Myths About Being a Published Writer: Part 1

Today I thought I’d go over some common misconceptions about what it’s like being a published writer.  This is part of a “I wish I knew this when I was starting out” post.  Hopefully, what I had to learn the hard way will be something others can learn the easy way.  I’ll start off with part 1 and add more to it as I think of more to add.  😀

Myth: Once I make it big, I’ll be on easy street.

Fact: The truth is, sales fall and your next book might not be as big of a seller as the one that just made it big.

There’s no telling which book will sell better than another.  I’ve written books I thought were going to be popular because I received emails requesting them (seemed to have a big demand so they had great potential to be good sellers), but in the end, they didn’t sell as well as some of the ones I didn’t think would do well at all.  It’s like playing the lottery (in some ways) because you invest months to years writing the book, hoping your work will pay off.  You never know for sure what your next book will do.  All you can do is write more books to add to your odds of “winning”.

Myth: I can write whenever I feel like it and thrive as an author.

Fact: Writing is like any other job…and you need to do it even when you don’t feel like it.

This is not an easy job, and it’s not for the faint of heart.  Like any small business owner, you will have to deal with everything yourself.  (I’m talking specifically to self-published authors, not traditionally published ones.)  Everything is on your shoulders, and it’s a lot of responsibility if you’re going to treat it like a job.  You’re going to have to establish deadlines because if you don’t have deadlines, you will probably keep putting things on hold.  A business needs to produce a service or product on a consistent basis if it’ll have the chance to thriving.  You can’t sit and wait until you feel like writing.  Some days will feel like you’re pulling teeth just to get a few sentences down on the page.  If you have a job outside the home, you will find a way to do it.   The same has to be true for writing.  It has to be a priority, not something that happens when it’s convenient for you.

The exception to this is when an emergency comes up (ex. illness, death in the family, tornado blew your house down).  You can’t write when under tremendous stress like that, and if an emergency came up when you are working outside the home, you will take the time off of work to tend to that emergency.  Same is true with writing.  Treat it like an outside job and use common sense on when you need to take time off.  But don’t take time off just because “I’m bored” or “I don’t want to write today”.  If you’re not writing, then do something to add to your business: make a book cover, outline a future book, work on some blog posts, answer emails.  But make sure you aren’t using the extra stuff to get out of writing.  Writing is the key job you have.

Myth: Once I make good sales, all my financial woes are over.

Fact: Your financial woes will be over when you learn to manage your money effectively.

Sales have nothing to do with your financial well-being unless you are smart about how you’re handling your money.  You can sell a ton of books and be a mega-star in the self-publishing industry, but if you didn’t plan for real life, then you’ll be up a creek without a paddle.  People seem to assume that more money = less stress.  I think the opposite might be true.  With more money comes more taxes, more demands from family members to get stuff (and it’s hard to say no to your spouse when your spouse really, really, really wants something), and you’re tempted to get more things because suddenly the money is there.  It takes a lot of discipline to put aside money into the tax account so you can pay your quarterly vouchers, stay out of debt, build up an emergency fund, and save for future expenses.  This is all common sense stuff, but when you make sales, the temptation is there to spend the money as fast as it comes in.  You just can’t do it.

Myth: Everyone will love my book because it’s THAT good.

Fact: There will always (and I mean ALWAYS) be someone who hates your book.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is.  The fact of the matter is, you can’t please all the people all the time.  Tastes are too subjective and human nature is fickle.

Myth: I got 1-star reviews.  That means I suck as a writer.

Fact: Not necessarily.  

1-star reviews does not mean you suck as a writer.  It could mean the people reading your book don’t agree with something you put in your book.  Say your book features a smoker and the person reading your book hates cigarettes.  They probably won’t like your story because you have the smoker in your book. Or it could be some other factor.  (I got a complaint from a reader saying she’d never read one of my books that featured a smoker in it.  I got another complaint from someone who didn’t like the fact that one of my families I feature in some of my books have blond hair.)  So the reason could be minor.  It could also be huge.  Religious and political differences could be a reason that someone will hate your book.  Any time you write a story, you have to select characters and situations those characters are in, and there is bound to be something in there that someone will hate.  It’s part of the game.

42 Comments

  1. I love the last one. Before I started, I was told to treat my 1-star reviews like badges of honor. Also to be more upset if I only had 5-star reviews.

