Publishing can be a brutal business, and it’s generally not a lucrative one.

Let’s be clear. There are a lot of authors out there making good money. The vast majority, however, are not.

I can’t give you exact stats on that, but…I can give you my numbers.  These are the numbers for an author who had 4 books published by an imprint of one of the world’s largest publishing houses (in USD).

 

2011:  226

2012:  5,445

2013:  6,240

2014:  6,233

2015:  8,503

2016:  4,888

 

Those numbers represent ALL my writing income, from the monies coming in from my publisher, to short story sales, my indie published books, books that I’ve hand-sold at conventions…and in the last two years, money coming in from donors to my Patreon.

What don’t those numbers reflect? Expenses. 

Monies coming in to my publisher would then have a percentage going out to pay my agent. (I have no issue with that…she earned it.) Those books that I hand-sold? I had to purchase them first. Going to the convention? I had to pay for travel and a hotel room and often a convention membership. Indie-pubbed books? Well, I have to purchase covers and pay my copy-editor (again, they earn it), so in actuality, only ONE of my indie published books has made a profit so far. All the others are still a loss.

And then there are promotional expenses: the expenses for my website, for any bookmarks or swag I put out (I love to give away pens). The expenses for mailing out books to first readers and GR winners (in the hundreds of dollars most years.)  Promotion? Most of that costs money of some sort. I pay for BookFunnel and Instafreebie and every little ad I’ve tried…most of which lost money.

En balance, even with a big publishing house behind me, for thousands of hours of work most years I’ve operated at a loss.

The question comes back to, why do we do this?

There are two different issues here: Why do we write? and Why do we publish?

 

Why do we write?

Most writers I know have written their entire life. It’s their passion. Some people sew, some people tailgate at football games, some people form bands….we write.

I still have this: A novel I started in 6th grade.  

I wrote stuff before that. My second-grade teacher wanted to send one of my stories to Highlights magazine (a story for another day). But this is the earliest writing I still have in my possession.

The point being that I’ve always written. If I were to quit publishing, I would still write. For myself. It’s what I do. It’s what most of us do, like breathing. 

So the follow-up question is:

Why do we publish? 

Well, I have to say that for most of us, it’s external validation. We know we write well, now we want others to believe that.

I know very few people who said, “Hey, I’ll get my stuff published because that’s a way to make lots of money!”

Now, there are people who make lots of money. I am not going to deny that.  LOTS of money. Generally, though, if a writer thinks they’ll make lots of money in publishing, they were duped by someone with something to sell. They didn’t do their homework and learn that the vast majority of authors lose money on this gamble.

But why go into this game if you’re not assured you’ll make money?

The primary answer is surely the external validation of having other people enjoy your work.  (There are other reasons, BTW. It could be a control issue, or a desire to gamble years’ work for that possible big payout, or just stubbornness. Motivation often has many factors, some of which we can’t even identify ourselves.)

 

So given that, why would someone just stop?  

I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Personal issues (health, family, dog vet bills) force the writer to invest their time/money elsewhere.
  2. Financial analysis makes the writer decide that the time invested in publishing is simply not paying off.
  3. Writer decides that they’re worn out by engaging with the public. (This can be utterly horrific in some cases.)

There are, without doubt, other reasons to step away.  An author might have a specific goal and find themselves frustrated when not meeting that goal. They may have a falling out with someone specific that sours the whole field for them. They may run into issues of an artificial ceiling that keeps them from success…but the three above catch most of it.

 

What can a reader do?  

Be supportive. Say good things about the writer and to the writer. Leave reviews or ratings. Buy their books if you can, ask your library to carry them if you can’t. Recommend the book to friends. Don’t pick up pirated books (please!)

Readers are not required to do any of this. It’s not their responsibility. They don’t OWE the author that. It’s a gift given to the author. It’s a kindness.

But if you want an author to keep publishing, they need those nudges.  My friend’s friend who’s dropping out? She just didn’t get enough of…something. Not enough author food to keep her going. And that’s kinda sad. 🙁

 

I’ll be breaking down what authors do over the next several weeks, talking about some of the obstacles to publication we’re facing, and some of the traps that might knock us out of the game. So stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll say something that will be helpful….to someone!

And this is, of course, just one author’s view. There are a lot of voices out there talking about these issues. I can’t speak for them all. I can’t speak for the ones who don’t talk about it. All you get from me is my take on the situation…but thanks for reading anyway!

 

 

 

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