I get a lot of questions about the craft of writing at book signings, book clubs and even from my barber. I thought that it was time to make public a few of the replies I give. I’m not saying that I have all the answers, but I have learned a good bit from being in the professional writing business for forty years. (By professional, I mean earning money from writing.)
Why are there so many people writing books these days?
As I stated in last week’s blog, producing a book has never been easier. In days of yore, people like Dickens and his crowd had to use a quill and dip the thing in ink every fifteen words. Can you imagine how dedicated you’d have to be to write a 300- page book? It would literally take you a very long time to rewrite it in longhand several times until you had it just right. How many people would do that these days? Very few, I can assure you. Nowadays with an electronic keyboard (or you can dictate via a program called Dragon) you can just whiz through 300 pages in no time.
There were very few publishers in those olden days of the past and all typesetting had to be done by hand. What a chore! Then the illiteracy rate was very high and just the rich and well off could afford the time for reading—much less the price of a book.
In the not too distant past, you had to spend all sorts of time trying to find an agent who would represent you. You could send out hundreds of query letters or send your book to publishing firms and that could be maybe forty or fifty trips to the post office. Nowadays, you can contact one of many companies who will print your “great American novel” via print on demand (POD) for a very reasonable price. The only tack in your path to becoming the author of your dreams is marketing your book. The market is flooded so nobody is making any money except the brand-name authors.
What is POD (print on demand)?
This is basically a new miracle machine that can spit out one copy of your book or forty, invoice it, package it, apply postage and a human hand has never touched any element of its getting into the hands of the reader. No warehouse is needed any longer, which is a gigantic savings for these POD publishers. So, you can write a book with the help of all those robot programs I mentioned in the last blog and have a finished product in someone’s hand in a matter of weeks. As a bonus, most books are printed as ebooks (Kindle, Nook, etc.) Hence no paper expense necessary. These books can be in your electronic reader in a minute’s time.
In the past, the quest for an agent and publisher could take a couple of years and you considered yourself lucky to have gotten one or both when all was said and done. Then the publishers were slow in their editorial departments and printing and distribution. That could add another year or so right there. In the past, it could take a would-be author years to come up with a product. In our present time, the entire process takes just a few weeks. Hence, tons of new writers. The only problem is where are the readers for all these books? This leads us to our next question.
How much does a writer make these days?
Most authors make less than $1,000 a year, according to a new report from Digital Book World. Almost 80% of POD authors and more than 50% of traditionally published authors earn less than $1,000 a year, according to the report. Surprisingly 90 percent of first-time authors made nothing. Only 5% of writers make as much as $20,000 a year.
Does any of this discourage new writers from trying to pitch their hats into the ring?
Absolutely not. Books are being published at a rate six-times of what they were four years ago according to the Bowker Company, who handles the ISBNs for books. Yet reading of books has declined dramatically over the last few years. Many people simply do not read books for one reason or another. Some have no interest, some are only attuned to TV and films and some due to dyslexia. At any rate, more books and fewer readers equal less money to be made if you pursue this profession.
What makes someone become a writer?
Ego for one thing. This means deep down you have a calling to tell stories and at the same time get your point of view off your chest. Ego could also account for a certain set of people who see it as a glamour profession that makes them stand out from the crowd. “I’m a writer.” Either way you slice it, you either have to have a real nine-to-five job to support this habit of yours—or you’re in that fabulous group who makes over $20,000 a year.
Any ideas concerning the future of the writing profession?
No. There will always be a certain number of writers in our world no matter what. They have the calling even if the return is very low. The only hope is that the super-ego people will find something else eventually in which they can channel their quest for fame and fortune. What that could be, I have no idea. The careers of film making and writing suffer from the same maladies during the present time. With the advent of very fine quality video cameras for a reasonable price, everyone is making his or her own movie. So, who knows what the next outlet for mankind’s ego will be? Whatever it turns out to be should be very interesting to observe though.