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.