David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Five Things That Don’t Happen When You Become a Published Author

Just a few random observances of what my life as a published author has been like compared to what I had expected or hoped for. Keep in mind that I can only speak for my own experiences as a debut novelist with a large independent U.S. publisher. Your mileage may vary.

To summarize, I quote the great Bruce Springsteen: “There I was one night, just a normal guy. And then, there I was the next night. Goddamn, I was still just a normal guy.”

And now, Five Things That Don’t Happen When You Become a Published Author:

1. Money does not suddenly rain down from the sky. Well, it hasn’t for me, at least. I’m sure it has for Naomi Novik, whose debut novel was optioned by the great Peter Jackson. And I suspect Gordon Dahlquist, whose debut novel The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters earned a gajillion-dollar advance from Bantam, isn’t clipping coupons right now. But as my buddy Tobias Buckell revealed in his author first novel advance survey, first novel advances in SF/F are actually rather paltry — $5,000 on average.

Über-blogger and Campbell Award winner John Scalzi reveals that he made $67,000 off his SF writing in 2006. Now $67,000 is nothing to scoff at, and I suspect Mr. Scalzi’s take will only be going up in the next few years, but don’t forget that publishers don’t pay benefits.

Not only is it unlikely you’ll get richer writing novels, it’s likely you’ll get poorer. Why? Because chances are you passed up on much more lucrative opportunities to devote time to your writing. And you probably spent a wad of your own cash promoting your book.

2. Your career worries do not melt away. I made a conscious decision to quit my full-time job in November of 2000 and carve out time to write. Since then, I’ve been doing a series of contract and part-time jobs that take up between two and four days of my week.

But the problem for the Writer With a Day Job is that the folks at the Day Job wonder how committed you are to their work. It’s a fair question. I try very, very hard to segregate my working and writing lives, but I’d be lying if I claimed I’ve never opened Microsoft Word in the middle of a meeting to frantically dash out plot points that suddenly popped into my head.

So many writers find themselves in career limbo. You’re not likely to make a good living writing novels; but to give up the writing to concentrate on climbing the ladder in your day job is unthinkable. The result? A juggling act.

3. Your lifestyle and self-image do not dramatically shift. Before I was published, I had a lot of thoughts about how different things were going to be once I was published. I’m going to read more, I’m going to eat better, I’m finally going to paint over those ugly water stains on the ceiling in the basement, little blue Sport & Health Club Pixies are going to wake me up every morning and whisk me off to the gym on a magic cloud.

Needless to say, this hasn’t happened. I’m very happy that I get to devote time to doing something I love. But I felt the exact same way about writing before I made any money at it. The big shift in your self-perception comes when you actually make a commitment to your writing, not when someone finally writes you a check for it.

4. Writing does not suddenly become easy. All that self-doubt you had when you finished your first novel and wondered if it was any good… that’s all still there when you write the second one. Yes, it’s reassuring to know that you’re capable of writing a book that publishers won’t spit upon on sight. But those worries get replaced by a whole new set of worries. E.g. “is this book going to suck compared to my last book?”, “what if nobody buys this book?”, “what if my editor hates it?”, etc.

In fact, in some ways, writing becomes more difficult once you’re published. Because now you realize that there’s an audience out there with some set of expectations that you can’t completely ignore. Plus you’ve already used up most of your best writing tricks, and you’re going to have to think up brand new ones.

5. Your friendships and relationships don’t undergo a sudden transformation. I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that publishing a novel will heal those decades-long family rifts. Old girlfriends and boyfriends are not suddenly going to call you up and admit that they were wrong about you all those years ago. Your wife will not wake up one morning after spotting your book in Borders, give you a thoughtful look, and declare that you were right to have dragged your feet about getting dogs for so long.

I was prepared for all that. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that people who didn’t see any value in my writing a novel didn’t see any value in my publishing a novel either. (And if you’ve written a science fiction novel, that certainly doesn’t help matters.) Getting a book on the shelf of Barnes & Noble didn’t change anyone’s mind. The people who were proud and supportive of me are largely the ones who were proud and supportive from the very beginning.

Coming soon… Five Things That Do Happen When You Become a Published Writer.

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  1. […] Loved his book Infoquake and am eagerly awaiting the sequel. (Damned sequels.) Yesterday, he posted Five Things That Don’t Happen When You Become a Published Author on his blog. Worthy of reading for anyone interested in a writing (or related) […]

  2. Josh on March 14, 2007 at 9:40 am  Chain link

    Man, I was at least holding out for the rain of cash. Though I have realized that full-time writing is a long ways off, I am at least hoping to transition to part-time work, with writing contributing at least a more significant portion to the yearly budget. Though…going from nothing to something is significant in itself, so let’s see when that happens in the first place.

  3. Matt Jarpe on March 14, 2007 at 1:23 pm  Chain link

    I notice you didn’t include groupies on this list. Perhaps on the next one?

