Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 2 of 8)
DREAMING FOR DOLLARS
Do you write for the money? If so, I’m sorry. Amanda M. Thrasher, co-founder of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, my publisher, told me, “We don’t do this for the money. We do this because we love it. The rest will follow.” And P.T. Barnum once said that money “is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master.” Have you succumbed to that master, or are you master over it? Choose carefully.
We hear so many stories about the big names—Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, James Patterson, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, John Sandford—that we forget the majority of the bookshelves are filled with unknowns and un-heard-of folks like us, and that’s if we even make it to the bookshelves. It’s easy to be led down a dangerous path by the much-glorified accomplishments of others. Our society places so much emphasis on the money-makers and the big names that it forgets about the rest of us, the vast majority. There’s no glory in the ordinary, there’s no hype in the mediocre, so we must manage our expectations while allowing the excitement of our dreams to keep us inspired.
“An author signing a first contract can expect to receive an advance of anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, on average, per book,” reports Rebecca Brandewyne on her website.[i] That’s a far-cry from the multi-million dollar deals grabbing the headlines and propelling our well-grounded dreams into ethereal fantasies. Oftentimes an author contracted by a publisher may not sell enough copies to recover the advance and begin generating royalties. If a book doesn’t “earn out,” the publisher may ask the author to pay back the remaining advance not recouped, and the book is then pulled from the shelves and considered non-salable. And to sprinkle dead flies on a rotting corpse, the average shelf-life of a novel you may have spent three years writing is about four months. That stinks.
There’s a story about an elderly Jewish gentleman who began to withdraw from his family, friends, and the community at large. As concern for the man’s health grew, his rabbi decided to pay him a visit. “What is bothering you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” the man said. “Since retiring the world has grown so complicated. I have no time to worry about anything but keeping my head above water.”
The rabbi smiled and led him to the window. “Look there. What do you see?”
The man watched the people on the street, the vendors selling their wares, the children playing. “I see people living their lives as they do every day.”
The rabbi then led the man to a full-length mirror hanging from his closet door. “And here, what do you see?”
“I see myself. Why?”
“You see,” said the rabbi. “The window and the mirror are both made of glass. You look through the window and see the world, your community, your friends. Nothing is in the way.”
“And the mirror?” the old man asked.
“The mirror is backed with silver,” the rabbi replied. “Whenever silver gets in the way we only see ourselves.”
Now, think again of the bookstores, row after row, shelf after shelf of unknowns. Like an Oreo cookie, the bookshelf end caps may yell, “Read me, I’m excruciatingly famous,” but the stuff in the middle is the stuff worth savoring. When the silver gets in the way, we only see ourselves.
(Next up: Part 3: Dealing with Writer’s Guilt)
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes