Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Writing For Money

Okay, I'm totally getting ranty today. Sorry. I am fairly opinionated on this topic. As I expected, yesterday's post brought on this question:

Are you saying it's bad to write for money or fame?

Well, yes and no. I mean, obviously I'm not writing solely for the heck of it. I have an agent—I hope he'll sell my book. I'm not hiding my manuscripts away, content for my grandchildren to stumble on them someday. I would love to have a little cash in return for all this work I've been doing! Who wouldn't?

But at the same time, there are dangers in writing solely for money/fame.

First off, let's be honest here, if you really want money and fame you're kind of in the wrong business. Very few authors make enough to even quit their days jobs, let alone qualify for "money and fame" status. Yeah, we have J.K. and Stephenie, and Suzanne is totally up and coming to this status. Most people know Mr. King and Mr. Grisham, probably Patterson too. But even most of the bestsellers aren't household names!

Let's take Neil Gaiman—writer rock star to us. He's got movies, awards, everything, right? When the average person asks me for book recommendations and I say try Neil Gaiman, the number one response:

"Wait, Neil Diamond writes books?"

Then I'm like, "No! GAIman! With a G. Did you ever see Stardust? Coraline?"

"Oh...those are books?"

Not. Kidding. *face palm*

Let's look at a few big YA Bestsellers/Legends: Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Cassie Clare, Ally Carter. I've dropped all their names, only to get funny looks as if I'm speaking a different language. The book world is small—sometimes when you're online all the time it feels huge and influential, but you can't forget the average American hardly reads fiction. Depressing, but true.

Secondly, writing with money and fame as the sole goal can actually hinder your progress towards that goal. It might cause you to rush when you should wait, skip an edit because you really have to get this book to an agent NOW before mummies aren't hot anymore.

And then you'll be going out with a half-baked manuscript, one that might not make it in the current difficult market at all. And say you do get an agent; maybe you'll spend nine months editing that baby and your whole "Mummy Trend" will be poof anyway. And if you get past edits and onto submission, maybe every editor will say, "Yeah, we have too many mummies, and this voice just doesn't stand out." And even if you DO get a book deal, maybe it won't be for as much as you thought and your book won't get the attention in-house that you hoped and you won't get a huge print run and there's no way you'll make a list even if you do have a decent online following.

It kind of breeds permanent unhappiness, doesn't it?

If there's one thing I've learned in the last five years of serious writing, it's that cutting corners does not work. There are no short cuts—you will NOT be the exception to the rule. And even if you are, the public will ream your book for poor writing, etc. Yes, maybe your millions will console you, but not as well as you'd think.

Wouldn't you rather do your best work AND have wealth and fame? I would. Then I'd feel like I earned it.

And third, writing with visions of your 3-book-deal and 7-figure advance can only keep you working so long. When the going gets tough, that dream looks less and less possible. Then maybe you start to wonder why you're writing at all. Maybe you're not even good enough to get any deal at all let alone one so big! (I've thought all this, promise.) Then you get depressed, and I don't know about you but my writing suffers intensely when I'm down.

You can't get anywhere if you can't get the words on the page. Writing is the soul of everything—if you are too depressed to finish that book, edit that book, submit that book, then you can't get the rest either!

It's simply putting the cart before the horse.

So there are the dangers of writing with only profit in mind, and that's why I encourage staying focused on actual writing. Because when you work on the craft, the rest will follow! You can't control the profit side; it'll come or it won't.

Focusing on your story, on improving your writing, on making your book the best it can be naturally fosters success! If you really want that whole money part, you best be putting your time into the craft.

Writing, the craft, the work—that's the horse. Success, money, fame, or whatever—that's the cart. Your cart ain't going nowhere without the horse!


  1. Good points. My husband has big dreams for my writing future, I must admit. He's already got the mansion he wants to buy in mind. I've tried to tell him it's probably not going to happen, but he assures me it will.

    Sigh. I would LOVE it to happen, but I prefer putting the writing first. I would be way too stressed and depressed if I decided my work was only worthwhile if I became the next Rowling. At this point, I'm just trying to get an agent and write the best I can.

    Great post!

  2. Great post! Very well said and the last line just hits the nail on the head.
    I better get back to writing my long neglected novel... *gulp*

  3. Awesome post! It's so true - writing for money will not get you much, unless you somehow get really lucky and your book becomes uber popular, which usually doesn't happen.

  4. EXCELLENT post!! Writing is a labor of love. To get paid for it? Icing on the cake.

  5. when i was a bookseller at a used book store, a woman came in to sell a huge pile of writing books. I was, of course, super excited. She admitted to me that she was more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually being a writer.
    It's a thin line that's easy to cross

  6. I live on a (relatively) small income right now, so any amount of money I make writing that would equal what I bring home now would be success to me! In other words, I don't have to make much to "quit the day job." I'll take the same measly wage I do now if I can do it writing and creating all the time. Success is really in the eye of the beholder, and fame seems hardly all its cracked up to be.

    I'd kill for a career like the incredible Neil's (Gaiman, not Diamond... well, maybe Diamond too...) He's got a loyal base, gets to write full-time, and has the pull to explore different mediums. I would love to be known for writing novels, comics, and movies - even if I'm not known in every household. That would be #1.

