Sunday January 20, 2013
Don’t count the cash
TOTS TO TEENS By DAPHNE LEE
THE next time you’re in a bookstore, go to the fiction section and spend some time really looking at all the books on all the shelves there. Pay attention to the names of the authors, starting from the A’s and right down the alphabet, as far as they go (are there any authors with surnames beginning with Z?). How many names do you recognise? I’m willing to bet that unfamiliar authors will outnumber familiar ones at least 10 to one.
So ... most of these names mean nothing to you? Well, they’re the names of published authors.
Publishing houses took a gamble on these people and their books. The fiction these writers created made it all the way to the shelves of your bookstore. Yet, you might as well be reading names off the pages of a phone directory. Lillian Stewart Carl who? John Berger who?
Actually, John Berger won the Booker Prize in 1972 (for G) and Wikipedia tells me he’s published 48 books. Yet I’d never heard of him until I read Ways Of Seeing, his collection of essays, for a course I’m taking.
However, never mind that John Berger, unlike J.K. Rowling, is not a household name. He, at least, is able to make a living from writing. There are not many authors who are able to write full-time. Many, despite being published, have “day jobs” that allow them to pay the bills, support their families and “indulge” their true passion: writing.
I get e-mail from aspiring authors who tell me that they plan to make a lot of money with the books they have yet to even start writing. They say, “Look at Suzanne Collins. Look at Jeff Kinney. Look at Stephanie Meyer. Look at J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman.”
These authors are the minority – the ones whose talent and hard work, combined with good luck and good timing, have resulted in huge sales, movie deals, fame and fortune. The majority have to juggle writing books with something else that guarantees a steady income. Despite the struggle and despite the lousy money, they continue to write because they love it. They can’t stop. They have to write. They need to write. They’d write even if they knew that no one would publish their books. If they were asked, “Why do you want to write books” their answers would not include “Don’t know”, “So cool what”, “Easy money, right?” and “Better than multi-level marketing”.
Unfortunately, those are the sorts of answers I get all the time from those who contact to me for advice about writing stories. They talk a lot about writing but don’t actually write. Some don’t even seem to read much. It seems to me that they just like the idea of being an author, and/or they really do expect to make a heap of cash.
Sadly, most authors will never get rich from writing. It’s even less likely if you’re published solely in Malaysia. Books don’t sell tens of thousands of copies here, especially not locally-published books, but even if you sold 10,000 (highly unlikely) copies of your book and each book costs, say, RM30, your royalties (about 10% of the retail price) would only total RM30,000. It sounds like a lot, but spread over a year, this would be just RM2,500 a month – still not enough to live on, especially if you live in a city and have dependents, mortgages, loans and other financial commitments.
If you want to write children’s books (or any kind of book), take money out of the equation. Don’t count on it to enable you to feed yourself (and others). Write because you want to and need to write. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because the words come and have to be shared.
If you get published and do, indeed, end up bigger than Rowling, celebrate – but don’t count on it.
> Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.