Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Writing Lottery

I’m putting the finishing touches today on my latest novel, Natalia, which has me thinking a little bit about its prospects.  I’m feeling pretty good about the book.  It has taken me quite a bit longer to finish than I expected, but in the end I think that it is something I can be proud of.  To me that is the most important thing, but I can’t help but wonder how it will end up being received.

Of course, whether a novel does well in the marketplace has to do with a whole lot of factors.  I’d like to think that the most important thing is the quality of the book itself, in terms of the writing, and the plot and the insightfulness and depth of the characters.

Other factors include the cover, the book description (blurb), marketing, reviews, genre, the whims of the reading public (what is “in” at the moment), and a whole lot of luck, good or bad.  Just because a book is good doesn’t mean it will sell and just because it sells doesn’t mean it is good.

This has me considering one of the big differences in the career of an independent writer like myself as compared to most sane and rational people who have more traditional jobs.  For most people, how much they are paid is directly the result of how much they work.

If you are a nurse, or a carpenter, or a lawyer, or a journalist, you do a job and you are paid a specific amount for your time, depending on your skill and experience.  If you are a writer, how much you earn from your work is a direct result of all of the various factors mentioned above.

If you have a contract with a traditional publisher, you might be lucky enough to receive an advance, but for emerging authors, those are becoming fewer and farther between.  For fiction writers it tends to be the big-name authors are given advances, especially for books they haven’t yet written.

For the rest of us, we spend years writing a book, doing all of the work, and only then do we release it into the wild to see if it either flies or crashes to earth in a big thud.  Either way, we’ve done the same amount of work.

Indeed, someone who writes a full-length novel that sells 100 copies in its lifetime has done more or less the same amount of work as someone who writes a bestseller that sells one million copies.  Both have poured their heart and soul and time into a project that makes one rich and leaves the other in the poorhouse.

Choosing to become a writer is indeed a lot like playing the lottery.  You do what you can to stack the odds in your favor, but at the end of the day it really is just one big gamble. 

You’ve got to be a dreamer to embrace this kind of uncertainty.  You take those dreams, spin them into words, and hope that others might be as inspired reading them as you were writing them.  Just a few more weeks and I’ll find out if Natalia can fly…

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