Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More About Money

Writer Jeremy James has responded to my posts on advances over on his blog, and he makes some very good points. I won't attempt to summarize what he says (it's worth reading his whole discussion), but he makes two important points: 1) Writers work from a mix of motives, most of which remain unacknowledged, and 2) Publishers and agents tend to be very clear about their goals. These factors tend to work to the disadvantage of the writer.

I hope I haven't come across in my earlier posts as thinking money is utterly unimportant. Money is nice, and a minumum amount of it is necessary merely to survive, but it certainly isn't the primary motive behind my writing. I can earn a very tidy sum consulting, and spent many years doing so; now I've cut back sharply to allow more time for writing. From any financial point of view, my behavior makes little sense, and I assure you, my pocketbook has felt it.

That doesn't mean I'm an Artist with a capital A, a saint, or a being wholly devoid of ambition. What I try to be is what editor Pat Walsh defines as the ideal author to work with: One with high hopes, but reasonable expectations. When I first signed up with MNW, I mentioned in an e-mail to my editor Will Atkins:

Of course, you'll hear no complaints from me if you take my novel, translate it into fifty languages, sell it to Hollywood, and create lines of action figurines and spin-off sportswear; but you'll also hear no complaints from me should it make it no further than modest sales in the UK. Many fine books sink, and many awful books thrive, and, at least as far as I can see, apart from producing the best book possible, neither author nor publisher seems to have much control over the outcome.

(I'm sure somone out there will want to contest that last line, so I'll leave it there just to provoke that special someone.)

It would be nice to earn a living with one's writing--sure it would. Even nicer would be to earn a good living, though James Michener famously called America a country where a writer could make a fortune, but not a living.

I wouldn't turn down the fortune, either, but I'm not counting on it. As the Russian proverb has it, Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

The position of the writer in the business of publishing is distressingly like the position of the actor in show business. A few earn outrageous sums; most greet each other with, "Hey, Bob! You working?"

I'd never advise someone not to pursue an acting career if it were what they wanted to do with their life. But if someone told me, "I want to be rich, so I've decided to actor!", I'd sling my arm over their shoulder and say, "Bob...we need to talk about this."

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