  4. David Louis Edelman on March 14, 2007 at 1:32 pm  Chain link

    The next book, or the next blog posting? 😉

  5. Tania on March 14, 2007 at 2:57 pm  Chain link

    hey D,
    a friend passed me your blog link this morning and i have been having a wander round and i do have to say that what i have read is very positive and proactive. i have just published my first book “Single, Sexy and Thirty Something” and have found i came across similiar issues that you have talked about re marketing and promotion….good on you for the blog(s) though as there are a lot of talented writers out there who just need a little bit of support and encouragement to take that step out into published writers land…may you make lots and lots of money so you can kick your part time jobs to the curb.
    cheers
    T

  6. tobias s buckell on March 14, 2007 at 3:21 pm  Chain link

    Drive by author spamming…

  7. Nathan on March 14, 2007 at 4:30 pm  Chain link

    I’m in the middle of Infoquake (having seen it pimped a number of times on Scalzi’s blog) and I’m glad you’re published. Enjoying it immensely.

    BTW, I posted something over on Ficlets, got the window that says, “Yay, you’re an author”, and I don’t feel any different at all.

  8. David Louis Edelman on March 14, 2007 at 7:21 pm  Chain link

    Nathan: Thanks, glad you’re enjoying Infoquake! Scalzi’s been very nice and given me more than my share of pimpage on his blogs.

  9. John Farrell on March 15, 2007 at 11:34 am  Chain link

    The big shift in your self-perception comes when you actually make a commitment to your writing, not when someone finally writes you a check for it.

    Yes. Absolutely. Excellent piece, David. I’m going to print it and keep it on my board at work. (I’m in between non-fiction book 1, which is now out in paperback, and number 2…which has yet to be accepted…and sweating out whether I’m ever going to actually get an offer to write it.

  10. John Farrell on March 15, 2007 at 11:40 am  Chain link

    Now $67,000 is nothing to scoff at, and I suspect Mr. Scalzi’s take will only be going up in the next few years, but don’t forget that publishers don’t pay benefits.

    Wait a minute. John Scalzi doesn’t have benefits? Isn’t he a member of the Author’s Guild?

  11. David Louis Edelman on March 15, 2007 at 12:45 pm  Chain link

    John: Thanks, and good luck with your book 2. I’m currently finishing up my own book 2, so I’m rootin’ for ya.

    Re the benefits question: Well, there certainly are places that a writer can get benefits. But it’s never as clean and easy and, well, beneficial as getting that pre-tax deduction from your employer every paycheck. I suspect Mr. Scalzi gets his benefits the way I get them… by having a spouse who works a steady 9-to-5 in a company that pays good benefits.

  12. John Scalzi on March 15, 2007 at 5:32 pm  Chain link

    DLE:

    “I suspect Mr. Scalzi gets his benefits the way I get them… by having a spouse who works a steady 9-to-5 in a company that pays good benefits.”

    Now, yes. Previously, before my wife got her current job, I got them through self-incorporating and having a small business plan. My wife, then my employee, had benefits through the corporation and our child was attached to her benefits — it was cheaper that way and I got a tax break for giving my wife employee benefits.

    I’m not a member of the Author’s Guild; the only practical reason for me to be a member would be for benefits, and I’m not in a state where they have coverage.

  13. David Louis Edelman on March 15, 2007 at 7:10 pm  Chain link

    John: Wow, your wife was your employee?

  14. Wayne Basta on March 15, 2007 at 9:43 pm  Chain link

    Nice, wife as employee. Kind of works the other way here since she is the one with the income.

    I am doing part time work as a substitute teacher right now. Been working on my first novel. I am in the finishing stages now and hope to start the publishing cycle soon. If I get an offer for full time teaching position for next year I’m not sure what I should do. Even if I send stuff off and someone eventually wants to publish it that will take a long time. But teaching does not allow time for writing.

    This blog made some good points. Writing would not be the best financial decision. But if I can publish this story at all its setup as a series. I look forward to the 5 Things that Do happen part.

  15. […] – Five Things That Don’t Happen When You Become a Published Author “Just a few random observances of what my life as a published author has been like compared […]

  16. M. D. Benoit on March 22, 2007 at 9:51 am  Chain link

    I think I’ll print your post and carry it with me. I’ll whip it out every time someone tells me, “wow, youu must be making loads of money”, or, “wow, must be fun to work at home” (meaning of course –‘must be fun to have a hobby’).

    If the average advance in SF is $5K, you can imagine how many authors don’t get a cent. My publisher is small, doesn’t pay advances. Our royalties are higher than average, but that means you gotta sell the darn books to make money.

    It’s a good thing I ain’t doing this for the dough. I’m doing it for the glory (she says with a snarky grin).

  17. dingosatemybaby on March 26, 2007 at 12:04 pm  Chain link

    How about SciFi Novel Groupies? Do we get groupies at least?

  18. Crack fifa 2016 fifa2016crack.blogspot.com on January 14, 2016 at 10:40 am  Chain link

    Historically most of the companies who dangle the bodyguard job or bodyguard job Iraq carrot never last. Their bodyguard job offer usually consists of a one night shift as a night club bouncer, or even worse as a 1 day shift following a ‘paid surveillance mark around a town centre.’

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