Why most writers are doomed to poverty

Coming face-to-face with the business of writing is both terrifying and enlightening. I’m not a business person, so listening to a panel of business-minded folks (even non-profit business) talk about the odds of success is, well, intimidating. No, it’s more than intimidating: it’s disheartening.

That’s the wrong response to have, I’m sure. I shouldn’t expect to become a paid author if I’m unaware of how rare a paid author (one paid anything close to minimum wage) remains. Any successful author — any of those names touted around as “making it” — presses on about pressing on. “Don’t give up.” “Keep writing.”

But that’s just the sort of thing writers say. They haven’t printed up boxes of form rejection letters. They tend to be a lot more idealistic than publishers. Publishers don’t need writers to press on and persevere; they have backlogs of aspiring artists, lines of queries and untouched manuscripts. A reprieve from the onslaught of wanna-be-Kings/Meyers/Rowlings would probably be welcome.

I enjoyed the Ooligan “Write to Publish” conference and would recommend it to any one aspiring to someday be a panel member rather than a panel observer. Surely the advice and wisdom will pay off. But sitting across a table from the business side of writing is difficult. I prefer the room full of encouraging authors that talk like drunks at a convenience store about to spend their rent checks on lotto tickets. “This is a winner,” someone will say. “I know it fer-sure this time.”

Still, writers can’t afford to be overly realistic. It’s not that we bury our heads. But we have to write — we don’t do it for the money; we do it because we have no choice (though, money sure would make the compulsion easier to live with).

I left the conference earlier than I had planned, coming home to shake off the discouragement, letting the odds of “making it” fall into a blur. Then I did what any writer would do: I focused on things more relevant than money, like how my car-less protagonist is going to get all the way to Elk Heights.


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