This is a dangerous period, when I’ve just finished and turned in one novel, haven’t started another yet, and have far too much time to think.
One thought is inevitable: Do I really want to do this again? Do I want to spend another year of my life with people who exist only in my head?
And that leads to: Is this work, or just an extraordinarily time-consuming hobby? There’s no shortage of people who will say that because I don’t make enough money to fully support myself by writing, it’s a hobby, not a career. Never mind the starred reviews. Never mind the Agatha Award. Never mind the books on library shelves. To some people, only money counts, and I don’t make enough money from writing to be considered a real writer. I’m not working; I’m just amusing myself.
The thing is, when I’m sitting here tearing my hair out because I can’t get a scene to go the way I want it, or writing madly to meet a deadline, it sure does feel like work.
The knowledge that I won’t make a ton of money and see my name on the New York Times bestseller list doesn’t lessen my desire to write the absolute best book I can. I’ve published three books that received fabulous reviews I will always treasure, and I don’t want to produce one that will be dismissed as weak and boring. The relatively few people who buy my books, and the far greater number who borrow them from libraries, deserve the best I can give them.
I’m hardly alone. Only a small percentage of writers earn enough to live on. Those with families to support often work at other jobs and write in their off-hours. It’s a foolish writer who quits his day job when his first book sells reasonably well. The second book might tank, and it’s best to hold on to a steady source of non-writing income. Midlist writers are losing their contracts and moving to small presses or being offered far smaller advances than they’ve received in the past. Is writing no more than a hobby to these people?
Publishing is a scary world these days. The profession of gentlemen has become the enterprise of cutthroats. If you’re published by a major imprint and don’t sell as many copies as they expect, you’ll be dumped long before you have a chance to build an audience. If you’re with a small press, you’ll have much more security because small publishers, while they want and need to make money, aren’t driven by the quest for blockbusters. They want to publish good books that will earn some money for both author and publisher. But it will never be a lot. You may have to cope with people (including other writers) who don’t consider you a “real” author because your big advance wasn’t announced in the press.
And you may reach the point I reach after finishing a book, the “Is this work, or just a hobby?” point. Knowing the mental labor that’s involved, knowing how little respect some people have for your efforts, you may ask yourself if it’s worthwhile to do it all again.
You might feel a bit like Tinkerbell, losing your sparkle as you fade away. I hope you – and I – will find people willing to clap if they believe in us, and keep on clapping until we’re swinging through the air again, high above the doubts and fears.