Despite all the nonsense I write on my blog, I get a lot of serious requests from people who want to get published seeking my advice. I’ve gotten more than the usual number lately, so I thought I would do a blog post on it. This will probably take several blog posts to write all of this down, so here’s the initial step:
The first thing you should do is ask yourself “Why do I want to be a writer?”
Writing is not something that you “fall back on” if you lost your job or need some cash. I’ve been contacted by a lot of out of work people who think that getting published is the answer to their financial problems. The truth is that it’s quite the opposite. Several famous authors (Balzac and Sir Walter Scott, for example) have gone bankrupt publishing their own works. Granted that the publishing industry has changed since those times, but the lack of or difficulty generating income is still there for most authors.
Starting a writing career is like starting a small business. You’re going to be doing many jobs (writing, marketing, developing your online presence, event planning, etc.) and working long hours to build yourself. And, just like a small business, you should anticipate that it will take at least 3 years for you to get things moving. Your planning approach for this career should be long term and you should not expect fast returns from your work. It will take time to build yourself up and get your career moving, so make sure that what you really want is to be a writer. If you’re writing because you enjoy the escape of going into your imaginary world, you may be better off reading books by other authors, going to the movies, or daydreaming.
Like most occupations in the arts, writing is not something you go into for the money. Most writers don’t make the salaries of Dan Brown or J. K. Rowling (let’s face it, no one makes J. K. Rowling’s salary but J. K. Rowling!). However, there appears to be a myth that getting a book published is like winning the lottery. Here’s the reality: most books actually lose money. By the time that you pay for editing, printing, and marketing you will be bankrupt unless you sell enough books to absorb those costs. Even if you strictly publish eBooks to avoid the printing costs you still have considerable up front costs that you may never recover. This is why publishers reject even well written books: because they know that if they can’t sell enough copies to cover their expenses that the book is going to cost them money. Books that don't make money also don't pay royalties to the author.
So my first message to those who want to be a writer is to make sure that this is what you really want to do because this is a very difficult industry. In fact, it’s probably easier to become a rock star. After all, there are no reality TV shows called “American Author” where writers compete for a publishing contract. But maybe there should be...