Many writers say they write because they have to. Many say it's a passion they give in to. Others declare they are addicted and cannot stop writing, while a few admit they hope to strike it lucky and sell thousands of books a month.
|Pic: Royalty review council|
The reality is that for most writers large figures are the stuff of dreams. The realistic author understands the nature of the market, the fickle aspect of retaining a readership, and the difficulty of publicity and promotions. Most people in the entertainment industry - and that is where fiction belongs for most people - will attest to the fact that they must have a 'real job' to feed their writing habit. Any artistic undertaking generally means that the hours spent in pursuit of that art are rarely all remunerated. Only big name authors and those near the top of the mid-list come anywhere near making enough to live comfortably. Some teach, others hold down a job in some other industry, and others have a supportive partner or spouse who subsidizes those long unpaid hours.
Image via Wikipedia Dan BrownThis is not to say that there aren't authors who do make a comfortable income - of course they are. And it's so comfortable it makes the news. Telling people you are an author sometimes brings on reactions and comments that are entertaining: there is a myth or misconception that all authors make as much money as Dan Brown or John Grisham or JK Rowling. Some think it's as easy as John Locke and Amanda Hocking seem to have found it. Few realize how hard these authors work, what they endured to get where they are, and the reality of the figures attached to their success.
Each book sold brings an author less than three dollars in royalties at the end of the day. Working out how many books one must sell to cover one electricity bill is a lesson in realization of a dismal fact. It is exceedingly hard to write for a real living. Of all those in Australia who claim to be writers, only a very small percentage make enough to maintain a moderate lifestyle.
It could be depressing to realize this, but it can also be liberating. Nothing prevents people from holding down a job and also writing books. Many understand the artistic quality of having to subsidize society, rather than the other way around. Like I said before: it's a rare artist who gets paid for all the hours it takes to conceive and create, adjust and perfect something that will please or entertain an audience. Whether it's writing, painting, acting, sculpting or playing an instrument, there are long, long hours of practising, editing, drafting... chiseling at that block, either practically or metaphorically, that will never be paid for.
Authors do not count their days in billable hours. Some feel they are working all the time - writing in their heads, promoting with their chat, visiting places and researching material with which to build the next chapter. Some feel it's simply not work, but incredible pleasure derived from a pastime or undertaking that is so enjoyable it would seem almost sinful to be paid for. All that ... and money too?
What authors give society is impossible to price. True, it would be nice for us to be recompensed in some sort of 'fair' way, but most realize it's an unrealistic expectation. What authors give is time, creativity, talent and a gift for putting into words what can be felt, lived and loved. Let us not look at the most commercial and well-paid among us - let us instead look at the ones who donate freely of their time and talent, knowing it might never be noticed, let alone valued. Let us consider the truly amazing body of work created not because it might one day make millions, but because it might one day make a reader wipe away a tear, or chortle with delight, or sigh with joy.