Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why I don't tell people I'm writing a novel

If I were to tell you I was moving to L.A. to try to make it as a movie actress, would your first reaction be "Great! Call me when you're in a movie with Tom Cruise and I'll go see it"?


But this was basically the reaction of a family member when my mom told them I was working on a book. "Just tell me when it's published and I'll go buy it."


So why the disparity? Most people are well aware of the difficulty of "making it" in the television or movie industry, but for some reason the average American doesn't see the publishing industry in the same way. They walk through racks and racks of books emblazoned with "New York Times Best Seller!" and think that's the norm.

I read one novelist's recent guesstimate that there were only 250 writers in the U.S. who were making a full time living just from selling their novels. This wasn't counting money made from holding writing workshops or other writing income. Just book royalties that added up to a full time income. Two-hundred and fifty people out of tens of thousands of writers. 

I've try to get this point across to many people who respond with instant excitment over learning of my writing.

"You can make enough that your husband can stay home with the kids!"

"Not hardly," I respond, and cite the figure above.

"So are you sending it to publishers?"

"That's not how the industry works. I have to get an agent, and then a publishing contract, and then the book actually has to sell well if I want to publish again. And so many other people are going through the same process that my book really has to be stellar to have a chance. Even then, lots of great writers are never published."

"But they aren't you!"


The ridiculously unrealistic responses depress me somehow, but then there are the rest. The realists. The ones who look at me the same way I might look at someone who told me they were writing a novel. The look of "Yeah, so what? I'm sure lots of other people can say the same thing. How many are published?"

So for now I keep my writing mostly under wraps. I tell myself it's just a hobby while at the same time working ferociously towards the goal of publication. So am I the only one? Is everyone else shouting their writing from the rooftops or do you keep it to yourself? If you do share with others, what do you tell them, and if you don't, what are your reasons? 


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