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Friday, October 11, 2013

Three Things You Should Know About Being an Author

My wife said yesterday's blog post was too political, decidedly not funny, and made me sound 'douchey'. In my defense I think she was still a little miffed about an incident that happened earlier with me and her unattended panty drawer, but I guess she has a point.

It was like this without the moths and the sex dungeon.

If you want outright inappropriate political commentary you can call your racist grandfather and ask him about the good ol' days.  This blog is supposed to be a happy place, a fun place, where you can come and hear me talk about myself and my enormous dong and things I like to do with it when the wife is crying in the bathroom.

So today, I would like to return to my life and talk about some things about being an author, of which I totally am--and we're talking books with almost no pictures people, and some assumptions that people just get outright wrong about the profession.

* * *

It happens at every social gathering that my wife drags me to. After the normal social fare, the conversation will somehow end up focusing on the fact that I've published four books, try hard as I might to shy away from the subject. A typical example of just such an exchange:

Stranger: Did you catch the Redskins game last--

Me: I've published four books! Me! Me! Me!


And then begins a series of questions and answers that always leaves said stranger disappointed, confused, and a little shaken. Because what people tend to assume about book authors, slayers of words, humpers of gerunds, is usually completely wrong.

3. The Definition of Success

Quick, name a successful author! After you're done with JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King and the like let me know. Now what do all of those writers have in common? Besides of course being the only people to wear tweed coats and still get laid, they've all sold millions of books. Or in Stephen King's case, gajabillions which is a number I just made it up.
Books or not, this man is sexy,

They're also a very tiny minority. For every Stephen King, there is a Norman Garaboldi which is also a name I just made up, but I'd be willing to bet my Air Jordans that it's also a real person who has published a real book which has sold exactly four copies. Which is why what the publishing industry considers a success is very different from the one you have in your head.

So what's the magic number to get a nice three-book deal and up to four groupies at your disposal? 5000 books. That's about the same number of people who attended the Baltimore Bronycon. Or so I hear. I didn't go. And even if I did, I certainly wasn't the back part of a horse costume. Mind your own fucking business.

And in case you're curious, my first book Blood and Sunlight, was downloaded about 30,000 times. Now many of those were part of an Amazon freebie weekend, but the sales were still rather unexpected. Here's where the disappointment sets in--if you took the combined sales of my other three books, then removed the relatives who were guilted into buying a copy, you might have enough people to field a baseball team. In Really Tiny Baseball Team World (coincidentally, this is also the setting of my next book).

2. Getting Published is Not a Huge Accomplishment

Computers and publishing on-demand, that is publishing a book when the reader buys it rather than printing up to 100,000 copies ahead of time, has changed or destroyed the industry depending on who you're talking about. As a result, literally anyone can write a book, upload it to a site like Smashwords.com and then see it published on Amazon a few days later for no cost whatsoever. If you want a hard copy of your book and you're willing to spend a little money (anywhere from $1000-on up), you can actually have your book printed and sold online.

Which is why when people ask me where they can buy my book and I tell them Amazon, Barnes and Nobles online, or any other big online retailer, they shouldn't get too excited. This is no longer an amazing accomplishment.  Which is also why you see more and more reviews that look like this:


151 of 164 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Author is a complete hack. March 29, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Horrible grammar, horrible sentence structure, horrible spelling.
Author needs a proof-reader, Howett's abortions of the English language need removal as a product.
Hurrah for brevity. July 17, 2011
By Buckler
Format:Kindle Edition
It would seem the author made this preview mercifully short. Even then, I noticed mangled sentences and odd grammar typical of her last effort. If this, as well as her past product are any indication, run like hell.



Now I didn't go the self-publishing route because 1) I'm cheap and 2) my grammar is suspect at best. But I was rejected by every major publishing house in existence, 14 independent publishers, and my cousin Mark who works at Kinko's. Eventually I struck gold with a wonderful small press called Penumbra. They professionally edited my books, handled the artwork, and took the risk on publishing costs. They even did some light marketing, but unless your publisher is taking out a full page ad in the NY Times, most author's receive a shocking little amount of money. Which brings us to the last assumption...

1. Authors are Not Wealthy and Most Hold Day Jobs

I get a little weirded out when people say things like 'So you're a writer.' I get even more uncomfortable when people define themselves as a writer and shove their self-published autobiography about that time some guy dumped them at Red Robin.

I'm cheating on you. Have a burger! Yummmmmmm....

Yes, I do write, but I don't make a living off it. In fact, few writers do. That girl with the book of goth poems working as a waitress at Friendly's is more typical of the average 'writer' than Stephen 'I can turn a grocery list into a best-seller' King.

All told, I've probably made about $6000 from all four of my books. Not a bad chunk of change if you consider that as just extra spending money. But break that number down--my first book took 14 months to write. My second 10. The third and fourth probably took another 14 months combined. That's about $2000 a year. And you have to take out taxes. That's not even enough money to live off cat food for a year.


So why in the hell would anyone want to write? Because when I'm deep in the process of writing, of creating, nothing else can compare to that high. And when I do finally get published and just one reader connects with my characters or stories, it's like everything I've written has come alive. It's like child birth without the pain and pooping on the table.

So if you do happen to run into a writer somewhere out in the big scary world, don't ask him about sales, or book outlets, or any of that meaningless garbage. Ask him about the story, the characters, why he chose to write what he wrote. You'll get a lot more interesting and meaningful answers.