Monday, May 2, 2011

Liz's Lair: When Writing Gets Too Hard

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler

OMG! That is so true. Initially, I had a hard time with this title and the subject matter. At first glance, it sounds like I need some cheese with my whine, but trust me, it isn’t meant that way. I love being a writer, love that my stories come to life on the page. It’s just that it’s not an easy job. I’ve said it many times before that writing is not for sissies.

I have a good friend who decided to put her pen down (actually she writes on the computer, but this sounded better) a few years ago. She said her heart had gone out of it. She had two stories written, both of which had garnered a potload of rejections.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “Put your big girl panties on and toughen up, sister. We’ve all been there –done that.”

And I can’t say I disagree. Still, it is disheartening to know how much work we put into our stories only to find out NO ONE is interested in them.

Which brings me to another thing. How many more times can I hear someone ask me what I’m planning to do with all the money I have now that I’ve sold my book?? Excuse me?? Patiently, I tell them that’s not the way it happens nowadays in today’s economy. That only about 200 of all the writers in the world make enough to quit their day job. (I have no idea where I heard that, so I can’t verify it with 100 % accuracy, but it sounds right to me.) Most writers are considered midlist and that brings anywhere from 0 to 20 grand advance per book unless you have several books under your belt.
Let’s take a hard look at that. Assuming an author gets $5000 per book which is pretty much the norm for a debut author, the break down numbers are downright scary.

It takes me 6 months to write a book (I’m pathetically slow) and another 2-3 to edit and get it sent out to beta readers. That’s 32 weeks, assuming there are no 5 week months in there.
Again, assuming I get 5 grand per book-------are you doing the math with me?? That comes out to $156 a week.

Are you freakin’ kidding me?? That doesn’t even factor in all the time and money spent promoting and keeping up with my craft by going to conferences and networking with other writing professionals.

I’m beginning to understand why my friend chose to give it all up. She says she’s not a spring chicken (welcome to my world) and she’s not sure she wants to work this hard anymore. Again- been there-done that. I remember telling my agent she had to hurry up and sell me before I kicked the bucket.(No pressure, Christine.) It worked, BTW.

So, I guess all this ranting and raving is for me today. I’m in between books and ready to begin Book 3 (Beginnings are always hard for me.) I know I’ll never be able to retire on my writing income, so why do I knock myself out?

The same reason you do. Let’s face it, if we didn’t love writing so much, we could all go down to Wal Mart and be greeters and make a helluva lot more money…and get health insurance as a beni!!

So, I’ll end the depressing stuff and close with this funny quote I found on the Internet.

If writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers. – Irvin S. Cobb.

I say, “Amen, brother...and pass the food stamps!!”

Can you guys out there please add your two cents? Am I a lone whiner???


Anita Clenney said...

You're right on the mark Liz. Dana and I were just having this conversation. I don't blame your friend. Writing is tough and it doesn't get easier when you're published. I just sat at a published author's roundtable at my retreat (editors and agents are barred) and there were veteran writers who were at their wits end about how to stay published. How to get their numbers up. Writers write because they love it. We don't do it for the money or the Walmart job would be far better.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Writing is damn hard and rarely lucrative. We don't do it for the money, we do it for the satisfaction. For the feeling of walking into a book store and seeing your work on the shelves. For the feeling of pride and accomplishment. We do it for ourselves :-)

The rest is just bonus!

Vicki Batman said...

Handsome says I earn about 2 cents per whatever I write. Very discouraging money-wise.

But not why I write.

I'm having a blast writing. And (amazingly), have sold quite a bit in the last year and half.

I can understand quitting. The flux of the industry is scary. Not getting paid on time is not fun. Horrible critiques which take the wind out of one's sail, like the one I received early on: Why are you writing?

AND there's a lot of other fun stuff in the world to do on my bucket list!

I'm still here, though, typing away.

Tracybrogan said...

I hear you, Liz! I'm writing because I love it. I would like the validation of publication but figured out already that the only thing that really counts is me knowing that I've done my best. And that my stories are written because I must tell them. If I focus on the money, I'll be disapointed but when I frame success in terms of my personal effort, I feel pretty good about it. That being said, however, some money would be nice!

Lady Jane Garner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz Lipperman said...

Anita, I can't wait to hear about your booksigning with THE NORA. A little birdie told me you're going to tell us all about it tomorrow.

Your conference sounds great...writers talking only about writing. It is scary, though, when even veteran writers are wondering about their next contract.

Liz Lipperman said...

Vicki, thanks for sharing with us. You've sold a bunch in the past year, so it makes my point exactly. If it wasn't for the drive to create my characters, I would definitely not put out ht effort.

Vicki's debut novella can be bought here.

Anita's here:

And Kari';s here:

And here:

Liz Lipperman said...

Ah, I can't wait to see my book om the bookshelves, Kari. Actually, I can't wait to see your cozy there, either.

Donnell said...

Oh, what a great post, and your closing line. Pass the food stamps. I'd laugh if it wasn't so poignantly true. I think the one thing that keeps me going is I write for me, and if others like or love it, it's simply the cherry on the ice cream. Thanks, Liz.

