I am delighted to welcome back a valued friend, Karen Charlton, from my Authonomy days. Her little piece is so, so true. And the strange thing is, we all have to learn every one of these lessons by personal experience; sometimes more than once.
In a recent survey carried out by YouGov and published in The Independent newspaper, 60% of UK adults declared that being a writer is their ‘dream job.’ 14,294 adults were interviewed for this survey. I can only assume – that they all assume – that being an author is both stress-free and lucrative.
In response to this article about the YouGov survey I stuck my tongue in my cheek and jotted down a few observations about the truth behind a publishing contract – especially with a small publishing house. This list of observations is gathered from my own experience and that of fellow authors. I have decided to share it with you below.
If you are ‘lucky’ enough to acquire a publishing deal with a small traditional publisher the following may happen…
- You probably won’t be paid an advance and won’t see a penny in royalties until six months after the book is published.
- In the meantime, you will be expected to do an awful lot of marketing to promote the book and this will cost money. A surprising amount of money. You will buy in lots of stock, organise expensive book launches which no one attends and travel up and down the country to poorly attended events where no-one buys your book.
- You will annoy and pester your teenage children into designing webpages for you. And beg them to teach you about Facebook and Twitter.
- You will rapidly lose friends – especially on Facebook and Twitter – as you harass everyone you know into buying your book.
- Those family and friends who do read your book will make the most bizarre assumptions about upon whom the characters are based.
- You will soon realise you are spending more time marketing your first novel, than you are writing the second one.
- You will harbor a secret hope that despite having no publicist or marketing budget that somehow your novel will make it onto the best-seller list and be signed up for a film deal. You will dream of retiring from the day job, moving to the Mediterranean and spending the rest of your life sipping cocktails beside the pool, while tapping out another best-seller on the laptop.
- Everyone else in the world will assume that you are coining in the cash, while you may have an uneasy suspicion that this is just turning out to be a VERY expensive hobby.
- When your first royalty cheque arrives, you will be devastated and convinced that there should be another zero at the end of that figure. At this point, your long-suffering partner will lose all patience with you and refuse to support you or your writing anymore. If you are really unlucky, your publisher will fold and disappear off into the ether still owing you money.
- Despite the fact that your spouse has filed for divorce and the bailiffs are on the doorstep, no-one will ever have any sympathy for you…because you are a writer ‘living the dream.’
Of course, this is the worst case scenario but even authors with the bigger publishing houses have problems. They write to strict deadlines which are often inflexible and can be exhausting. Midlist authors with the Big Five live in constant fear of being dropped by their publisher because of poor sales and as we all know, we are all only as good as our last novel.
Self-publishing authors work to their own timetable but have a massive learning curve to undergo in order to be successful. They need to source decent book cover designers, editors and proofreaders and have to learn how to format. They are entirely responsible for their own administration, marketing and success and it is not easy to get your novels noticed on Amazon when yours is just one novel among so many millions.
Having said all that – if it works out—being an author IS the best job in the world. Like many novelists, my experience of the publishing industry has thrown up some horrible lows as well as highs. There is hard work, heartache and disappointment behind every one of my books. But each morning as I climb out of bed with a spring in my step and a smile on my face, I remember the words of Édith Piaf: “Non, je ne regrette rien.”
Karen Charlton writes historical mystery and is also the author of a nonfiction genealogy book, ‘Seeking Our Eagle.’ She has published short stories and numerous articles and reviews in newspapers and magazines. An English graduate and ex-teacher, Karen has led writing workshops and has spoken at a series of literary events across the North of England, where she lives. Karen now writes full-time and is currently working on the third Detective Lavender Mystery for Thomas & Mercer.
A stalwart of the village pub quiz and a member of a winning team on the BBC quiz show ‘Eggheads’, Karen also enjoys the theatre, and she won a Yorkshire Tourist Board award for her Murder Mystery Weekends.
You can find out more about Karen’s work at http://www.karencharlton.com, and her portfolio of publications can be found on amazon.co.uk and on amazon.com
Reblogged this on sarahjanebutfield and commented:
A few home truths here!
Thank you for re-blogging this, Sarah.
Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Jane. I really enjoyed writing this article for you. Karen Charlton. x
Love the part about suspecting it’s just a very expensive hobby! I would add another point: you may eventually realise that what you love to write is not what people are prepared to pay to read. Horrible moment – do you stick with what you love, or abandon that and start writing what people ARE prepared to pay for?
I’m glad you appreciated that section, Kathy. I just wish I had an answer to your question.