    1. I like the idea of 1-star reviews being a badge of honor. Sometimes what one person criticizes you for may be exactly what you wanted to convey in your books, which means you met your goal. 😀

  2. Good thing I plan on getting a job if I don’t make it before I graduate and have enough money to invest in something that’ll bring in more income.

    1. Ideally, you’ll be able to make a living. It’s possible. But it’s always good to have a backup plan. For me, it’s my husband’s pension (he retired from the military). I wouldn’t trust writing as my only source of income because sales are so unpredictable.

      1. I hope that with my white-collar office job and the 2nd part-time job I’m getting this summer, I’ll be able to get some experience that’ll look good on my resume. After all, prior job experience helps you get jobs you want.

        1. When I graduated college, I wish I had more work experience under my belt. I had some but not enough to make me attractive to get a good job. I ended up doing jobs that I didn’t enjoy at all. You’re so right. Job experience plays such a big factor in getting where you want to be.

  3. You forgot the part about being at the mercy of retailers and their cockamamy (sp?) schemes that can mess up our plans, like Amazon’s latest policy of punishing affiliates for free sales. That’s hurt a lot of us this spring who rely on having the first of a series free to ratchet up sales for the rest of the series–OUCH!!

    1. I planned to address something in the myths about the retailers being your best friend (always on the side of the self-published author who makes them money). I heard Amazon is cracking down on free ebooks. This would be one of the ways they’re doing it. I’ve noticed my free books don’t have the advantage they used to, too. It’s hard to get a series going if people don’t get a chance to invest themselves in the first book.

  4. RavenWest says:

    I believe there is a difference between writing for pleasure and writing solely for fame and fortune. Anyone over the age of 15 is going to have one hell of a difficult time competing for sales in this era of tweets, Facebook and other “social media” tweens. Not to mention the MILLIONS of FREE ebooks that are flooding every Kindle and Nook reader out there.

    Today, best sellers aren’t necessary best written. They are, however, best marketed, best promoted and best HYPED. Shades of bland is a perfect example. The book biz is certainly changing as is the “profession” of being a paid author, but I still believe the actual process of writing remains the same.

    Tell a great story with interesting characters that no one has ever thought of before and enjoy each and every word you put onto paper (or computer screen) and to hell with the $$!

    1. I think the only way to go into it (without being disappointed) is assuming you won’t make money. I know some people say to set your expectations high. I set my expectations high on my word counts but that helps me stay focused and when I’m focused on writing, I’m much happier. Plus, word counts is something I have control over. 😀 Setting high expectations on sales, however, has never made me happy. In one way or another, I’ll be disappointed. The trap is that when you get used to selling at a certain point, you get disappointed if the next book doesn’t sell as well or even better. The best way out of the cycle is to ignore the sales report and keep writing (in my opinion).

  5. Papizilla says:

    Reblogged this on The Ranting Papizilla and commented:
    Nicely done post. Check it out Authors!

    1. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Helpful, honest and clearly expressed – thanks for these tips. I especially need to listen to the one about treating writing like any other outside job – just DO it!

    1. Thanks! On some days, I feel like I’m pulling teeth when I write. 😀 I should also have mentioned that in treating writing like a job, it’s a good idea to take time off for vacation or special days (like holidays) to get a break like we would in an outside job.

  7. Julie Israel says:

    Great post. A 1-star review due to smokers– yeesh! At the same time, it’s kind of a relief to think that somebody will always take issue with something: it frees us to let the characters be who they’ll be 🙂

    1. 1-star reviews over the small things are easy to handle. And yes, they help a lot in being able to say, “Screw it, I’m writing it my way”. Characters need to be who they want to be. 😀

  8. Bastet says:

    Reblogged this on Bastet and Sekhmet and commented:
    What every wannabe should know…interesting post…awaiting part II

    1. Thanks! I plan to post Part 2 next week. I want to give the other co-authors on this blog a chance to post their articles this week. 😀

  9. Bassa's Blog says:

    Some very good points Michael. Thank you.

  10. dm yates says:

    Great post. These are truly ‘the’ myths. I think many people want to become writers because they think they’ll ‘make it rich’. For me, I write because I love writing, If I sell some books along the way, then I’ve shared my talent with those who are interested in my storylines.