E.C. Smith said...

I hear yah, Liz. I just love writing too much to care. Oh, and stick my head in the sand works equally well. And, what I don't know can't hurt me. . .right? Right? lol

ArkansasCyndi said...

My advice to someone is entering the writing world to make a lot of money... become a hooker. you'll make more money and the work is a whole lot easier. :)

Dale Mayer said...

Hi Liz, that whole earning a living as a writer is now a myth. I used to make a decent living as a nonfiction writer and have no illusions as to how far that career has bottomed. So I don't have ANY illusions about becoming the next NORA, but I couldn't stop writing if I tried. I might end up no longer submitting...but not writing.

My 13yr old daughter's birthday is in 12 days and she's asked for a new YA book as her gift - from me. Not that I get to run to the bookstore but to sit down and write the second in one of my series!!!!!

Snort. Still, it's why I keep writing.

Lindsay said...

Depending on the cheese Liz, you might want to go with a white whine. Reds tend not to blend that well with most.
And that's one reason I like to write. Notice I said 'like'. Humor even in the worst of times.
This has to be one of the toughest independent jobs going. Here we have to strive to be better than the last book. Strive to increase our readership, and that ain't easy.
But look at the bright side. When all is said and done we, through the words we put on paper (Liz) or computer screen (the rest of the world), bring entertainment to people. And we are not only doing something we love but something so many wish they could do.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donnell, it is true, and every writer in the world knows it...or will very quickly after he/she begins writing.

I remember a friend telling me she had a business plan with her writing. Said she wanted to be making enough money two years after getting published the first time so that her hubby could quit his day job and stay home with her. I was sitting with Kari when she said this, and I think we both spewed our coffee.

Honestly, we have to get it in our heads that the glory is holding a book in our hands or seeing our words on the Internet, because it sure as hell won't be sailing in the yacht bought our earnings.

Liz Lipperman said...

EC, none of those things ever hurt. I will have to say that for every dollar I don't make with my books, I get so much more with every new writer I meet. Hooking up with you that first night when you agreed to do shooters with total strangers celebrating books sales was one of those perks.

Oh, Canada!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Ooh, Cyndi, I love your suggestion about working as a hooker to earn more money. And the good thing is, you can still wear pajamas to work!!!

Liz Lipperman said...

OMG, Dale, your comment brought tears to my eyes. And there, folks, is why we write!!

I love that your daughter wants YOUR book, yet unwritten, for her birthday. I happen to know you're a lightening fast writer and can do it.

Thanks for sharing that.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, I'll keep that whine color in mind!! And people, you all need to head over to Lindsay's blog today to find out how his Sunday went. Let's just say, he was up at the "crack" of dawn only to discover his pets were not the culprits.

Lindsay said...

Arkansas, is there an age limit for being a hooker?
And actually folks the blog was written yesterday but the event happened Friday night.

Donnell said...

The good news about being a hooker rather than being a writer, too, is there is no gender bias ;) Good one, Cyndi, and so true!

Barbara White Daille said...

Liz - great post!

I've always loved the Gene Fowler quote. Who knows, maybe if many of us had seen it before deciding to become writers (age 9 for me), we'd have gone in other directions.

Too late now for me. ;)

I can't not be a writer. I'm in it for me *and* to share my stories with readers.


Lindsay said...

Good. Where do I sign up? But I guess my job title would be escort though

Barbie Jo Mahoney said...

great post Liz! and it comes at the perfect time for me. Ever since "the incident" I have been low on motivation - and I know I shouldn't because I have sooo much opportunity out there, BUT...

It's not the market it was even a year ago. and I'm not a fast writer anymore. Yes, I can crank stuff out, but I've learned there was a price to be paid for my dilligence to get published. And since the "incident", I've found the balance - and unfortunately it cuts waaay back on the time available for me to write. I'm not happy about that, but it's the best I can do with the hours in the day, which ends with me passed out on the couch by 9PM.

While I know I can't stop writing, I love it too much and it's my creative outlet, I find myself wondering from time to time if I can really do this? My day is booked from start to finish, so HOW in God's name will I find time to properly market myself and my book? Someone better clone me, cuz I honestly don't see it.

So yeah, while I'm close to having my partial ready to go....I have to agree, it's definitely too hard.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay and Donnell, there is no gender bias or age limit. You know what they say about closing time at a bar....we all look like Brad and Angelina.

Okay, maybe there's an age limit!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Barbara, I'd never heard that quote before I started looking for ones to go with this blog. I now have it taped to my computer.

You people who "knew" you wanted to be a writer in preschool fascinate me. I only wanted to be a nurse.

Hey folks, Barbara's latest book came out yesterday from Harlequin American, and trust me, she writes good stuff. You can buy it at

Liz Lipperman said...

Barbie, I feel your pain. There are so many disappointments and near misses in this industry, it's a wonder anybody gets published. I've read your stuff, and I can say with conviction that you will definitely sell. Unfortunately, I can't predict when.

The good news is that your kids are getting older, and empty nest syndrome will hit you faster than you realize and free up some time for you.

But I hate to burst your bubble. I have no kids at home, no day job, and I still have to fight to get the words on the page. How pathetic is that?

