Fantasies and Determinations

When I submitted my first novel to an agent, I spun this whole fantasy around it.

Yeah, you publishing types out there are rolling your eyes and you writers are cringing and nodding in sympathy.

You know the kind of fantasy I mean. The agent calls you up, all thrilled and excited to have discovered you. I’m embarrassed to admit, part of my little fantasy was that not only would they offer me a lovely advance, but that they’d ask me how much more I needed to quit my day job and write the sequel as fast as possible.

Yes, you can laugh now.

I wasn’t all that naive, either, relatively speaking. I’d had my essay collection published with a university press, which meant no advance, small print run. I’d published in magazines for ten years. I had a pretty decent idea how publishing worked.

This still did not prevent me from imagining they’d go into a frenzy, exclaiming “She’s the next Stephenie Meyer – we must pay this woman to write!”

It could happen…

At any rate, it didn’t. I got the polite thanks, but no thanks. David took me to the bar and bought me a margarita. Since then I’ve had more rejections and some maybes and some lovely yeses. But no one is begging me to quit my day job.

One of the things I’ve come to realize, in my newfound maturity, is that no one ever will.

At RT I noticed how many authors referenced their day jobs. Even award-winning, best-selling authors with name-recognition and sizzling cache. Courtney Milan, for example, still works full-time as a lawyer. A lot of us would like our books to be doing as well as hers. A number of other authors have a spouse who pulls in a decent salary, so the writing money is gravy on top of that.

The reality of it is, a day job provides a number of things that advances and even decent royalties do not. Things like health insurance, 401Ks, and a reliable salary. Advances are finite. You get a chunk of money and you might not get another for six months or a year. An author doing really well might get a $10,000, but if you compare that to half your annual salary at your day job, not counting benefits, it’s not so much. Royalties fluctuate and are impossible to predict. In order to rely on writing income, you have to have enough of an established backlist – books that keep selling more or less on their own at a steady rate.

I’m obviously not the first person to point that out. But it recently occurred to me that this is much like the scenario laid out by people like Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame. You gradually build your passive income – money from investments that pay out without you having to actively work on them, e.g., already published books vs. writing new books – until you reach a level of comfort. For many of us, this level of comfort includes being able to pay for health insurance and save for the future.

It’s back to the whole “slow and steady wins the race thing.” It’s not the glamorous fantasy, no. It’s good to have those dreams, I think. They keep us revved and excited. It’s also good to recognize the reality, and plan accordingly.

Wait! Is that the phone?

8 Replies to “Fantasies and Determinations”

  1. LOL! Yeah, cringing with you. I think we've all had fantasies like that. The reality is, unless you're J.K. Rowling, you'll be lucky to make enough with your writing to qualify as "a living."

    Believe me, I know how fortunate I am to be married to a man whose job covers the benefits. We're long way from wealthy by anyone's measure, but I can write full time without risking our family's future, at least.

    Of course, TG wouldn't complain if I started making enough off my writing that he could retire early, but frankly he'll be lucky if that happens before we can start collecting social security. 😉

  2. This is a timely post for me, mostly because I've been wallowing in self-pity about my day job. I know you're aboslutely right but still, I want to whine, "But I want it NOW!" and it's hard to continue at a steady pace when all I want to do is quit and write full time. It doesn't help that I don't like me job, either (yes, that was out loud. There. I said it. I don't like my job).

    Every time I submit, I have the publishing fantasy, too. "They're going to love it. They'll offer me a 3 book deal with a hefty advance." I know it's probably not going to happen, but I still can't help wanting that. 🙂

  3. Great summary of the fantasy and the reality.

    I think that there's a temptation to expect that writing will fulfill all of our emotional, financial, and practical needs – but most of the time it doesn't. It fulfills some of those needs, but to put all of one's eggs into that basket introduces a strange level of pressure to the process.

  4. That whole reality vs fantasy thing is such a buzz-kill. Much like you, I can't help but keep hold of the fantasy, even though I know Laura is right.

    Escapism is part of the joy of writing, right? RIGHT?!?

  5. Oh yes, I remember the phone call with my agent and although she was really sweet and happy to have me joining her, she said nothing about the big check I was expecting that would fund my house in the Cayman Islands or that gorgeous Gerard Butler look-alike pool boy I was planning to have. *sniff*

    It's funny how our expectations are so way out there. But I have to say, I don't think I'd trade the reality for the fantasy. Okay, except for the Gerard Butler look-alike pool boy, I wouldn't 😉

    By the way, what a wicked picture!!

  6. I think everyone has that fantasy, but the truth always comes and smacks you in the forehead before you get lost in the delusion.

    That being said, I don't think that most people understand how lonely writing is and how much the day job provides human interaction, besides all the things you mentioned before.

  7. Retire early, Linda? Pshaw! What is TG without the T, I ask you???

    Michelle? (I do, too.)

    Very true, Laura. I think you and Chudney are hitting on the same thing. A day job can keep you grounded and feed you in a way that full-time writing can't.

    KAK: Right!!!

    Thanks for noticing the pic, Danica! that was just the other night. I thought it made a great shot for the blurring of fantasy and reality. It's a real photo, but it looks unreal!

  8. But the fantasy has it's place and that keeps us going, sometimes, I think. Though human contact and health insurance are kind of useful.

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