What are some of the obvious difficulties of being a writer?
I wanted to contrast the obvious to the hidden difficulties so I decided to write them up as two questions.
For the obvious difficulties, these are the ones that you probably suspect even if you don’t have any personal experience on your own. These are the staples of the industry, the things people talk about openly and easily and constantly.
1) Difficulty Getting Published
The industry is hard. You spend all your time upfront on a project and then throw that project into the void and cross your fingers. There’s no guarantee that when you sit down to craft a story that those words will ever sell. No guarantee of a paycheck at the end of the day. You simply invest, invest, invest more and more hours and keep crossing your fingers and hoping.
Some people get to the point where they have a contract in place, a contract that pays them an advance. You would think that the money handed over in an advance resembles a paycheck, but you’d be wrong. Firstly, publishers can and do go after authors if the author never earns out their advance, meaning that if you’ve spent that money, you could very well find yourself in a serious problem. Secondly, unless you command some serious selling power, the advance you get will be minuscule (five thousand is high for a first-time novelist with a reputable larger press/publishing house; small press is much less.)
Those advances only cover that contract and however many books were promised. Each subsequent book(s) must be negotiated and most authors have a horrible time getting their second or third or fourth books published. Many more have trouble continuing on even if they have books in their back pocket and good sales numbers to show.
This is basically a job where you’re interviewing over and over again for the same job, negotiating your salary for every single project, many of which overlap in your schedule, all while writing some new project with no real sense whether you’ll be told that it’s no good and won’t sell, thanks but no thanks.
2) Dealing With Rejection
Everyone deals with rejection since rejection is a part of life. A huge part of life. How we deal with rejection is what defines our ability to survive or thrive in our environments.
In publishing, rejection is the name of the game. Just this morning, I received an email in my inbox that said NO. And I have many more projects out that are in the process of being considered by many different people, most of whom will eventually send me a NO to my inbox. The NOs are constant. The YESes less so, and in order to do well in the writing industry, one must learn the skill of shrugging when the NO comes and sending that project back out into the wild world.
In indie publishing, the NOs are far more prominent. Each day you are told NO by millions of people who don’t want to buy your book. Millions of people who don’t care, who don’t want to read it. So if you go into indie publishing thinking to circumvent the NOs in the industry…you’re in for a rude awakening :(
However, once you’ve come to terms with rejection, you can start thinking in ways to tease more YESes out of the world. For instance: throw the pasta at the wall–ie, just get as many stories out in the world as possible, to as many markets as possible, and the law of averages states that a small percentage will come back as YESes. The more pasta (stories/subs), the more YESes, so get your numbers high enough, the YESes become more consistent.
The same plan can be done with indie publishing. Keep writing, craft a back-list, get more and more stories in existence, available for people to buy and read, and you’ll eventually see some consistent YESes at work.
3) Time Dilation
This industry is sloooooww. Like, really slow. I can write a story today, get it on sub next month, finally find a bite years from now and still have to wait for a contract, and then have to wait for publication. Authors constantly sell books that take 2 or more years before they’re released into the world at large, though shorter stories tend to take less time.
For example, I wrote a short story in Jan/Feb 2020, that I just sold in Feb 2021, that will not be published until Jan 2022. And that’s for a story only about 2300 words long. [For those of you who don’t think in words this is about the length of a 10-15 page paper double-spaced, or about 2/100s of a 100,000 words novel–for further understanding, Lost Isle is about 130,000 words long.]
Another example: I sold a flash piece (<1000 words) midway through 2019, that wasn’t published until December of that year. I wrote that story in 2015.
In indie-publishing, things can be done at your own pace (somewhat) but everything still takes much time, particularly if you’re doing everything yourself. So you have to make the time to write the story, drafting through many iterations, getting edits done for content, lines and copy, formatting for both paperback and ebook, getting covers, prepping other extra things such as newsletters, teasers, back matter, back cover copy, download pages, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some of the process. It all takes time to accomplish, particularly if you want things looking very good, to a professional level.
On the other hand, the industry works in that age-old hurry up and wait mentality. Where you wait for long expanses for certain parts, only to then have to drop everything and rush things done.
As an example, for my first novel ever published, I had to wait for months and months with no contact with my editor, only for them to send me edits and a deadline of 10 days to get everything back. I literally had to drop everything I was working on to get this done. This is not a rare thing in the industry at all. Very often it is, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, omg! GOGOGOGO! okay, wait, wait, wait, etc. A lot of other jobs have this same mentality to it as well, and, quite frankly, I think it’s a breakdown in communication between groups that could be fixed if people just scheduled things a little more clearly, with buffer zones worked in.
And these are just some of the main obvious difficulties. Going to chat about some of the hidden difficulties next week!