A Writer’s Life is No Bowl of Cherries

Old Manual Typewriter

So, you want to be a writer.

This is something I’ve aspired to for years. With the emergence of the Internet, things shifted radically, and today, there are more opportunities for writers than ever before and submitting your work is often as simple as a few keystrokes and an attachment. This is good for me, the aspiring writer, right? Well… maybe. The thing is, as I look around today, as I browse social media sights and check out Facebook groups, I find I’m not the only one trying to take advantage of all the new and emerging possibilities out there. Everybody andtheir brother seems to be calling themselves a writer and they’re all trying to take advantage of the numerous ways which are now available to get their words into print. After completing a M.F.A. program in Creative Writing and learning a few things about the business, I have to ask myself, why? Why does anyone want to be a writer? Why do I want to be a writer?

It certainly isn’t because I think I’m going to become rich and famous from the crafting of words. Only a select few ever become a household name from their books, and if there’s one thing I learned while going through my graduate coursework, it’s how the world of traditional publishing works. If I’m ever lucky enough to have a publisher pick up one of my books, I’d better hope for one that gives an advance, and many don’t, because unless my work goes viral and sells a million copies, that’s probably all the money I will ever see from it. What I didn’t realize before I got my graduate degree was how the system really works. With enough royalties, a person could theoretically, live comfortably for years to come, but what a lot of people don’t realize, what I didn’t realize, was that you don’t see any royalties from your book until you have sold enough copies to pay off whatever advance you receive. That means your book must do really, really well in order for you to see any profit. So, the chances of getting rich from your writing through traditional publishing avenues are quite slim.

With the emergence of the Internet came the self-publishing boom. It started with vanity presses and P.O.D. publishers, like Lulu, and progressed with the birth of the e-book through Amazon and Smashwords, to name only two of the many e-publishers out there today. Amazon makes self-publishing in electronic format look very tempting, offering a much higher percentage of royalties than traditional publishers. Surely, if you’re making 70% on every book you sell, you have to come out better than the minute percentages traditional publishers offer, right? Not necessarily. I’ve asked several of the independent authors who I know, and most are making very little off their books. You see, the book has to sell before you can make any money of it, and with the market swarming with new titles and more coming out every day, independent publishing is a tough road to take. Independent authors can’t rely on their publisher to promote their work and develop marketing strategies for their book, because they don’t have one. They are writer, publisher and agent for their work. They must fill all these roles themselves, and it is both difficult and time consuming work to get the word out about your book. Certainly for some it pays off, but the majority of independent authors are lucky to sell even twenty copies.

Of course, part of the appeal of being a writer is the idea of being your own boss, making your own schedule, working from home in your pajamas if you choose. But, I believe most writers today, whether traditionally or independently published, live the life of the starving artist, scrambling for work, or for a publisher, or for an agent to get them a publisher. I certainly am. I try and try, shrugging off one rejection letter, or e-mail, after another, always holding out hope that the next one I open will be an acceptance. Occasionally, my perseverance pays off and I do get something published, an article or short story, or maybe a poem. But I still have to ask myself why I endeavor to persevere if not for the money?

I think many of us who strive to become writers do so because there exists a creative force within us that needs to be expressed, a story that must be told. We are creatives, and when an idea or image takes hold of us, there is no pushing it to the side until we pound it out on our keyboards, or scribble it out on a notepad, or a napkin, or whatever is at hand. The urge to create is a part of who we are. It’s as much a part of our beings as are our preferences in music or favorite foods. And a large part of the appeal of being a writer is the desire to share our creations with others. Why else would we keep pounding away at our keyboards, submitting our work in the face of repeated rejections, and laying our souls on the line?

I’m not saying it isn’t possible to make a living from your writing. Certainly there are authors out there who do. But, it isn’t the stereotypical write in your p.j.s, make your own schedule, and party until the early morning hours that we may have come to believe a writer’s life is. No, my friends. It is hard work. It is writing until you can’t see the words on the page, hustling to meet deadlines, selling yourself and your work at every opportunity, continuing to submit in the face of rejection, and searching your soul to make every word you put on the page ring true. That’s the life of a writer, and it’s no bowl of cherries, but it’s what we want more than anything, because the words must flow out of us onto the page. I say that’s why we write. What about you? Why do you write?


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3 Comments on “A Writer’s Life is No Bowl of Cherries”

  1. Too often, writers are glamorized but, as I’m entering the workforce, the reality is anything but. However, I don’t think I would be truly happy doing anything else besides writing. Words are what I live by, and telling people’s stories–whether fiction or nonfiction–is one of the greatest, most fulfilling accomplishments I can do using my God-given talent. Thanks for this honest post. I feel like most of the articles I read either focus on the “starving-artist-never-become-a-writer” part or the “writer-life-is-the-best-life-ever.” This is the much needed in between.


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