Reblogged this on Vanessa Couchman, author and commented:
So you think you want to be a published author…? Karen paints a worst case scenario, but we all have to find these things out through our own experience. Like her, though, je ne regrette rien.
I’m glad you enjoyed it enough to reblog it, Vanessa.
I did – this resonated with me as no doubt it will with many others. Thanks for expressing it so well, Karen.
So true, Karen. The trouble is no one ever believes it. Thank you for making me start back to work with a smile.
My pleasure, Karen. x
Excellent post, Karen! And wow, you hit all kinds of nails on the head!
Thank you, Tom.
Reblogged this on Terri Nixon and commented:
A wonderfully honest piece of writing here, and all true apart from (I hope!) the bit about losing friends. I hope I’ve struck a decent balance there!
Brilliant post. Have re-blogged, thank you!
Sometimes the royalties cheque is so small that it’s embarrassing to cash it… 😦
I’ve been there, Ellis. 😦
The problems of traditional publishing? But a lot of it is true for Indies too!
I totally agree, Gerry. I have had a stint as a self-published author sandwiched in-between two traditional publishers.
Oh, my darlings. We write because we love to write, and yet, there is little enough time for that, goodness knows!
Your honesty has brightened my day, and reassured me that (a) I am not going crazy, and (b) that I have the best husband in the world.
Lots of love and hugs! 🙂 XXXX
Fran Macilvey, author, ‘Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy’
I’m glad it brightened your day, Fran. x
Good to hear from you again, Fran! Go well.
So many things ring true! I try to ignore the royalties part and plough onwards.
Hahahaha…so true…I’ve been maimnstream pubbed and had exactly the same experience. Am always kicking writers who say: when I get published by BIG X, then I won’t have to do all this legwork. Wrong. So so wrong. Of course if you LIKE doing it, which I do, it ain’t a hassle. Thinking of setting myeslf up as a publicicst….oh wait…when would I actually write?
Thank you for your comment, Nancy.
A really fun article to read…will share with other writers.
I howled laughing at this. Brilliant blog Karen. Reblogging on mine too. I may not know the headaches, deadlines and footwork involved with traditional publishing, but I can imagine. Work/life balance, or should I say – marketing/writing balance – is one of the hardest things to achieve. Its the pavement-pounding I find so time consuming. I had no idea small traditional publishers expected their authors had to do the same amount of marketing to promote their books as independent authors do. Its a shame they don’t offer an incentive. What about a new pair of shoes?
Glad you enjoyed it, Clare!
Sooooo true! Thanks, Karen and Jane. Shared so the wider world get something of an inkling.
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Ah…..this is the dream I’m living. 🙂 No riches, no fame, and practically no time to write….but then, you get than fan letter or that ‘stop on the street’ when a stranger or acquaintance says “Thank you” or “Your story changed my life” or “Wow, I loved your book…it made me cry AND laugh”. It is at those moments that I remember the perks of being a writer…and they still outweigh the costs. 🙂 Thank you for this great article! Karen Bessey Pease, Lexington Township, Maine USA
I couldnt agree more, Karen.
Reblogged this on Susan Finlay Writes and commented:
Here’s a good article on Author Jane Bwye’s website. It’s an article called “Ten Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing” and it’s written by Author Karen Charlton.
Many thanks for the re-blog, Susan
Reblogged this on Charlotte Gerber.
Thank you for the re-blog, Charlotte
What a wise and witty article! Susan Finlay, thank you for sharing the wisdom of this friend.
A laugh a paragraph, but much so, so true.
Reblogged this on deborahjay and commented:
Oh, so much truth here…!
I couldnt agree more, Deborah!
Reblogged this on Anita & Jaye Dawes.
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Thanks Jane and Karen Charlton for your sobering reminders. I’m already completely down with a very bad bout of flu and quite a bit of self pity because I seem to have hit a big hitch before getting the next book on Amazon. So, I’m already down with flu and being right down means there’s only one move left and that’s up, but your honesty is refreshing and reminds me that I write for the love of the job. All the best to you both and keep those fine blogs coming
Reblogged this on marethabothablog and commented:
I have very little to add to such a sobering and honest look at publishing whether traditional or self. The reality is that any writer has a lot to learn, not just about the writers’ craft, but also about marketing, platform building and really selling yourself to a specific reading public. I think the main thing is to stay focused, write as well as you can, get your work edited and who knows, if you do the basics well, the sky can be the only limit to success.
The only problem, Maretha, is there just aren’t enough hours in each day!