Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Have you noticed how much harder we work these days? Whether you’re grinding away at a company, school system, government, non-profit, retail, construction, I bet you’re working harder than ever. Regardless of reports from the financial experts about the economy being in recovery, we are all working our asses off.  The accepted mantra is still: “I’m lucky to have a job” code for: “shut-up, don’t complain”.

Authors are not immune. I know very few who can live solely off book sales. Even when the economy was booming, making a life in any of the arts was challenging whether an artist, musician, actor or writer. But publishing has been particularly crazy these last years. With self-publishing, e-books, and the internet – the playing field for writers has been completely transformed. (Journalist? What’s that?)

Mid-list authors (in other words, most authors) have always complained that publishers were not doing enough to promote their book – even when  times were flush and publishers were helping- at least more than now. In the late 90s, I hosted a few local author mingling events and they all bitched about a perceived lack of support from their publishers. But times have changed. These days most authors are footing the bill themselves when it comes to hawking their books and not blaming their publishers as much. They’ve witnessed the bloodletting, the shrinking and disappearances of publishing houses – it’s understood that the industry is tough, that the book world has turned into the wild-west so they better just saddle up and get on with it.

From my front row seat, I’ve vicariously experienced the journeys of many author friends as they’ve launched their books. From the thrilling first days when the book hits the shelves, watching sales (hopefully) skyrocket, holding events, getting reviewed. (who knew how hard that is!) For perhaps a year or so, (if you’re lucky) the excitement continues. Okay, I’m exaggerating – maybe not a year. Sadly, their baby may well be stacked in the remainders section by then.  The harsh news is that rarely does life change much when your book is published. Not from what I’ve seen. Think – buying a lottery ticket.

I’ve internalized all of this over the years, yet still plug away at my own book simply because I can’t help it. Of course I will work my ass off to make my book successful but I also know the odds. My expectations are tempered by years on the other side of the desk/counter. I won’t expect to buy a bigger house, or even to pay off my (used) car. I expect I’ll still be getting up at 5:30 in the morning to write before going off to my job.

Many years ago, author Robert Stone came to the store to promote Damascus Gate (great book) and a young man asked for some words of wisdom because he wanted to be a writer. “Don’t quit your day job!” Stone answered. I never forgot that. And I won’t. At least not until the movie rights sell. Or I win the lottery.

What about you? How’s work?

18 thoughts on “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”

  1. Work, work and more work, is all I seam to do these days… Not complaining but it’s stressful…. But nit until I win the lottery …. It continues to b work , work and more work

  2. Great stuff, Tricia! It’s funny how many things have been put in front of me regarding writing. I have been working on something (up until a week or so ago, and it’s been quiet since), and ever since I stopped working on it, I have been inundated with stuff like this here. Which is a blessing and a nudge to keep at it. And I will.

    You confirm what I have always intuitively known – authors certainly need to keep their day job. I doubt that no more than 1% of published authors make a living from their books. And I might be optimistic there. I think even up here, maybe Atwood might be the only one who can do that. I can almost guarantee that the rest of our beloved Canadian authors have some sort of additional income flowing in.

    But that doesn’t stop us, does it? I imagine the e-book, self-publishing thing has made things worse for those who want to get published traditionally and for those who want to publish. I certainly would like to get published traditionally. Not for anything other than there is at least some sort of support behind the authors, even if they bitch about it 🙂

    My work schedule is bonkers, and changes every single week, both in shift time and days off, so it’s difficult for me to have a set routine to write. But I’ll do my best to figure something out.

    Great post, Tricia…thank you for this.


  3. I am still having a ball. It’s art–it’s hobby and it’s restorative. I think it was harder for writers who had to transition to the new reality. But for newcomers I suspect it just is what it is. I am still just silly glad to be in it

  4. Thank-you so much for this wise and witty palliative! As one of the struggling writers you speak of, it makes me feel a whole lot better to know that this is the new normal — this business of writers feeling short-shrifted by the lack of support from publishers — and that the generally chaotic state of the publishing industry in the face of e-publishing, etc. is just the way things are these days. Thanks for the reality check! It really helps!

  5. Great post! I’ve recently entered the world of self-publishing and I agree that’s it tough, but I like the fact that’s it’s a free-for-all, Wild West world. I don’t expect to get rich, but I’m working as if I do (I wonder how many people panning for gold in the old West felt the same way?). These are…interesting times and I’m glad to be alive and writing. And I’ll keep writing too, no matter what happens. Like you, I can’t help it!

    PS – I found your blog by way of “Coffee with a Canine” and I think I’ll stay a while and keep reading!

  6. Hi Paul.
    Yeah – I’m for traditional too – I appreciate the vetting. And yes, changing schedules make it difficult to get into a routine – but it seems you’re great about writing on your blog. Keep at it and I’ll look forward to hearing about your successes!
    Thanks for reading and commenting,Paul

  7. Hi Thomas.
    Thanks for stopping by – and love that Tetley brought you here! You have a great and inspiring story (I visited your great site) and attitude. I’ll look forward to hearing about your success.

  8. I’m always amazed at how dedicated people are with making writing happen alongside their day job. It’s only since I’ve slowed down a bit that I’ve started writing seriously. Being self employed is less routine and when it’s busy I’m just so exhausted! Hats off to those who manage it. Great post Tricia. Poets also struggle to make a living but recently I met one who does – by doing workshops -there’s a fair bit of public money kicking around for the innovative entrepreneur – especially if it is with kids or other specific social groups. The Arts Council here in the UK have a creative remit in the regions as well as the big cities. I write because like you I feel compelled – at the moment, that’s enough for me.


  9. You always write such great comments – and I love your blog – another side to the (many sided!) coin – how great the internet is in connecting readers and writers.
    Poets, yes – what a challenge there. Thank you, as always!

  10. Thanks Gabi. In a sense I have, haven’t I – since I do love my day job!

  11. Hmmmm, doesn’t seem right does it? That an author can transport people with words, can be a companion through hard times, can hit just the right chord to make a difference…..yet it’s guys who can kick a ball that make the big bucks. Ah well. XO

  12. I think this is so very true. But layering promoting a book on top of a day job seems daunting. It’s daunting with my summer off. A person also needs some kind of crazy hope that something good would come of all this work. And maybe there is comfort in the fact that life probably won’t change that much with this book’s publication, and there is comfort that people who have rooted for me all these years will get to read it.

  13. Crazy hope is absolutely necessary, I think. It’s what keeps me submitting and waiting for an agent to say yes. My fingers seem to be permanently in a crossed position!
    I’m excited and glad for you. Add me to the ‘rooters’!

  14. Thank you for being a rooter! hope you find an agent that says yes. Have you tried Betsy Amster? She followed some drafts of my novel, and put me onto a great editor to shape the book. Ultimately my novel didn’t work for her. She’d be a great advocate if she fell in love with your work.

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