What you should know if you want to write a book

And here’s some first-person testimonial about book-writing in the 21st century. Most of it rings true. It took me 9 months to write a book, vs. 2.5 years. But my advance was smaller than what she got. I don’t know my sales figures, but she seems happy with sales figures that I would have thought were disappointing. Royalties of a dollar a book are about right (mine were closer to $1.75), and working for less than minimum wage is definitely a possibility. She’s also right that publishers will not promote you. You absolutely, positively have to promote yourself. They’ll put your book on store shelves and send a few copies to reviewers, but from there you’re on your own to sink or swim.

Lack of a social life also rings true. When I was writing my book, I blew off steam by getting together with one or two friends, usually on a Saturday night, and watching a Peter Sellers movie. Or, if we were up for it, two Sellers movies. That was the entirety of my social life for 9 months. My normal routine was to get home from work around 5:30, throw something in the oven, write for 30 minutes, eat dinner at my keyboard, and write until 11 PM at the earliest. If I was on a roll, I’d keep going until it was played out, so sometimes I didn’t get to bed until 1 AM. Then I’d wake up around 8 and do my best to get to work by 8:30, and do it all again. And then I’d write all weekend, except for that break to watch a movie or two.

I may sound bitter, but I’d do it again. And a former coworker asked me this past Friday if I ever plan to write another one. I said I would, when it’s time. I had an inkling, about 10 months ago, but I don’t think the market’s ready, and I guess it took me about 2 months to figure out that I’m not ready yet. Another former coworker asks me from time to time to write with him. But if you don’t have something all-consuming to write about, there’s no point. When writing’s just a job, it shows. I ask him what to write about, and he repeats the question back to me. I really think the good ideas find you, not the other way around. I once wrote a song in the back seat of a friend’s car as we were driving to a gas station, and I think a good book idea comes that suddenly too.

The other thing that rings true is the spiky blog traffic. I have a fraction of the following I had when my book was in print. But there was no way, in 2000, for me to leave a good job to pursue writing and blogging as a full-time career. And with all due apologies to my then-boss, who may be reading this, I didn’t have a good job in 2000. (It wasn’t his fault.) If I could have made 75% of what I was making then, I probably would have done it. That may be possible in 2011. Google Adsense didn’t exist then. Amazon Associates did, but all Amazon sold was books. In 2000, I was getting 10 times the traffic I get today, but I think I actually make more today than I did then. If not, it’s close.

Would I leave the job I have now to write books and blog? No. Moderately successful authors make less than I make now. Superstar authors make considerably more than I make now. But I wouldn’t go straight to superstar status. As it stands now, I can’t give my family everything it wants, but I can give it everything it needs, plus a few toys. If I were a full-time author, we’d have to make more sacrifices than we make now.

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