Alec Pangia and me on Drop A Line

Some truths about writing

I was interviewed by Alec Pangia of One True Promotion for the Drop A Line show. We talked about a number of experiences I’ve had as a writer, from publishing Amiga to the ways my parents influenced me. I also discussed several truths I’ve learned about writing. They are things I wished I learned when I was starting out, and I see many newer writers having the same misconceptions I did. If we learn these truths, we can avoid costly mistakes and frustrations that cause writers to give up.

Here are some important truths you should learn.

Have a career to support your writing

Don’t plan on supporting yourself solely from your book writing. The Authors Guild reported that the median income for full-time writers was $6,080 in 2017. Writing income has declined because of the dominance of Amazon, the loss of revenue as magazines and newspapers close shop, and lower payments for content. Also in that Authors Guide survey, roughly 25 percent of all published authors surveyed earned no book-related income that year.

You need a regular paying job that enables you to pay the bills and provides health insurance. Ideally, you should find a career you enjoy and satisfies you even if the book writing never takes off. I’ve found that in technical writing.

Realistically, book writing may be a side hustle that offers some supplemental income or at least gives you a creative outlet. But if you don’t have to worry about paying the electric bill or making sure your children have clothes, you have more freedom to create the type of writing you enjoy.

Beware of scams

After getting rejection email after rejection email, we yearn for some publisher to tell us that they love our work and will make us the next bestselling author. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous publishers will use our yearnings to take advantage of us. One author spent $2,500 on a publisher that wound up not doing any marketing and not paying royalties. The owners wound up going to prison for fraud.

There are a number of ways to detect scams, book pirates, and see which book publishers to avoid. Be aware that unscrupulous publishers often change names to cover their tracks.

If you receive an offer from a publisher, review the contract thoroughly and get feedback from others who have been published by that company. Make sure that there are no hidden fees, that the publisher offers clear royalty percentages and payment schedules, and that you understand your rights.

Don’t expect the publisher to do everything for you

We also have the fantasy that when we’re accepted by a publisher, they will give us a seven-figure advance, send us on the nationwide press tour, and the book will magically fly off the shelves. All we need to do is sit back, collect royalties, and pen the next bestseller.

The reality is that even if you’re picked up by a major publisher, you still need to do a lot of work yourself.   You need to build a platform, schedule your own events, and invest in your own advertising and promotional programs. And if you’re picked up by a small press, there is even more work you need to do.

You have to sell yourself as well as your book. I’ve found myself enjoying this part of the writing journey. I like the challenge of building sales, finding new ways to promote my book, and meeting new people. Promotion offers me what I love about writing, connection.

Treat writing as a business

Even though writing may be a side hustle or a creative outlet, you still need to treat it like a business. There is the potential of an income, and there are business-related expenses you need to track. A business approach can also help you avoid fraudsters. If you find someone asking for reading fees or a “partner publishing” package that costs thousands and offers vague, unrealistic promises of success, you know this is something to avoid. A business approach helps you make clear-headed and realistic decisions of how you will invest your time and money.

This doesn’t take the joy out of writing. When you don’t have the burden of financial concerns, you are free to create the type of work that satisfies you and enlightens and inspires others. Unlike the romantic view that leads you to be cheated and causes you to give up in frustration or desperation, being realistic helps you understand the challenges and gives you the knowledge and confidence to find solutions.

When you face the truths of writing, you can find your own measure of success and enjoy the benefits of creativity.