“Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write cheques.”- Richard Curtis
People write, or aspire to write, for many different reasons: love of books, the burning urge to tell a story, desire to educate, longing for fame, religious devotion, revenge, lust, ambition, grief, anger… There are probably as many motivations for writing as there are writers. You might just want to see whether you can, like the explorer who wanted to climb the mountain “because it was there.”
It isn”t really important what drives you, as long as it”s strong enough to keep you going. All that matters is how good a story you produce at the end of it. However there is one reason for writing that is simply wrong- in fact I would go so far as to say that if it”s why you”re doing it, you shouldn”t bother- and that is writing to get rich.
There is an archetypal story about the career path of a novelist, most recently exemplified by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. In this story the writer lives in poverty toiling for years on their masterpiece, which is repeatedly rejected by short-sighted editors. Eventually the writer is discovered, the masterpiece becomes a bestseller, and all concerned become millionaires.
It’s a great story, and appeals to our desire for triumph over adversity and a happy ending. The problem with it is that it is only true of a tiny, unrepresentative minority. (Even in the case of J.K. Rowling, the reality is rather more complex than it has usually been presented.) Very few writers get their first novel published, and hardly any become millionaires. In fact most novelists struggle to make any kind of living from writing alone.
Let”s look at some cold, hard facts. In 2010, there were over 150,000 new books published in the UK alone. Take a moment to let that sink in. One hundred and fifty thousand titles. 12,500 every month, 2,800 every week. Or, if you prefer, one for every 400 women, men and children in the country. It”s a staggering figure. Even when your genius is finally recognised and your masterpiece published, it”s still very hard to make yourself heard over the crowd.
Some more facts: the average income of published writers in the UK is £5,000 a year. Only one in five writers actually make a living solely from writing. The top 10% of writers earn 50% of the total income. Most novelists have to earn money from other sources, and work for years to build a readership and develop their career. In short: don”t give up the day job. If you are writing in the hope of making a million, then I advise you to buy a lottery ticket instead. It”s a lot less work, and the odds are better.
Of course some writers do get very rich indeed, and it might just happen for you. If it does then count your blessings and enjoy your wealth. However if it was something you could just decide to do, then everybody would be doing it. There is no secret formula, no surefire path to success. All you can do is work hard, write the best novel you can, make it enjoyable and satisfying for the reader, and cross your fingers.
Since you’re still reading this, I’ll assume that you don”t see writing as an easy way to “get rich quick”. Good. In my next post I will reveal the single most important thing you need to do, if you”re serious about being published.