Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The 8 Rules of Literary Success or Why You Will Probably Never Make A Living As An Author

Norway also has one of the best places in the world for depressed
writers to commit suicide - Trolltunga
A few years ago when I quit teaching to write full time I wondered if it was going to be a smart move financially: at that time I didn't have any statistics on how much money full time writers actually made, but now thanks to a survey from Digital Book World published in the Guardian I can appreciate just how difficult it is to make any money at all from writing, never mind making a living at the racket. Here's what Alison Flood said in the first few paragraphs of the Guardian story:

The publishing industry has never been so sharply divided. In the week when the erotica writer Sylvia Day signed a staggering eight-figure two-book deal with St Martin's Press, a survey reveals that 54% of traditionally-published authors and almost 80% of go-it-alone writers are making less than $1,000 (£600) a year.
More than 9,000 writers, from aspiring authors to seasoned pros, took part in the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer's Digest Author Survey, presented at this week's Digital Book World conference. The survey divided the 9,210 respondents into four camps: aspiring, self-published only, traditionally-published only, and hybrid (both self-published and traditionally-published). More than 65% of those who filled out the survey described themselves as aspiring authors, with 18% self-published, 8% traditionally-published and 6% saying they were pursuing hybrid careers.
Just over 77% of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year, according to the survey, with a startlingly high 53.9% of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6% of hybrid authors, reporting their earnings are below the same threshold. A tiny proportion – 0.7% of self-published writers, 1.3% of traditionally-published, and 5.7% of hybrid writers – reported making more than $100,000 a year from their writing. The profile of the typical author in the sample was "a commercial fiction writer who might also write non-fiction and who had a project in the works that might soon be ready to publish", according to the report.
Pretty disturbing, eh? So all that stuff about how e books will liberate authors and allow them to communicate directly with the public is, basically, bollocks. In a market flooded with authors many of whom give their stuff away for free youve got no chance of getting anyone to buy your stuff. So how can you making a living as a professional novelist? 

Well, being lucky is important, if you're a very lucky person you might just get your book reviewed in an important periodical, get an important award nomination or you might be discovered by an influential person in the media, but if you're not particularly lucky, let me suggest that you try the following: (For those of you unfamiliar with the Belfast default demotic (bitter sarcasm) I should stress that these aren't to be taken completely seriously.) 
1. Be young and good looking and slightly controversial. You'll get a profile in a Sunday supplement or two and even if your book is shit you'll probably get a TV interview. If you're young, good looking and lucky you might even get picked for NBC's Today Book Club. Being the child of someone famous is also always good.
2. Move to Brooklyn. Move to Brooklyn and party with the right people. This seems to be the only way you'll ever get a review in The New York Times. 
3. If you can't move to Brooklyn move to North London. Go to the right parties for long enough and you'll get on the Booker Prize long-list. 

4. If you can't move to Brooklyn or North London move to Norway. First of all it's a beautiful country, secondly its sovereign wealth fund is enormous so it's going to weather the 21st century pretty handily and thirdly if you write crime novels you're sure to get them reviewed and they're bound to be a hit as every Nordic Noir regardless of quality is more or less a guaranteed best seller. 
5. Intern at an important media outlet and network like mad while you are there. This works really well. Just for fun you can cross reference the nominees for the National Book Award against people who have worked at The New Yorker. . .A pattern will emerge, trust me.  
6. Go to an important school or university. Ignore the classes but network, network, network and you'll go far.
7. Do an MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Brown University or the University of East Anglia, etc. Here again you can do the networky thing. 
8. (the least important rule of all) Write a good book.