    1. I write because I love it, too. I’m happiest when I’m writing the story. 😀

      Sadly, I think a lot of people write books because they heard of the very few authors who made it rich and think the same thing will happen to them. I guess I can’t blame them. The media loves to run with the big success stories.

  11. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Great advice as usual Ruth. Especially the money stuff, if you are clever with your cash you can do a lot with a little, if you suck at money it won’t matter how much you make!

    I look forward to reading more in this series of your 🙂

    All the best!

    Rohan.

    1. That’s very true. If you are good with your money, you can make a little go a long way, and I think you’ll be much more likely to reach the place where you can make a living off your writing. If all you do is spend, it’s going to be a lot harder to make a living at it. It’s not how much you make but what you do with it. 😀

  12. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did make very good money when I was traditionally-published. I didn’t manage it very well. It’s a case of “If I knew then what I know now.”

    But you’re right on all counts, Ruth. A lot of new authors come into this business with too many unrealistic expectations, only to end up disappointed.

    Tweeting and sharing with my Facebook writers group….

    1. I think it’s awesome that you made good money when you were traditionally published. It’s funny how I don’t hear much about traditionally published authors making money, but I’ve read post after post about self-published authors who do. Something seems out of balance with the whole thing. Based on the stats Mark Coker shared at a conference last year, I don’t get the impression that self-published authors are doing that great (as a whole group). It sounded like the outliers in the graph pulled the whole group up and gave the faulty impression that making a living as a self-published author was the norm. I could be mistaken and maybe the average self-published author makes more than I think, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not the way some blogs/authors make it out to be.

      Thanks for sharing the post, Norma. 😀

  13. Thank you for this post. These are things every new writer should know.

  14. James Ramsey says:

    Brilliantly true on all counts. I quickly found out that writing the book was the easy part. Everything you said was right on the money and good for you for putting it out there.

    1. Thanks! Writing is the easy part. My husband thinks that writing is the part that stresses me, but I tell him that’s the only part that doesn’t cause stress. LOL

  15. Brett P. S. says:

    Reblogged this on Adventures in Text and commented:
    I like this one especially!

    1. Thanks for reblogging!

  16. VarVau says:

    Another misconception I’ve found is that many new writers who have no idea how this works often think the publisher will handle 100% of the marketing, letting them breeze through. They don’t consider what it takes for the author’s part of marketing, traveling, making arrangements, etc.

    1. So true. I’ve heard some authors say they want to go with a publisher so they don’t have to handle any of the promotion themselves. If that was the case, I’d sign up with a publisher today. I should address that in a future post on myths. Thanks for the idea!

      1. VarVau says:

        No problem. If I think of more, I’ll let you know.

        When I first learned of the statistics and guidelines, I was encouraged by the odds in ways few other things do.

        1. Thanks. I plan to put up another myth post this week, so if anything comes to mind, please chime in!

  17. bernasvibe says:

    Excellent true tips..What a thoughtful blog site; especially for those of us who are soon going to self publish. 2 thumbs UP

    1. Thanks! I hope it’ll be helpful. I wish someone had taken the time to spell out some misconceptions I believed when I started. I would have saved a lot of grief if I had known back then what I know now. 😀

  18. Good blog! I’ve found that different stories are received with many different opinions – some hate the next, some love it, some like it, some are so-so. What one reader raves about, another won’t – some have been disappointed in the character they’ve been waiting and emailing me for, others have loved him/her and it’s just what they envisioned.

    VarVau is correct – having a publisher doesn’t mean you get everything done for you. You have to market yourself just as much as if you self pub – the only difference being that your book from a mass market publisher will make the shelves of a mortar bookstore for a short time. And you only get a very small part of the proceeds. Same if you’re published with a small ebook/POD publisher. Be prepared to do a lot of it yourself.

    I don’t think some writers understand that one book simply means that every book after, you strive to make even better, but while you put blood, sweat and tears into it, it doesn’t mean it will be for some readers! But we keep striving regardless .

    One thing that is true – if writing is in your blood, sooner or later, no matter how despondent you might become, you always end up back at the keyboard LOL.

    1. I agree with everything you said and couldn’t have said it better myself. And if it weren’t for the love of writing, I would have given up long ago. This definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. 😀

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