Ever bought a book and not liked it? Perhaps assigning it a mental two stars out of five, or worse, putting it down after only a few pages. I know I have. And I am sure you have started one of those books where you invest hours of your time, reading over half way and then you decide to cut your losses. It feels bad when you do that, doesn’t it? All that investment of your leisure time, often money to buy the book, and it feels like such as waste. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even skip to the last few pages when that happens.
Whatever the outcome, whether we get to the last page or not, book lovers know why they choose to read; that books take you somewhere else and you get to experience in your mind things that would never happen in your real life. Escapism at its very best, your mind at a level that movies, television and gaming can never take you And, that’s not to blow raspberries at the latter, the reading experience is just different, that’s all.
How many of you, outside of those who have put down a big work of writing, ever stop to think about the process undertaken by authors; what’s really involved to actually get your book into a bookstore?
Well I reckon that writing is a hard slog. Only the very few get to earn a living out of it. Bit like any profession where you deploy your artistic talent, even where such talent is weak and not your real strength. I believe it’s not even the 80:20 rule, more like the 99:1 rule. Authors all start out wanting to be in that 1 per cent, to be one of those authors who can afford a publicist and researchers on staff, that gaze out from their office at a beautiful vista and where the only hard choices are choosing between which public events they participate in and for how much.
I’ve been writing since 2011. Should have done it thirty years ago, but I didn’t have the discipline then. I know, I tried and then forgot all about it for many years. One day, I decided to give it another go, a last attempt and I got serious, spending two months before I wrote the first word. As the first 5,000 words went down and then another, it was like little steps and I could see an ending for the first time ever. Yes, it happened and despite all this and the rejections and setbacks, we all have them, I persevered and still hold onto the view that my novels can bring me fame and fortune.
I think they’re good enough, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? You be the judge in due course.
But I digress. Writing is a tough gig. You forgo a lot to set out a coherent 80,000 words, attending to grammar, suspense, plot and realism, always thinking about the reader and how you can entertain them with your writing. There are hours spent on Google, or if you have the means real research in the field, talking to people so that your story will have that touch of realism, of having been there. Oh what I would give for such an opportunity.
Writing is a lonely, solitary task. There are some writers who collaborate and share the load, but for most authors, we sit at our computer for hours at a time, alone with our own thoughts. If it’s a first novel, you don’t even have an agent and other people who can support your efforts. Days stretch into weeks and months. Years can go by if you don’t have discipline. And if this happens, then you really should know you have lost the plot.
Translate those hours for me if you will. I can write a thousand words in a couple of hours, but some of those thousands may take eight or more hours. Add in the research, the character and plot development, the thinking about it when you are trying to go to sleep. My back of the envelope calculations suggest that my novels have taken perhaps 400 hours each to write. And, that’s before you even think about the time involved in getting an agent and a publisher, creating a website, editing the work and making it sufficiently professional and, thus, persuasive enough, for someone to spend real money on it. Oh yes, and read it to the end.
Back to that 99:1 rule. Most authors make next to nothing from their work, and that’s particularly the case for people who self-publish. Yes, Matthew Reilly self-published and look at him, but he’s the exception, we know that. Hard work isn’t enough, you need to be persistent and you also need some luck. The fact is that most self-published authors, and even some with publishers, will only sell hundreds, perhaps a few thousand copies of their work. We’ll call on all our friends and family and many more we don’t even know that well urging them to buy. And, many will because they want to help and see you do well, not always because they want to read your work.
So 400 hours, plus another 200 for the agent, publisher, website and time spent on social media. Oh, yes and 200 for research, character and plot development. You do better than most and add up all your income, 365 days after it was published, and it amounts to $10,000. Hey, I’m being generous here, most of us will never give up our day job to do this. Divide by 800.
That’s $12.50 for every hour of work.
Next time you read a novel and feel a little critical of the writing or the story, think of the sheer work and effort that has gone into its creation; the author’s hopes and dreams.
Hey, I’m still dreaming and hoping that people will like my work.
Chris, August 2014