Ten Things Published Authors Won’t Tell You

  1. writing-923882_960_720We don’t live glamorous lives. Sure, there are those handful of celebrity authors who are going to their movie premiers and live in mansions. That’s not life for the other 99.99%. Most writers either have another job to support themselves or a spouse who contributes greatly to the income. Although surveys differ on the average author income, they all seem to agree that it is well below the poverty level. (Somewhere between 1,000-6,000 a year.)
  2. Bad reviews hurt our feelings. Many authors don’t even read their reviews because they can read ten glowing reviews, but the one cruel review will ruin their day. Writing that book was our best effort. We put our heart and soul into it. How can it not feel personal when someone criticizes our writing–or almost as bad, our story or characters? That’s not to say that every negative review leaves us in tears. Some we pass around to other authors and laugh about. Others we shrug off because we know not everyone has the same taste. And some we even listen to and use to improve our writing in the next book. (I’m planning to rewrite a novella and turn it into a full length novel because so many reviewers said they felt it was too short.)
  3. Our villains, yeah, those are frequently based on real people. If you’re a jerk to a writer, you may very well end up in a book being viciously decapitated. So don’t say you haven’t been warned.
  4. That cover you didn’t like–we didn’t like it either. In traditional publishing, the author has no say about what the marketing department puts on the cover. Some we love, some we hate. The publishers don’t care what we think. This is also why the cover doesn’t always match the story. (I reminded the publisher for Slayers that my main character had brown hair, and the cover model they were using was blonde. They told me blonde hair looked better against the dark background.) Likewise, picture book authors don’t usually get to choose their illustrator.
  5. Publishers censor our writing. Publishing is a business, and although editors often would love to let us write whatever we feel is artistic, true to the story, or meaningful, they always have to think about what will sell. I’ve known authors who were pressured to put more sex in their stories, and other authors who were told to steer clear of sensitive subjects like abortion. I’ve been asked to take out mentions of religion in several of my books. (In a time-travel book, I said something about people in the Middle Ages being Catholic. It had to go.) Political correctness is alive and well in traditional publishing.
  6. We feel like our characters are real people too. Readers will often comment that they’ve connected with our characters. We feel that way ten-fold. We’ve been living with and talking to these people for months or maybe years. I once met a guy named Scott, and I started to tell him, “I have a friend named Scott,” and then I realized I didn’t. I had a character named Scott who’d I’d made up and pretended was my friend.
  7. We love being with other writers. Writers are our tribe, and there will always be a special bond with those who’ve felt the thrill of creating an unexpected plot twist–and the aggravation of realizing you just wrote a week with eight days. There are exceptions, but most authors want to help their fellow writers succeed.That said, we may not have time to critique aspiring authors’ novels, even though we wish we did. We write books in addition to all of our other daily tasks, and so most of us are busy people.
  8. Most authors don’t have their first book published, or their second, or their third. We write a lot of manuscripts that publishers reject before they buy a book from us. And having a book deal doesn’t guarantee that the next book we write will be published. We worry a lot about our sales numbers. So if we come off as pushy when we’re trying to market our books, well, that’s why.
  9. We want to quit. A lot. Writing is a hard business and one in which most authors only see minimal success. We get a lot of rejection from agents, editors, and readers. Sometimes writing feels like you’re constantly singing in concert halls in which no one comes to hear you except your mother.
  10. We love writing anyway. There’s something magical about creating stories, and that magic keeps drawing us back to the computer. We laugh when our character does something clever, and we can’t wait to share our latest offering to our readers.There’s a saying, “If you want to know if you’re really a writer, try and quit.” Most of us just can’t quit.

Comments

Ten Things Published Authors Won’t Tell You — 50 Comments

  1. Brilliant post, and your ‘friend’ Scott made me laugh out loud.

    I spent a year attempting to get an agent (close but no cigar) before self-publishing. I feel I dodged a bullet. I would hate having little or no input in the cover, and what you say about political correctness is shocking – particularly when you think of some of the things that are published and presumably thought acceptable by the publishers.

