Part-Time… and Glad

A few days ago, a Mondoville student interviewed me about Broken Glass Waltzes, as part of an article about the Mondoville English program’s two novelists (the other of course being John Carenen, and you should be reading his stuff as well.) Because the article will run in the school paper, and because said paper runs as part of the Mondoville tri-weekly, the article will come out on Wednesday. If it’s accessible online, I’ll give you a holler.

In the course of the interview, the student asked me if I had another book in the works. I told her I do, and gave her my current working title, but I told her I have a long way to go with it. Which is true — as I’ve mentioned, I seem to be in a bit of a fallow period right now (or perhaps more accurately, I can find any number of things to do other than work on the book.)

Fortunately — very fortunately — I have a regular gig here at Mondoville, which allows me to keep half a roof over our heads. I don’t have to write to keep the lights on and make a payment on the Spawn’s braces. And as it happens, I’m fine with that. So what I am, at best, is a part-time writer (and part-time musician, and, and, and…).

That isn’t a complaint. I’m going to flatter myself into thinking that I’ve acquired a skosh of self-knowledge over the years, and one of the things I know is that I’m not particularly self-disciplined. I don’t have the discipline to do the work every day the way that Lawrence Block does, or any number of genuine pros. The closest I came was during my years at the magazine, and it nearly drove me out of my skull — or off an overpass.

And while I do love writing, and although I started making up songs and stories when I was still a toddler (and have the audiotapes to prove it), I’m glad I don’t have to rely on whatever talent I have for it — and that I’m not feeling guilty about that.

As S.J. Perelman famously observed, “The Muse is a tough buck.” And it has ever been thus. Brian Keene — a solidly successful horror writer — knows this as well, and his discussion of what it means to be a pro these days is worthwhile reading:

Now, I’m going to dump some cold water on those of you who think success or best-seller status automatically equal big dollar signs. I have been prolific over the last fifteen years, and have been lucky enough to keep my work in print to the extent that I receive royalty checks for various works each and every month. I’ve also had books turned into film, adapted for comics, and more. I’ve been on CNN, Howard Stern, a documentary on the History Channel, and a trivia question answer on an ABC game show. My readers include rock stars, movie stars, stand-up comedians, professional athletes, a few politicians, a few more porno actresses, and even a daytime soap opera diva. I am one of the most popular horror writers of my generation. I say that not brag or sound arrogant, but to set the stage for what I am about to tell you. I am one of the most popular horror writers of my generation—

—and on average, I make between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Sometimes it’s a little bit more. Sometimes, it’s less. That’s an average.

There are other costs as well (as Keene describes), and when I think of those expenses,  I find comfort in the idea of being a part-timer.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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5 Responses to Part-Time… and Glad

  1. Jeff says:

    That’s wonderfully candid post. Hopefully, people in other genres won’t overlook it simply because he’s a horror writer.

  2. Reminds me to be grateful for the $45K (sometimes more) that I earn as a “mere” adjunct. Sure, I *work* for it…but then I work.

  3. The beauty part — and there really is one — is that the Internet and self-publishing makes being creative “on the side” much more doable now than it was even a few years ago, much less a generation ago. I am a lawyer, full-time, and make a nice buck, but I live in Milwaukee and have few contacts either in publishing or academia. Neverthless, because of Createspace, I just published my first novel. (Shameless plug: it’s called Saint Ed, and it’s available on Kindle and through Amazon.)

    In the old days, you needed an agent to find a publisher, and you needed a publisher to publicize and distribute your work. Now, an agent is more or less a useless middleman, because you can essentially “find” your publisher (Amazon) with the click of a button and can’t be turned down. Sure, you have to publicize yourself (noting again my shameless plug), and you miss out on having your books in bookstores. But bookstores, in case you haven’t noticed, are going broke, and more than 50% of books nowadays are sold through Amazon. That will only go up. Which leads me to the bold conclusion (not really that bold) that self-publishing is going to increasingly become the wave of the future for fiction.

    And, a second beauty part about having a real job to pay the bills — if you aren’t relying on what you make from your writing to live, you can afford to write what you want, and not tailor yourself to the zombie-chic-vampire lit trend-of-the-moment.

  4. Javahead says:

    Looking at history, it seems to me that being able to support yourself as a writer has always been a bit of an anomaly, an artifact of the printing press. Before the printing press, it was prohibitively expensive to produce enough books (by hand-copying) to make a living as an author. And there weren’t enough potential customers that were both literate and affluent enough to purchase them.

    And without workable copyright laws, the only money even a successful writer could expect to see would be from his first publisher. A handful of writers managed to earn money and fame, but generally more of the latter than the former.

    If I recall correctly, it wasn’t until the mid 1800s (with copyright and cheap mass-circulation magazines) that earning a living (however meager) as an author became feasible – and only the most successful were able to make it more than a part-time endeavor, usually after a long period of part-time writing.

    Publishers remained both a bottleneck to new authors and a boon to the more-established: not everything could be published, so that a writer who got past the hurdle of first publication and reasonably-successful sales had an inside track on doing it again.

    With the current ease of self-publication I think that the model is becoming more like that of my friends who are weekend musicians – they make some extra money from tips and in-person CD sales, and get a lot of satisfaction, from their music, but they don’t have any real expectation or desire to do it full-time.

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