Clarissa Southwick said...

Liz, I love that you tell the truth about the numbers. So often people tell me their writing friend, "got a six figure advance." Who are all these people and why haven't I ever heard of them?

The truth is that we write because we just can't stop ourselves. I've probably quit a dozen times, but then a story comes along that I just can't get out of my head, and I have to write it down.

Lindsay said...

I tried search for Barbie Jo on my kindle but couldn't find the book. Is it only in paper?

Barbara White Daille said...

Liz - we all get there in different ways.

Thank you for the shout out about my new release! It's an exciting week. :-)


Donna Cummings said...

Liz, you're so right. I love writing, but it's not always easy. Sometimes it is, which tricks me into thinking it will always be that way. Then when it's not I always wonder what I'm doing wrong! LOL

One of the best parts about writing is finding out that other writers go through the same doubts, but no matter what, they're committed to getting their stories written.

I do hope you make a ton of money, though, because I want you to take me on your next cruise. :) I'll even help you with the "research". LOL

magolla said...

Ain't that the truth, Liz!

magolla said...

I meant to add that I originally wanted to make enough money to pay for vacation, but now I just want to pay for my cover art. :-)

Lindsay said...

And I just want to make enough to cover my Starbucks

Liz Lipperman said...

Clarissa, anyone who knows how to use a computer can got ot Brenda Hiatt's "Show Me The Money" and find out what each publisher is paying.

As for the six figure deals. I actually know a debut author who got one. Her first novel came out in hard cover and was excellent. Unfortunately, it didn't do so well because nobody wants to fork over hard cover money these days. She just finished her second one, but I can tell you it took a lot of the wind out of her sail.

And remember, an advance is simply that. If the book sells a million copies, there will be more. Publishers are not willing to put big bucks on untested manuscripts because they eat it if the book doesn't do well, just like in my friend's case.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donna, I hear you about worrying when writing is easy. When I was in a jam a few months back and worried about a deadline, I committed to writing 25 pages a week. Now this may be child's play to people who write fast like my friend Dale, but for me, it was a real chore.

Anyway, I did it, and you know what? I was amazed at how good the story was. So, although it wasn't easy, it was something I thought I could never do. I swore I wouldn't ever do that again since Berkley gives me 9 months to write a book.

Already I've flitted away one month and May doesn't look promising. Where is that Crisis Junkie Club I started a while back??

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, I swear you are more vigilant about this blog than I am.

At $4 a cup, you'd better have a few books under your bed!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Margaret, I hear you on the cover art thing. Publication is even scarier than t writing.

On a good note, a chaptermate just announced that she'd made enough on her debut Ellora's Carve novel to join PAN. We can all hope for that kind of success.

Lindsay said...

Liz, I've followed this blog the longest of any of the dozen or so I check daily.
One of the things I love about M&M, besides the candy and tequila, is the huge variety of topics and guest you all have here.
Heck, I've even gotten an idea for an Emily Dahill short from one of you ladies. Don't believe me just ask Anita. And I'm even thinking about converting into a Dahill short another idea I got from here. Oh, don't worry you'll all get listed in the acknowledgment.
So keep up the good work.
As for books under my belt. I'm working on that.

Annemarie Nikolaus said...

Just my 2 Cents at this "No one wants to read us".
This was true in paper world with htose gatekeepers aka editors.

Not anymore!

Now you can go and publish on your own behalf. Worlswide!
I write in GEerman. So my audience is much smaller than yours .. and yet.
Last week I uploaded another German e-book. And the next day I sold one in ENGLAND. Go figure!

Bonnie Dodge said...

I'm late to the party, but just wanted to add how frustrating it is to worry about the money. Some years ago a friend of mine supported herself on her travel writing. Not any more. Now she is reporting to work like many of us did for so many years. What keeps me writing is not the $$, but the friendships and conversations I have with other writers. It's a tough life, but it's the best.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, what's an Emily Dahill short?

Lindsay said...

Emily Dahill is a Special Agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Division. She's a character I'm developing using short stories. Her stories can be found right now over on my blog.

Liz Lipperman said...

Annemarie, how nice to see you here at M & M. It adds a European flavor.

As for the new direction of publishing, you are so right. Authors do have choices these days now that the NY houses are buying less from debut authors. And isn't it wonderful that we can now put out stories out there for the whole world to enjoy.

As you know, on June 1st, Mortal Deception will be available through Amazon. This is a book that bends the genres and didn't fit in NY. It's books like this one that benefit the most from the new self pubbing and indie avenues.

Thanks so much for commenting and congrats on getting your book up there and on the sales. Come back and tell us how it goes...or just come back to shoot the bull.

Liz Lipperman said...

Bonnie, so glad to see you here, too. And you are spot on about the incredible friends you can make in the writing world. Some things are worth more than cash.

And if it wasn't for writing, I would probably have never met you!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, I'll check it out.

Lindsay said...

Next weeks episode will end this story then in two weeks another story will start.

Couch Bed Kids said...

I'm not happy about that, but it's the best I can do with the hours in the day, which ends with me passed out on the couch by 9PM. While I ...