The Awful Truth: Making Money As An Author
by Leslie Lehr
When my first novel, 66 Laps, won the Pirates Alley Faulkner Award, I thought I hit the jackpot. Being flown to New Orleans to be wined and dined by the glittering literati at the Words & Music Conference seemed like the beginning of a gilded career. At the first breakfast, I was blinded by the enthusiasm of my new agent and my book deal with Random House. By lunchtime, however, my vision was clearing. I couldn’t help but notice the famous authors sitting in the grand hotel lobby...grading papers.
Unfortunately, being an author - even a “well-published” author, as I’ve been called - is no guarantee of making a living from creative writing. In fact, if you are in it for the money, stop now. Every time small publishers are swept into big businesses, authors suffer. With every library loan, every deep discount, every million-dollar celebrity tome, authors suffer. Why do some books soar while others sink? Often it’s a mystery. There are easier ways.
What A Mother Knows is my sixth book. I have sold essays in popular anthologies, from Mommy Wars to the New York Times Modern Love column. I’ve sold screenplays that were made into films and some that never saw the light of day. I sold one novel right from the outline and another after years of revision. I’ve had a book abandoned by an editor who left the publisher, one orphaned by an agent who moved on, a distributor that didn’t get the book out before my live CNN interview, and an illness that prevented full participation in publicity tours. Rarely have I gone a full year without supplementing my writing income.
There are, however, many other ways to make money in the writing field. MFA programs graduate more teachers than published authors. I moonlight as a writing instructor and manuscript consultant. Both jobs are fun – and far easier than writing.
And yet, if money were the goal, I might have quit that day in New Orleans when I saw my idols reading student work. But writing is more than a profession. It’s an art, an avocation. I love to have a voice, to create something out of thin air, to put a pin in the map of the world that says: I was here. And I love to play with words, to create puzzles of action and emotions then translate the ideas in my head into words I can share on the page. I love the process.
Perhaps that’s why so many people self-publish now. Surely they would love to hit the jackpot. But mostly, they want to be read. Many writers are in the business of writing book series, building a constant stream of revenue with solid stories and skilled marketing. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Every book I write takes longer than the last. As my style gets more advanced, my stories get more complex. I want each book to be my best.
So if you want to write, do it. If you have enough passion to believe that your book will be a bestseller, then nothing will stop you. All you can control is the words on the page. So make them sing. And keep believing, just as I do...this time, I’ll hit the jackpot!
Leslie Lehr's fabulous new novel is What A Mother Knows.
You can find it in bookstores, at airports, and on the Recommended Reading shelf at Target. Any day now it will be #1 on the bestseller list and made into a major motion picture bringing her fame, fortune, and a beach house in Malibu.