Oct 02 2009
If you’re up for a starkly depressing perspective on how hard it is to start out as a writer, Writing Full Time– A User’s Guide is an excellent resource. (Also, Robert Weinberg gets major kudos for being a dual novelist/comic book writer– hooah!) It is depressing, but I think that it’s important to have realistic expectations. Even if your manuscript survives the 99% rejection rate gauntlet and somehow gets published, you’re only looking at maybe $5000 for a typical first-time novel. (He focuses on horror, but Tobias Buckell finds that the median advance is about $6000 for an agented first novel and $3500 for a first novel without an agent).
Now, if you’re one of our readers in the 13-18 range, you’re probably thinking “whoa, that’s way more money than I’ve ever made before!” Probably true, but when you have to cover your own rent and food and transportation and school loans, you will discover that $5000 is wholly inadequate for at least half a year worth of work. By comparison, a 22-year-old college graduate working for the US government starts at a GS-5 (~$35,000 a year and benefits) and moves up to GS-7 after two years. Also, the government guy doesn’t have to pay an agent 10-15%. (Indeed, if a government employee started giving agents money, it would probably prompt a federal investigation). 😉
I don’t have any magic bullets to the problem that authors get paid so little starting out. However, here are some suggestions.
- Get a day job. Do not consider giving up your day-job until you’ve sold at least a few books and make more by writing than you do at your day job.
- Get an audience. Anything that improves your bargaining position will enhance your odds of getting published and your expected payday. So, start writing for a newspaper or magazine or whatever– it will sharpen your writing skills and help build up a devoted following that will buy your book. Blogging is another great tool.
- I’d recommend against getting a Masters in Fine Arts, at least right out of college. Try to pay down some of your student debt first. (See #1). This will also help you get more life experience, which will contribute to your writing skills.
- Network! Network! Network! In particular, you want to become friends with people that are good at writing or editing… or work for a publisher… or are skilled at marketing… or can sell a lot of books (like librarians, bookstore employees, teachers, etc)… or web-savvy… or good create a simple writing website… or are good at art. There are so many kinds of people that can help you later on. The good news is that you probably already know a lot of these people already. You just need to develop your relationship enough that they’d feel comfortable providing a bit of help when you need it (and of course you’d have to be comfortable enough to ask). For me, it was as easy as volunteering to help engineering and business students pass their required literature classes. Alternately, if you already have a job, you can exchange business cards with people and offer to help them on whatever. If you offer to help them, they will often reciprocate.