Writers are indeed a lucky bunch.Â Â We do what we love, and we get paid for it.Â
Although the topics of my most recent blogposts have focused on the down-side of the business, I’m well aware that I’m fortunate to be living my dreams.Â Still, this is a writer’s blog, and where else are you going to see those problems addressed?Â If I were only to give you the sweetness-and-light aspects of being a writer, this blog would become boring in a hurry.Â Â All I’m trying to get across isÂ that all writers suffer from the same anxieties.Â That no writer is immune to the demons of self-doubt, no matter whereÂ they are in theirÂ careers.Â
Yes, I have the greatest job in the world.Â But it wasn’t always this way.Â And here’s where I take issue with people who say that writers have no right to whine because they don’t have the same concerns ofÂ other working stiffs.Â
When you’re just starting out as a writer, you’re working completely on spec.Â You’re pouring long hours andÂ your genius into a manuscript that may never sell.Â You’re working for nothing, plus you’re probably holding down a regular job at the same time.Â Any other worker can at least expect to get paid for his labors, but for a new writer, nothing is assured.Â He may have to write two, three, even ten unpublished manuscripts before he gets “the call.”
Then let’s suppose — oh joy! — he finallyÂ sells his manuscript.Â What’s the pay-off?Â If he signs an average first-time paperback original deal,Â he’ll probably get an advance of underÂ $10,000.Â (And many first-time deals are far less, more like $5,000) Â He’ll probably get half of that advance when he signs the contract, and the other half when the book gets published.Â Now, I don’t know how quickly other writers work, but it takes me about ten months of full-time writing and revising to produce a 400-page manuscript.Â Â How many of you would work ten months forÂ a starting salary of $10,000?Â With no health benefits and no retirement plan, plus having to pay self-employment taxes?Â (And remember — you also have to pay 15% of that ten grand to your literary agent.)Â How many of you would devote years to doing spec work, with no assurance that you’ll ever get paid for it?Â
If the writer’s blessed, andÂ that book sells well, and he manages to write other books that also sell well, he’ll go on to earn more with each successive contract.Â And while it’s natural to envy his eventual success, you must also factor inÂ the years of unpaid labor that he devoted to his craft.Â He had to pay his dues.Â He may have spent years barelyÂ making a living with his writing, so when success finally comes to him ten years down the line,Â it’s not as if heÂ suddenly woke up one day and won the lottery.Â Very few writers hit the big-time.Â Even writers who work hard and write great books.Â There’s an unpredictability about this business that confounds even the most brilliant publishing professionals and drives all the rest of us insane.
SoÂ I count my lucky stars that, after twenty books and twenty years, I’ve reached this point in my career.Â Â ButÂ it required taking a lot of risks, a lot of unpaid yearsÂ of work, and a lot of sleepless nights.Â
And here’s an interesting item I found in Nicholas Kristof’s column in today’s New York Times:
“In one common experiment, the ‘Goldberg paradigm,’ people are asked to evaluate a particular article or speech, supposedly by a man.Â Others are asked to evaluate the identical presentation, but from a woman.Â Typically, in countries all over the world, the very same words are rated higher coming from a man.”
Rather depressing, isn’t it?