It’s come to my attention there is a myth floating around about writers. Actually, it’s not so much floating as super-glued or nail gunned into people’s minds. Actually, it’s not just one myth but several evil little myths all clumped together to make one big nasty furball of a myth. Or maybe it’s a stereotype. Whatever it is, myth or stereotype, I must take to my soap box and take issue with it.
I don’t know why, but there seems to be this perception that once someone actually takes a writer’s words and commits them to a Book, with a Pretty Cover, Real Pages, A Dedication, Acknowledgements and a Price Tag, the writer in question is
- Famous, and therefore automatically
Let’s just test those assumptions a little with a little basic algebra (I’m a science graduate – I’m allowed a little algebra occasionally – bear with me).
a + b = c
Where a = famous; b = rich; and c = E L James.
In order for this equation to be true, we must accept that there exists only one E L James.
Yep, just one.
For the rest of us, even though we might have a book published and available for sale, JUST like she does, the equation isn’t true. We are neither famous nor rich because we are not E L James.
By definition fame is ‘being known by many people’. I know a few people – friends, neighbours, the occasional family member who will admit to being aware of my existance - but to the Collective Public I’m a nobody. No one stops and points at me in the street (unless I’ve put my t-shirt on inside-out – don’t laugh, it’s happened). No one asks me for my autograph unless they are dropping a parcel or handing me a traffic infringement. No one rushes up with their phone begging for a quick selfie, save for the odd (and I mean ODD) Japanese tourist.
Rich, by definition, means having a great deal of money and assets, and by great deal they mean LOADS AND POTS AND BUCKETFULS of money – hence the term LOADED. Last time I looked my credit card was maxed and my daily account was on death row. As for assets, my car is pushing 15, my partner pushing 60 and still working like a dog to support me, and I don’t know what second hand greyhounds are worth on today’s market but I doubt I’m going to retire on Belle the Laziest Canine in the World.
At last count the sale of my now 12 month old debut book was amassing a massive 10% of purchase price, or .50c - $1.50 per sale, depending on what calibre establishment you purchase it from. You do the math. It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out I’d need to sell a shitload of books to make anything near a half decent full time wage, and here’s the really big news – book sales drop off over time. Yeah, surprising isn’t it? Books released in Australia don’t sell anywhere near 50,000 copies in one year, let alone year in year out. Our tiny population, inundated as it is by vast purchasing choices every month, simply can’t support 99% of our authors in any dignified way.
Wait! I’m not complaining. Just consider this.
Most authors spend way beyond what they make from their books on going to author talks, festivals and conferences because, even though authors are the draw cards at these events, they are OFTEN the last on the pay list and often (OFTEN!) asked to attend for free. Even if punters are paying to attend the festival the volunteers will get coffee money before the authors get a brass razoo. Why?
Because many festival organisers think a + b = c, where c is every author in existence. They’ve got the equation wrong. Or they assume that ‘exposure’ plus a handful of book sales are sufficient payment for an author (and we’ve already done the book sales math so we know that’s a fallacy), besides we’re published, so we must be doing alright – right? The irony of running a festival where the feature attraction luring the punters isn’t paid is just – well – staggering really.
Let’s clarify a few things about this Authors are Rich And Famous myth.
Most authors I know work really bloody hard. They have jobs to bring in a wage because their income from writing wouldn’t support a sparrow. They then spend their leisure time pumping out wonderful, exciting, insightful, uplifting, beautiful, thought-provoking, challenging, heart warming books for you – The People – to enjoy in your leisure time.
Authors spend their time and money on book giveaways, oodles of postage, printing beautiful book marks, creating gorgeous bling and special stuff for swags to promote their books so their ever faithful readers are well rewarded for their loyalty.
Authors are committed to their craft, so they spend their time and money on workshops and conferences to make sure they are delivering the very best quality product every time they send a manuscript via a publisher into your hands.
Authors make lots of sacrifices, but author’s families make more and larger sacrifices. As I write this my partner is wandering aimlessly around the house wishing I’d get off the computer and spend some time with him. It’s Tuesday night. The last time we spent any decent time together was Saturday. My daughter will go without reading time, without paper doll play and board games, my dogs will go without walks, my friends will go out for dinner without me, because I have a deadline for a blog post or a manuscript and I don’t want to let The Publisher, The Readers, The Blog Lovers, down.
Authors make a commitment to writing. For most of us it’s what we’ve always dreamed of doing – capturing our imaginations on paper – and we are happy to make the sacrifices, to work harder than we ever have for so much less because we truly, truly love the written word. But...
Career satisfaction won’t pay my bills. Feeling fulfilled won’t knock off my mortgage, put food on my table, get my child through school, or allow my partner to take a well earned day off. Money does all those things. And authors don’t get much of it.
There is only one EL James. The rest of us are not famous and we’re certainly not rich.
Next time you’re about to down load a book for free, or to ask an author to come to your on-a-shoe-string book event for free, stop a moment and remember how much you love your books. Remember this person has spent months or years at their desk in their spare time creating that story you loved. Remember their children, their partners, their friends, even their pets, went without them for long periods so they could deliver to you that story you loved. Remember they have real lives, with real bills, and just like you, they are trying hard to get by.
Do the right thing and buy their book. At least offer a stipend to cover their expenses in attending your event. We are the people that manufacture your drug of choice, books, and we deserve to be valued and paid for the joy we bring you.
*Image from PaperTrailBiz