Some of the most informative reading I’ve ever come across regarding publication are from writers who can walk the talk. They know because they’ve been on the receiving end. (an unintended pun, but I’ll go with it since part of this is about money) Like this interview with Cheryl Strayed in SCRATCH where she talks in depth about her advances for TORCH and what was going on before and during the publication of WILD – going on as in going in debt.
So, let’s talk advances for a second. Are there anomalies when it comes to them? Yes. THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach, earned a 650K advance, BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent received a 1M advance, as did THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker. I toss those examples out mainly because they were debut novels. Which makes them even more of the oddity, even more of “something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.” (I think this is why there is the instant perception of richness regarding writers. This sort of thing makes the rounds amongst writers and sometimes it even makes the news on TV which sends family members to the phones to call their writing relative – see section about family below.)
And, even for those who aren’t big readers, or even readers at all, when a movie comes out that’s been adapted from a book, most everyone will hear that fact. GONE GIRL. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. HUNGER GAMES. TWILIGHT series. THE DAVINCI CODE. Among my own immediate family, only fifty percent have read GONE GIRL, yet one hundred percent of “us” saw the movie. What they all know is Gillian Flynn wrote a book, that it was made into a movie and both made her a ton of money. It’s doesn’t matter that 99% (hey, maybe it’s 99.9%, but, I don’t need to depress me further) never get to that level of the pay scale. If it weren’t for me and my “Donna Downer” moments of truth, my family would be thinking we’re going to be rolling in it before long.
But listen, I’ll be the first to admit, I also used to think writers made a ton of money as soon as a book came out. It was only when I began reading more about publishing I began to discover how far off track I was. The place a lot of us will tend to land – if we even get published – is within the standard, normal or expected, as far as the world of publishing. The smaller advances equal to a mid-list writer, which is still a risk to the publisher. And a risk to our self-preservation – if we want to eat.
Today, it just so happens I was trying to catch up on some of my daily reading (email/blogs/articles from those blogs) when I landed on this essay on Salon that made me want to shout “Hear, hear!” at the truth behind these words. Reading even more publishing dirt by those who’ve experienced something personally, those who can discuss it with a level of authority actually gives me the shivers. There can be a lot of speculation about “how it all works” anyway so when something comes along that lends insight and perspective, I’m all in.
I like to be informed. I like to think I won’t be disillusioned. Sometimes, I still am.
Like the writer of the Salon essay states, unless we already have a fortune, or are somehow born within the folds of the intimate literary community and are given immediate star status, or we have a spouse who has a great job, or we are the ones with the great “real” job, the writing life can’t be supported over several years with a few articles here and there. And many writers are really struggling, while having to supplement their writing paycheck with other work. Usually a nine to five job. Plus, this writing life and the way we individually go about it is unique for all who choose it. With or without kids, dogs, cats, parrots, snakes, or whatever else might distract us from writing “pure,” it’s simply a different path for each.
Maybe the reason some writers don’t speak quite truthfully about the how’s and why’s of their writing success is because they don’t want the fact of inherited wealth, or the luck of being born into a golden literary connection to detract from their efforts. I don’t understand why this would be the case. If they did the work, they did the work, plain and simple. If they prefer writing under certain conditions, that’s their choice too. What does detract from the effort is to be disingenuous, or pretentious about how they achieved success. For instance, if they can write all day long while drinking Mai Tai’s on their private beach, so what? If they just so happened to have parents who’ve have big literary connections, that doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. Like Drew Barrymore. I don’t hold it against her that her family was already well established in Hollywood before she was born. Sure it gave her some advantages. Good for her. I think we can all agree – she’s talented in her own right.
If it weren’t for authors like Strayed and Ann Bauer keeping the real in reality, many would still be oblivious. They ought to be commended for calling it like they see it.
Wouldn’t you rather know the cold hard truth?