Is it possible to be a full-time author?

I was looking  at the opening pre-sales from the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’ve read various  blogs that agree on only one thing: if you bought a manuscript at The Frankfurt Book Fair, you paid too much. The hype is on, full-spin.

Six and seven figure deals. Those kinds of advances set up a lot of expectations for an author. If they under-perform, no-one will pick them up again. The vast majority of sales were to debut authors, who lack any track record for sales.  I plan to print off the hot sales and see how many of them actually hit the various bestseller lists and which ones float away … trial balloons that didn’t quite meet expectations.

I’ve posted royalties on a debut book elsewhere on this blog. But as you can see, on a hard cover book, it’s a few bucks. On trade copies, significantly less. On e-books, still negotiating.

But $2 or $2.50 a book (hardcopy) isn’t a lot, particularly if the book sells only 10,000 or 15,000 in total, which would be considered very respectable.

To hit bestseller status, you have to make those kinds of sales in a week. (Except in Canada, where 5,000 is considered a best seller. In a country of over 30 million. Go figure.)

Those numbers, by the way, are set off against the amount of the advance. Good luck to the authors who get the huge advances; let’s hope the books explode for them. Because if they don’t, they’re unlikely to get a second book deal. At least not from that first publisher. And it gets harder after that. They’ll be living on those advances for some time.  (At least they don’t have to give them back.)

That’s about the only advantage that a debut novel has over others: no track record. Easier to sell the first book to a publisher. Harder for each one thereafter unless somehow, that balloon has floated to the top in terms of sales.

Given all of that, I’m really wondering about whether one can make a living from writing. Even the people I know doing it full-time aren’t making a reliable living at it.

Most of the writers I know work at something else. One is a freelance journalist. One works in a politician’s office, and writes when the House isn’t in session. A few others are retired,  on pension. It is no-one’s primary source of income among my circle of writer friends: if they had to rely on it alone, believe me, they’d all starve.

Others, like me, I guess, write when we have down-time. Those moments were easy to find in a legal consulting business. Not sure if that’s going to be the case with real estate; people keep telling me I’l be working 24-7 when things picks up.

My hope was probably the same as that of every other aspiring author.Write a book good enough to attract a really good agent, strong enough to sell well, and eventually, be able to write full-time. I’d love to be able to leave Canada in the winters and write somewhere warm. I’ve had more than enough of shovelling snow, frankly. Pipe dream? Probably.  

The Frankfurt Book Fair is ending. My book certainly wasn’t one of the ones that became the subject of an auction or a six figure advance. I haven’t yet heard if we scored any other deals, but I can guess that my agent would have been in touch if he had any news.

I spent most of yesterday addressing ‘thank you for thinking of me’ cards to prospective real estate clients. Home-owners or aspiring home owners who might be interested in buying, not books, but real estate.

I was writing all day, all right. Addressing envelopes, inserting personal notes. It’s not quite  the writing I had in mind. Ironic that my investment in cards and $50 worth of  stamps  have a better chance of generating income than the book I spent a full year writing, polishing, and finessing.

What about you? Do you work full-time doing other things, and write whenever you can find time? Or are you one of the lucky ones who can actually write full-time, knowing your creativity alone is enough to support you and your family?

If so, my (Canadian) Thanksgiving toast today goes to you. Well done! Sincerely.Be very proud of what you’ve achieved. You’re the one in a million that keeps the rest of us going.For that matter, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! *clink*

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