    • Yeah, the political correctness stuff is pretty frustrating, especially since some of it makes no sense.There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of publishing. And I have to admit that although some of my traditionally published covers have been horrid, some have been way better than anything I could come up with.Either way you publish, you’ve got to do most of your own marketing. Which is frustrating.

  2. GREAT post! I can relate to all of these points except for the one about killing off people I know. But it’s a great idea…

    1000 to 6000 A YEAR?! Is that correct? But you’re not really in that range, right? I mean, I’m in that range (though I think this year, it’s gonna be a little higher), but I only have like 2 books out.

    What I really hate about the publishing industry is that in the beginning, nobody wants you and from this point on, where you have a certain amount of readers, everybody starts offering you stuff. It’s like… You have to make it alone, when you could’ve used a lot of help, and if you finally made it and don’t need the help so much anymore, you’re offered exactly that.

    • I was shocked by the low number too. When I first started publishing–actually for the first four or five years, I fell into that salary range. Although, this was partially because I started out with a small niche publisher that didn’t give advances. That said, my first traditionally published advance was 4,000. (Although that was about 15 years ago, so adjusting for inflation, it would have been more. And I did sell out my first printing and ended up making more on the book.)

      When I first saw these numbers, I figured they were being dragged down by the flood of self-published authors who don’t make much,(Although I know several self-pubbed authors who make twice as much as I do, I also know a lot who have only sold a trickle of books) but I just had dinner with a new author who published with a traditional publisher and her two-book advance was 2,700. I was shocked. For two books, she probably isn’t making minimum wage when she writes.

      As for me, twenty years into publishing, yes, I make more than that. I like to joke with my husband that if he lost his job, I could support us in some lovely trailer park. Thankfully, he’s got a good job.

  3. This makes me feel so much better about my own experience so far. Two years ago I signed with my agent. We started editing a ms. Then she discovered a fairytale retelling I had. So we pushed the first aside and started editing it. Six months I felt were wasted. In December, she told me she was tired of reading both mss and to write something new. She had an agent that dropped her, but she didn’t want to do the same to me. I wanted to quit writing. To give up getting published. She’s holding onto me out of pity. If it weren’t for my friends, Kerry Blair, and Janet Wrenn, I’d have quit. Janet it always sending me agents and editors looking for what I write.

    I wish I had a large group of writer friends, but Prescott Valley doesn’t have a YA writer’s group. It’s nice to hear that published authors have faced the same issues and not all author’s stories are like Stephenie Meyer or Veronica Roth.

  4. Sounds a little like being a parent. There will always be only a few that truly love you and you just keep plugging away no matter what. Your hard work shines through, though. Thanks for sharing your creations with us.

  5. Your “ten things” is so right on! This job is the toughest, most time consuming, low-paying, rejection generating, addictive, fun, rewarding, joyful job in the world. So help me! I can’t stop!

  6. As a writer looking for an agent, I still have many steps to go, but I can identify with some of your steps. Whenever I receive a rejection I go through #9. Continuing to write for the pleasure alone gets me through another day. Tweeted your article-I’m sure many others can benefit from your experience.

  7. This was a great post. I wish some of the readers I see on Goodreads would read #2. They can be very harsh and it’s almost like telling a woman that she’s a bad mother. Our books are our babies.

  8. This is exactly why I avoid traditional publishers. My first book “Reaching for the Light: An Incest Survivor’s Story” is being processed for federal copyright right now and will be released on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com as soon as the copyright is complete. I chose to use and Indie Publisher for my book because its my work, my story. I decided how to tell my story to communicate hope to other survivors and I don’t need some clueless editor telling me what I can or cannot say. And I collaborated with a graphic artist to design the book cover. Again, my book, my choice. Will it sell? I certainly hope so. So far, its been getting a lot of attention in social media and my website has over 4,800 hits to date. I wrote this book as a gift of hope to other survivors and I am blessed to work with an Indie Publisher who really got the spirit of the project.

