Writing: the "poor man's" profession
Yesterday I stumbled across a blogpost in my Facebook newfeed (click here to read it) that, according to Amazon, "only 40 self-published authors are a success" and "making money." Before you get thoroughly depressed, however, read on and you'll find that "making money" is defined as "selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years."
We'll get to that in a minute.
I'm not going to address the stats featured throughout the post that were taken out of context. Instead, I'm going to address the following two quotes:
"In fact, writing is a poor man’s occupation."
"So if you’re not selling your books, take heart, you’re not the only one. If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich."
Nothing irks the shit out of me more than when a fellow writer -- especially a fellow writer -- spouts this kind of nonsense, and uses a gross definition of one million ebook sales as the bar that determines "success."
Here's the thing the blogpost didn't mention:
I don't have the numbers on this, but I'm willing to bet that, aside from celebrities, Stephen King, E.L. James, and J.K. Rowling, there are also probably only about 40 traditionally published authors who have sold one million books in the last five years, ebooks or print.
It also doesn't mention the number of authors, traditionally or self published, who are making a living from the royalties of their book sales, ebook or print version. I'd be willing to bet it's still a relatively small number compared to the thousands of authors who publish every year, regardless of the track they choose. However, I could probably name about 15-20 author friends -- myself included -- who fit in this category.
I don't deny that writing is a difficult business in which to make a living. There is no quick road to publishing success. The competition is fierce, and sometimes exceptionally written books--traditonally or self pubbed--don't find commercial success for reasons unknown. It doesn't help that, thanks to the ease with which one can publish now, the market is saturated. I also don't deny that I was one of the lucky ones, having been in the right place at the right time with the right price when my then-self published novel Faking It peaked at #6 on the Kindle Store Bestseller list around this time in 2010.
But it is possible to make a living.
Yes, publishing requires perseverance. Yes, the chances are that the more books you publish, the greater ability you'll have to eventually sustain a living. And regardless of whether you sell one or ten or one hundred or one thousand or ten thousand books per year, write good books, dammit. Hone your craft. Always respect and focus on your craft.
I've got no problem with people who use money as a motivator for writing. I've certainly got no problem with people who want to write books and make a living from it. I was one of those people.
Since 2010, I've sold, worldwide, in English, German, and French, print and ebook, close to 450,000 books. I've had some great luck and support and also put in a lot of hard work. But my success isn't defined by those numbers; rather, I define my success as having had the tenacity to write novels that I'm proud of, find an audience, and eventually make a living without setting unrealistic expectations or letting naysayers set the standards for me or feed me the bullshit that it's impossible to do so.
If you're a writer, and you want to make a living from it, either as a self-published author or with a traditional publisher or as a freelance writer, I cannot tell you that it will be easy or that it will happen quickly. I can tell you, however, to go for it-- as long as you write kick-ass material. Set your own goals and standards for success and making money, but dammit, write well.
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I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.