Just like any job, being a professional author has its ups and downs, and if you are serious about pursuing a career in writing I think you should do so with your eyes wide open to what these might be. With this in mind, I've put together a potted little guide to try and help anyone contemplating setting out on this mad, bad and sometimes dangerous journey. This blog entry comes with a warning to those of you dead set on choosing this path: hold on to your Mont Blancs, some of this might not be very palatable.
Let’s start with the good stuff:
- You are your own boss, and despite deadlines you can work hours to suit you.
- You get to meet lots of wonderful people who share your love of reading and writing, and many of these like, if not love, what you choose to do.
- You are doing something you love to do, and your job allows you to express yourself in a way very few others can.
- You entertain and/or enlighten those people who read your work, and you get to hear back from these same people in the form of letters or emails or face-to-face meetings at events.
- If you are very lucky and you hit upon ‘the next big thing’, you could earn a considerable amount of money.
And now the not so good stuff:
- You work alone, day in and day out. (This might be seen as a pro point for some.)
- It’s all down to you. You have no backstop, no safety net. If you can’t get the book written or if the ideas refuse to come, the buck stops with you and you alone.
- You need a strong sense of self-discipline. The hardest thing about working alone (more often than not in your house) is that there are a billion things to distract you from doing what you should be doing on a daily basis: writing.
- Once you have written the book and turned it over to the publisher, you have very little control over what happens next. The publishing industry works in a way and at a pace that can be difficult to come to terms with, and this inevitably leads to frustration and concern. Here’s a small list of the kind of thing you can encounter -
o You may not have final say over the cover, title or layout of your work.
o You may not be the lead title for your publisher (you may not even be close to being the lead title), and rue the fact that other works appear to be getting a much higher publicity and marketing spend than yours.
o You’ll be asked to make changes to your flawless masterpiece (I've always found the editing process useful and constructive, others do not).
o You’ll be writing to strict deadlines (and you have to deliver).
o The means by which (and the amount) you are paid is sporadic and extremely difficult to predict.
- Unless you DO turn out to be ‘the next big thing’ (or you are extremely prolific) it’s unlikely you will earn a wage you believe is commensurate with the effort you have expended on your work. So be prepared NOT to give up the day job (or have a spouse who is willing to work to help support you).
When I'm asked why I chose to be a writer, I respond by saying that I'm really not qualified to do anything else. It's a glib, throwaway answer to a difficult question, but there is a hint of truth in my retort. Despite coming late to writing, I now find it difficult to imagine doing anything else. I have become more aware of the precarious nature of what I do and just how difficult it can be to make a living from my art.
I suppose the real question to ask should not be why I chose to become a writer, but would I, knowing what I now know, still go into it? And the answer would be a resounding YES!