Confession time: I’ve dreamt of being an author since I was five years old, and never once did I assume it could pay me a living wage.
I treat my fiction writing as a career, and I work longer hours than most of my non-writer friends. However, I’m pretty sure I could make more money potting up plants at one of my local nurseries. Some days I even wish I could force myself to get a real job that helps pay the bills. Yes, I have made money from both my novels, but 90% of that money has gone back into the business of being an author.
I have a long history of following my heart…often with dire financial consequences. When I left college, I took a job below the minimum wage level because I wanted to be a London fashion journalist. That job was supposed to be my ticket onto a magazine, but then I fell in love with an American professor and ended up in a college town in the Midwest cornfields. Never being one to give up on dreams, I began dabbling with my first novel—set in the London fashion industry—and started up a fashion page on my local newspaper. I made $25 an article; each article took three weeks. But for the first time in my life, I had to contribute to a mortgage. So I took a reasonably well-paid marketing job that drained my writing time and my sanity for the next five years.
After seven years of marriage, I began the job of my dreams: I became a stay-at-home mother with a gifted child who, even at an early age, demanded I feed his love of words. And as he became an award-winning young poet, I became more serious about learning the craft of fiction writing. Fortunately, my incredible husband understood that even while I was not making money, I had a plan; I had a goal. He funded conferences and writing organization memberships, and labeled every check an investment in my future career. (He also tolerated un-cleaned bathrooms, neglect, and chaos.)
But be warned: dreams can tip into nightmares. My pub. deal put a deep strain on my family. My son, who was then a junior in high school, also battles an invisible disability—obsessive-compulsive disorder. Junior year + debut author year + OCD = a very, very bad combination. Some days the stress levels in our house were close to toxic. As I failed to juggle everything I had previously juggled, my son’s OCD spiked—one week after my debut novel launched. The next few months were grim.
Others have said it here, and it’s true: you don’t put yourself and your family through the hell of publication for money. You do it because you can’t walk away. Because that manuscript is your passion.
Don’t get me wrong. I would be more than happy with a multi-million dollar book deal to fund my son’s four years of college, to hire Merry Maids until I die, to replace our threadbare armchairs, and to allow me—just once—to fly home to England first class. But really, I’m not writing novels with the expectation that I’m mining for gold. I’m doing it because writing is stitched into my DNA.
I was thinking about this while reading THE RETURNED by Jason Mott. I know, THE RETURNED happens to be a Harlequin MIRA book, and I’m a Harlequin MIRA author, but it debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for a reason. It's more than just the writing, the characters, the plot—all of which are outstanding. This is a novel with a heartbeat, a story that clearly has huge personal meaning for the author. As Gene Hackman’s character says in The Replacements, you’ve got to have heart. So: Follow your heart, write what you want to write, and maybe you’ll join Jason on the bestseller lists. And if you don’t? You can have “I lived my dream” tattooed on your arm and on your tombstone.
In honor of dreamers, I’m giving away a signed advanced reader copy of my second novel, THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, to be published by Harlequin MIRA on December 31. It’s the story of two broken families coming together to heal, and it’s the story of Will, an internationally successful author who uses writing as his shield from life. But when he walks away from his global bestsellers to discover the story in his heart, he stumbles onto the one thing that has always eluded him: happiness.
To enter to win, post a comment below. One winner will be chosen at random on Saturday, September 21.
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