Friday, October 10, 2014

So You Want to Be An Author

Two things came together lately. First has been a number of articles about writing and the publishing industry. Articles such as "My Best Seller Made Me Nothing" on what it means for your book to be a best-seller and what authors actually make, alerts from Writer Beware and Dear Author on problems with publishers plus even ones about various state IRS agencies considering artists and authors who don't make a lot of money as "not professional".

The second was the request from a student to answer questions about what it means to be a writer. This isn't new; I've had such requests before. The schools usually have a questionnaire that the students have to follow as they interview people in a career that the students are interested in. Some students do their own research to check on the field, and only ask some questions during the interview, but some will just pass along *all* the questions.

The questions that the student should research are the standard ones about job requirements, how many such jobs exists, possible salary, etc. As a former librarian, I know one of the best resources on occupations is the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and for future reference the url for Writers/Authors is And, yes, most of the answers to the questions on the questionnaire can be found there.

However, those researching this question should keep in mind that the "average" salary listed in the OOH for a writer doesn't quite reflect that of a lot of authors I know. Most of us have day jobs, and the college degrees are needed for that job rather than the novels we write (the summary is probably for newspaper and journal writers back in 2012. But even for those writers the field has changed). For most authors, average writing income will depend on how many books they have and how many of those are still earning royalties. Jim C. Hines has posted on his blog his writing income over the years (two posts here). John Scalzi posted about his various income streams (since it's best to have more than just one today) back in 2010.

As far as the education background needed to be a writer, the main one to me is English Composition courses (or the equivalent for those writers in other countries). If you have a good grounding in grammar and spelling, you're set. I didn't get an advanced degree in creative writing; back when I started writing those instructors teaching creative writing looked down on genre such as Science Fiction so I didn't waste time or money arguing with them. I know a few beginning writers nowadays who have gone on to get an MFA in creative writing and time will prove whether the degree is worth it for them or not.

Another requirement I would suggest is to read. A lot. In many genre as well as what you enjoy. Study the books of the authors you love and see if you can figure out what they did to make you love their work so much.

Another important requirement is to write. And not just the stories you want to tell. I know several writers, myself included, who worked on the student newspaper while in high school. That taught me how to write to a deadline, how to keep to a specific word count and how to write even when I wasn't in the mood. (this will also help later for student papers in college)

Are you an introvert? Great! You'll be spending a lot of time at your computer writing. Are you an extrovert? Also great. You'll need that side of your personality to go out and promote your book at conventions and book signings. Publishers nowadays expect their authors to do a good share of their own promoting. The days when an author could just sit back and let the publisher do that side of the job are long gone. And if you decide to go into self-publishing, you'll be doing even more promoting.

Any other suggestions you would give to a young writer researching this as a career?

Or, any reaction to recent articles on the industry?

1 comment:

  1. This seems like a very charming blog (YA Authors You've Never Heard Of) Are you looking for more YA authors no one has heard of to join in?