So You Want To Be A Writer…


Being a writer, even a published one, is not an easy thing. We all wish we could have the success of people like Stephen King or John Grisham, selling million dollar book contracts and selling millions upon millions of copies worldwide in a whole assortment of different languages. The sad part of that dream is that it most likely will never come true.
In short, being a writer is hard. Here are some things to think about to make sure you’re serious about this venture:

  1. Trying to keep up with the market is impossible. Therefore writing to the market is pointless, unless it’s short stories. Even if you sell your novel, it could take a year or more before it ever goes to print. By then, whatever market you had written and marketed that book to may have changed and now your really interesting and original novel is old news.
  2. Rejections are common. Some writers go through hundreds of submission attempts before anyone ever gives them a shot. You’ll likely have the same problem. The market is brutal like that. So, be prepared to get rejected a lot. Maybe you’ll get lucky on your first try, but most likely you’ll get a lot of rejections before an editor really considers your work.
  3. Writers are poor. Don’t quit your day job. If you have high hopes that you’ll be able to write for a living and be comfortable doing it, think again. Orson Scott Card discussed this very thing in his book on writing SF & F. In reality, even if your first novel does well, you probably won’t be buying Ferrari’s with the paycheck that comes with it. That also assumes you sell out on your advance. See, the way it works in the market is that a publisher forwards you an advance of money–usually a few thousand dollars. This is sort of your ‘tide-me-over’ payment. When your book actually comes out, you have to earn back that money for the publisher before you get paid anything else. You get a percentage of every book sold, so from the start, that percentage is paying off the money they gave you. Maybe you’ll earn out your advance, maybe you won’t. Until you do, you get nothing else.
    In the event you get published and earn out your advance, likely you won’t be making a whole lot of money at all. In fact, if anything, the money you’ll be making won’t be enough to even pay the rent. So, don’t quit your day job. If you do, and you’re married, make sure your significant other is willing to support you.
  4. Publishers have no qualms about dropping you. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Well, if you’re not making the publisher any money, they have no reason to keep you around. So if you don’t earn out your advance on your first novel, you might get a second chance, you might not. That depends on how bad your novel does. Most publishers accept that a first novel often won’t make a lot of money anyway. So if your second novel, and your third, aren’t doing very well, then expect to be dropped. If that happens it might become very difficult for you to get back into the market. The market functions on money.
  5. Writing is a hell of a lot of work. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. That means you have to accept that writers block is not a real syndrome, but actually the result of laziness.
  6. If you finish your novel and want to publish it, realize it could be a long road before anything happens, if anything happens. Publishers have long wait times. If you submit your novel to one publisher, you might be waiting for months, or longer, before a response comes back. Some publishers won’t take simultaneous submissions, so this means you could be jumping from publisher to publisher shopping your book for many many years. This can get very discouraging when it seems like all the publishers are rejecting your work.
  7. The Writing World is not fluffy bunnies and joy. It’s damn hard work. Being a professional writer is like any other full time job, except in this case you get to do something you actually like to do. So, of course you’ll enjoy writing, but you’ll also have to recognize that it will be difficult and a lot of hard work, and in the end you’ll have no guarantee that you’ll be a bestseller or one of those names that everyone knows.
  8. You do have to have some talent. Maybe not a lot, judging from some of the abysmal novels that seem to be coming out these days, but you can’t just spring up one day and say “I want to be a writer” and expect your first words to be pure gold. Most people write garbage for a while. Many of us know that saying that you have to get through the first 1,000,000 words before you write anything good. It’s an overstatement, but if you think about it, in some respects, there is truth to it. Most likely the first thing you write will be crap.
  9. Stephen King and J. K. Rowling are flukes. They are not common place in the world of writers. In fact, both are incredibly rare. Almost all writers don’t have the monetary success of those two. So if your dream is to be like them, expect to be disappointed a lot. John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell are both fantastic writers who have great careers ahead of them, and neither of them are being handed huge contracts for millions of dollars (correct me if I’m wrong though). I only bring this bit up more before because too many people have hopes to be like those really popular and rich authors. Come back down to Earth. A better focus would be just to be published and successful enough to be able to continue doing it. I’d love to be rich like King, but I could enjoy life just as easily if I were just published and able to continue publishing my work.

Anyone have anything to add to this? Maybe you disagree with some things? Discuss!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

7 thoughts on “So You Want To Be A Writer…

  1. I agree, and you should always dream, just don’t let your hopes get up that you’ll be Stephen King. Dream about being published, that’s a good first step 🙂

  2. Thanks for the advice.
    I am still dreaming about writing a book that i am satisfied with. I already started but i am continuously changing everything so…. i am not moving forward 🙂

  3. “John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell are both fantastic writers who have great careers ahead of them, and neither of them are being handed huge contracts for millions of dollars (correct me if I’m wrong though). I only bring this bit up more before because too many people have hopes to be like those really popular and rich authors.”

    Thanks for the nice words. As far as I know I’m not making millions. Or even really enough to live off, maybe about 50% of my income is fiction right now, blogging and freelancing makes up for the rest I need to put a roof over my head.

  4. Thanks again for stopping by! I’ve sort of become extremely impressed with you and Scalzi lately. Both of you are in a position that I hope to be in one day, although maybe leaning more towards writing fiction for a living. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe not, but I’ll get published one day at least, whenever it is I get out of my weird phase :S.
    But I dunno, maybe you could say that you and Scalzi are people I look up to.

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