Monday, March 10, 2008

The Truth Behind The Myths

Lately, I've been running headfirst into all kinds of questions and people who seem to totally not get how this industry works or what life is like as a full-time writer. I don't blame (or begrudge) some of these people or comments...I mean, I get how you can be pretty clueless about my job if you've never dipped your toe in this arena, but still....If I'm told one more time by a person with no writing experience or background whatsoever that "I want to do what you do - work from home and make money - how do I do it?," my head is going to explode.

So, to that end, I reveal my top five myths (and truths) about publishing. Have some others? Weigh in on the comments section.

1) This job is a piece of cake/a dime a dozen/insert cliche that implies lack of ass-busting work and a dash of talent. I am, I like to think and verified by those around me, a very easy-going gal. Not a lot ruffles my feathers. But so help me God, if one more friend of a friend of a friend (no, not you dear Ask Allison readers, whom I know are at least moderately invested in your careers) writes me or calls me or stops me at some social function and says, "Ooh, how can I get in on that," as if any old Joe can do what I do...well, as stated above, head meet explosion. The truth is that there aren't a lot of industries with higher failure rates (and lower success rates), and just because you have an idea for a book or 30 pages somewhere in the dredges of your hard drive, that doesn't mean squat. It certainly doesn't qualify you to assume that what I do is easy, nor that you could just slide in and assume my career as your own. UGH. Pet peeve.

2) That Oprah Will Love My Book. Even my dear mother, whom I love to pieces, suggested at some point that, "now, all I need to do is get The Department on Oprah." Well, mom, (and everyone else!), DUH! Wouldn't that be lovely? Of course it would! But Oprah (and the Today Show, etc) are but pipe dreams for the average lot of us, so let's just be happy with the kudos and press we do receive and stop pretending that the world's most influential television figure would even care a flying fig about us. 'Kay?

3) That Film Rights are a Given. Most writers fantasize about Julia Roberts and George Clooney or Reese Witherspoon embodying their characters. (Well, they might fantasize about Clooney for entirely other reasons as well.) Most writers will be sorely disappointed. The truth is that selling a book is damn hard. Selling the movie rights is damn harder. Actually getting the movie made is damn near impossible. Sort of like making the all-star team and then being selected as MVP. It happens. (And I hope it happens to me and in the near future.) But you can't - and shouldn't - spend a hell of a lot of time worrying and/or dreaming about it.

4) That Selling Your Book = Financially Loaded. The average fiction book advance hovers in the four-digits. I have no idea why people assume that when you land a book deal, you're also on the way to easy street...but people do. I can't tell you the number of off-hand comments I get. The truth is that - while this isn't a scientific number or anything like that - I'd venture to say that 95% of first-time published writers keep their day jobs. My advance was significantly higher than the average first-timer's, and after my agent's cut and taxes...I kept right on writing for my other clients.

5) That Writers Lead Lives of Leisure. True, I do wear sweatpants just about every day. (A habit I've tried in vain to break but just can't! Summer can't get here fast enough so I can at least switch over to shorts.) But I work damn hard. In my early days, my husband called this "hustling." I had so many balls in the air that I nearly had whiplash, but in trying to establish myself, I had no other option. These days, I've slowed down a bit due to a variety of reasons, not least my two kids, but that doesn't mean that I still don't hit the ground running. I have no idea why people think writers are lazy - maybe it's the sweatpants or the failure rate? - but to them, I say, "Try my job for a month, and then report back to me." Oh yeah, see #1. Good luck with that.


Jen A. Miller said...

Were you peering inside my head this morning? ;-)

I hear these things all the time. Even my own sister yesterday said she want to quit her job and do whatever she wants just like me. I said, "well, do you at least have $6,000 for health insurance?" That shut her up.

Yes, I work in my sweatpants, but I also started working at 7am this morning because I have so much to do. Some people might see writing as a life of leisure, but I think it's damn hard work -- at least making sure it's good writing, and making sure you can sell it so someone will read it.

Dawn Papandrea said...

Thanks Allison -- I'm going to print this and post it up, because you totally read my mind. Related to your #5 point, my pet peeve is people suggesting what I should do with my "free" time.

I've taken on a lot of freelance work over the last couple of years, but I also have a full-time editing job -- 3 days in the office, and the rest of my hours done from home -- and I spend my 2 home days with my 3-year-old. And people have the nerve to say things like "you're home 2 days a week, you have plenty of time to do XYZ."

Can you imagine?!

Sue said...

Yeah, life of leisure. I wish. I've had to work more weekends lately than I care to count. And I spend a lot of nights writing or editing because my days are too crowded with interviews, searching for sources, putting out little fires, etc.

Or one of my favorites from a former supervisor: you'll never manage to be successful because you need constant supervision. I work so much better without someone staring over my shoulder and working on someone else's schedule.

Therese Walsh said...

Here's one: that it should only take you a month to pop out a good book if you just sit down and put your mind to it. Yeah, right. Maybe someone can do this, but not me. If I hear, "You're still working on that book?" one more time, I'll blow a vessel.

Larramie said...

Well stated, ladies.

Jen A. Miller said...

How about "sure you have time to take me to the airport/walk my dog because you are home all day, after all." Yup, I'm at home -- in my office working!

Anonymous said...

Heh. Just last week, my mom told me I should get on Oprah. What do you tell them????

Here's another myth: You're self-employed, so you can work whenever you want. Yes, I can work early AM, evenings and weekends, but I also need to be available for editors and story sources during regular working hours, as well.

Eileen said...

I had to laugh at all of these. The Oprah is my favorite. I got a lecture recently on how if I REALLY wanted my book to do well I should get Oprah to promote it. I loved that they didn't think I had thought of that. Why I tried to explain that it wasn't that easy- they chastised me for not being a go getter.

Anonymous said...

I belong to a local women's group which is part of a national organization. I enjoy and can manage the time for the monthly meetings and helping on some projects. At a recent meeting I was "selected" to be a delegate to this year's state convention.
Since that entails a 4 hour drive each way and 3 days of meetings, I said NO!
I think some of them were shocked, but I really wanted to say that there was no way I would choose sitting in dull meetings, voting on bylaws, when I could be out interviewing people and writing!

Trish Ryan said...

I'm laughing so hard I can't even think of a're so right, about all of these. Thanks for putting it into words!

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh at the Oprah comment. I let slip to my neighbor that I was writing a novel. His response? "Great! Now all you have to do is hit the New York Times list, and you're set." Yup. That's all I have to do, all right. Piece of cake. said...

Allison this was truly a great post, and thank you to all the people who commented as well.

As an aspiring writer, I know that I idealize the life of a writer.

Thank you for the reality check.

BTW, I've got 'The Department' on my nightstand in the reading line-up.