  7. I'm sorry to say that I was one of the Neil Diamond crowd.

  8. Excellent points.

    To be honest. I try not to think about being published at all. I`m still working on my first MS and publishing just isn`t in my radar right now. I want to write the best book for me. When I`m happy with it then I`ll send it out to others to read and then I`ll start to think about publishing.

  9. It is a very small world when it comes to books isn't it?

  10. I hardly even think about the money factor. Publishing ain't a business to get rich quick--or even get rich! I just hope to someday see my name on a bookstore shelf--or if eBooks completely take over, on a "virtual" shelf.

  11. This is a very honest and true post. Thanks for having the guts to write it. Of course aspiring authors dream of big advances and being best-sellers, I think it's only natural. But that's just not the reality for the vast majority, and writing has to be about loving to write.

  12. Great post!! When I started writing fiction seriously, I had no clue why I was writing...I just..was. It was only when I finished it that I took the next natural step...trying to get it published. Eye opener that was!

    I've come a long way since then and have found small successes. I love when someone reads my book and tells me they loved it! That is why I write. But money is nice too. I put a lot of time into my writing and it would be nice to get more than "your book was awesome" as payment. Can't eat other people's praise.

  13. Another great post. As usual.

    "I've dropped all their names, only to get funny looks as if I'm speaking a different language. The book world is small—sometimes when you're online all the time it feels huge and influential, but you can't forget the average American hardly reads fiction."

    Hoooo boy. Yes. I swear, I'm the most boring conversationalist to 99.99% of the population.

    "cutting corners does not work. There are no short cuts—you will NOT be the exception to the rule."

    Yup. And I've also learned not to take ANYTHING for granted.

    "Writing, the craft, the work—that's the horse. Success, money, fame, or whatever—that's the cart. Your cart ain't going nowhere without the horse!"

    Love it. :)

  14. Excellent post.

    People should write because they have to....because writing is part of them--like eating, sleeping or breathing.

    It's tempting to daydream about the "what if's"...but when people write just to make money I think it backfires. You have to have the motivation without the incentives, or you'll give up before you ever reap the reward.

  15. Excellent post. People also need to remember that there are things you can control and things you can't. Don't make your success or happiness dependent on things you can't control.

    So much of this is just luck and timing. There's no way to write for money, because we haven't developed that perfect formula for determining what will be the next Big Thing.

  16. I agree most wholeheartedly with this post. It's actually kind of freeing to not think about what is may or may not happen once I've finished a book but then its not always easy to keep those thoughts from creeping back in. Sometimes I wish it were easier to jsut focus on writing.

  17. I've said, "You know, he wrote Coraline," more than a few times. Too funny. Poor Neil Gaiman. Unknown Rockstar of the Writing World.

    Can I keep my dream of having a maid one day, just for my husband's sake?

  18. Wait. Neil Diamond writes books?


  19. Great post. I'm in the same boat as Melissa- just starting my first book. I haven't even begun thinking about sharing it with anyone, not even close family or friends. I'm writing to get my story out of my head, which is comforting. There's no pressure.

    But I recognize that is not always the case. There are those out there who are trying to make a living by writing. I agree that they shouldn't write just for money, but they also shouldn't pretend like that isn’t a factor. I have days where I don’t want to go to work, but I do, because it pays my rent. Then there are days when I jump out of bed and run to work because I'm so excited to do what I do for a living. I think it's the same for any career you choose. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that writers have to treat their work like a business- force themselves to write when they don't want to, enjoy the days when the words flow easily, and work hard to reach those days when their dream job can pay the bills.

  20. So true! I like the cart and horse analogy too. Like you said a cart isn't going anywhere without the horse. But by that same token, a horse without a cart is just an unemployed horse. I think the key is balance: focusing on the craft and work of writing but still remembering that publishing is a business.

    Good post!

  21. "The book world is small—sometimes when you're online all the time it feels huge and influential, but you can't forget the average American hardly reads fiction. Depressing, but true."

    Oh so, so true. It's easy to get caught up in... {gestures to the computer} all THIS. But what's real? {points to heart} This. This is what has to come through every day on the screen, in the WORK.

    Great post, Natalie. :) (Even if I'm a little late getting to it!)

  22. What. A. Fantastic. Blog. I'm sitting here blog surfing instead of editing my manuscript, contemplating writing a post on my own blog about the way revising a novel can make a person feel completely inadequate as a writer and overall human being.

    Because here's the thing. While I was writing my first draft, I did it for the fun of it. I did it for the looooove of it. I didn't let myself put the cart before the horse - I didn't research agents, I didn't read books on writing or editing or craft in any form (I didn't even know to call it "craft") and I refused to let myself THINK about the fact that I might one day want to try to get my book published.

    Then I finished writing.

    And I started researching agents. I started reading anything I could get my eyes on about writing and editing and publishing. I started drafting query letters and reading with horror the ones ripped to shreds by sharks and ridiculed to high heaven in slush pile hell.

    And all of a sudden it started to feel scary. Hideously intimidating. And not nearly so much fun.

    So, yeah. I'm back now to trying to put to use what I've learned in these months of research. I'm back in the world of my book, and it feels fun again. I'm still intimidated, and I AM going to try to get published, but if I don't - or if I don't this time - I'm going to try not to beat myself up too bad about it.

    Mainly, I just want to keep my eyes focused on the fact that I love writing. That's why I'm doing any of this, after all.