  9. I’m not a published author and you are scaring me!
    But I am writing anyway. Been writing for years and no sign of stopping, although every morning I wake with thoughts of “I’m going to quit today”.

    Thank you for sharing the truths.

  10. I had been published [a history book] and performed, I had begun as a playwright, but found myself broke at 73 with several unpublished volumes on my computer. No agent – what to do? I used CreateSpace and now at 76 have 20 titles available on Amazon. But the trouble is, sight impaired and dyslexic, I made many mistakes and had to resubmit until they were readable. The first year I made money – not a lot, but enough to begin paying off debts. Slow but steady is wonderful after a lifetime of very little. I don’t write to any particular genre – I write as I feel – but Platinum Ten [Military Romance] is my most successful adult book and Aftermath [a YA Book] based on my own childhood experiences during WW2 has also done well. So my advice is, don’t give up, plod on and one day it happens. Just enough to make you believe you are a writer.

  11. So glad to see we writers are coming out of the closet. It’s hard to admit we’ve given so much time, energy, and creativity to an enterprise for trivial rewards. BUT having done it, it’s an ego-boost to hold the tangible proof out to those who wish they could.

  12. Thank you. I might just open that box under the blankets at the bottom of my closet. Do some reading, rewriting and a few new drawings. And try keep them out of the box.

  13. This is such an honest post — especially the earnings part. So many people think that once someone is published, they are suddenly rolling in money AND that we get all our books for free (we don’t — we have to pay for them too, outside of maybe 3 to 5 free copies for our personal use). It also amazes me how many folks will ask me directly how much I am making — would you ask that question of anyone else? All that aside, I can’t imagine not writing, and will do so as long as my imagination and my characters allow me the privilege.

    • Right on, Judy. I used to write for an online information outfit. One fellow said he had written a book (an unpublished mms, actually)and pretty much demanded that I tell him how much he would make on it, especially the amount of advance he could expect. In my offer to help, I told him the job was tough, and it depended on finding a publisher and the offer they presented to him. He gave me a scathing review–and he didn’t even hire me! Can’t help but wonder if his book made it. P.S. Yep, I have people who think I’m rich now, including a sister. I tell them I’ve at least recouped my expenses.

  14. One problem is that most of my readers think tht since I am a (traditionally) published author, I have lots of income. Fact is I am still in a deep hole, having to pay for my printed books with no advance money.

  15. It’s obvious to me that I would not suit a traditional publisher and a traditional publisher would not suit me. Being told to change things, having no say in the cover, an editor changing the style or wording to suit their opinion…
    What happens if you sign a contract, and cannot agree with their editor?

  16. I always try to keep the author in mind when I review books. Often, a book is not going to work at my library, but it might be just the thing another library needs. Mean reviews don’t help anyone, but hopefully constructive ones help place the books where they will get the most circulation. And I know it doesn’t help your income, but your older books are still popular in my library! I’d love to see another one like Playing the Field if you’re stuck for inspiration!

    • Ah, thanks! You know, as an author, I really care more about whether people are reading and enjoying my books than how much money I make. So it’s good to know my books are getting checked out. If your copies ever wear out, just let me know and I’ll send you new ones!

  17. All true. I recently read a review by another author that was somewhat critical, but I learned so much from it that I will never write fiction again! JK. I am glad I self-published though, with my own cover art, and illustrations. My marketing opps are the pits, but most comments are very positive, especially my wife’s!

  18. Thanks for this honest article. I’ll add one more point along with June Capossela Kempf. Most authors don’t make much money, or any. Especially on a first book, even though it wins awards. My book was published by a small independent publisher. All promotional costs came out of my pocket. There is very little left. We don’t write to get rich, but we all pray for that big break. I love writing.

  19. Writing is the fun part. Publishing is harder. Getting your books out there– even harder. There are so many writers, and competition is stiff. But it is okay. It is the writing that keeps me connected and makes me feel alive. I can’t imagine my life without it. It feels like breath.

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