Sep 15, 2009

Don't Quit Your Day Job, Published Author

We all have this image of the rich author, able to cruise around the world and enjoy the company of starlets in their prime, of driving sports cars and big-game fishing off the coast of Cuba with a member of the Kennedy family or walking into any bookstore in the country and seeing dozens of copies of our books on a life-size display with our name in beautiful lettering.

Well, you can probably thank people like Ernest Hemingway for these kinds of bald-faced lies, because the life of a published author is almost nothing quite like that, with a few possible exceptions. Any published author is rich in a sense - how many people can actually finish a novel or collection of short stories - but how many of them get considerably, classically rich? Very few, actually. If you go over to Rants and Ramblings: On Life as a Literary Agent, you can see the cold reality which faces most authors when that book finally makes it into print:

Example: a $10,000 advance
After agent commission: $8,500 to author
Paid in halves: You will get two checks, several months apart, for $4,250 each. If you set aside 20% for taxes, that leaves you about $3,400 to spend.
Paid in thirds: You will get three checks, several months apart, for $2,833. If you set aside 20% for taxes, that means you'll have $2,266 to spend. Perhaps it will cover the rent or mortgage payment for a month or two. But it's not exactly a kitchen remodel.

It's definitely eye-opening. I remember when, in college, I visited the home of Ernest Hemingway down in Key West. I heard a famous story that, while waiting on a car to arrive, Hemingway stayed in Key West and then didn't leave for another twenty years. I thought, "I want that. It sounds awesome." That is not entirely out of the picture for any writer, but the prospect of being a wealthy, jetsetting literary figure is slim. Unfortunately, that's the reality of it. However, if you're writing for all the life-affirming reasons, then you won't need to be wealthy to keep doing it. You'll do it because you love it, and beyond being a cliche, it's also the truth.

I mean, who wouldn't want boat loads of cash to write? I'm not saying getting paid is bad, even in vast sums of money, but it should not be the only reason for writing, nor should a lack of publishing success be what turns you away from writing. I stand by that statement, as hokey as it sounds.

Maybe You Shouldn't Quit Your Day Job Just Yet

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