Take a moment to imagine the life of a full-time author—someone who sells enough books to not have a day job. What do you see? The author, dressing in a dark t-shirt and black sports coat, writes one, perhaps two novels a year if he’s prolific. He lives a casual life in his house by the ocean. He travels the world, spending vast amounts of time in the more romantic European countries and writes the trips off as “research,” on his taxes. He experiences all of the sophisticated sounds, sights and flavors he so adeptly describes in his novels. Six months of the year, he sits in a very clean office surrounded by artifacts collected from around the world, sipping wine and writing happily on a fancy laptop. The other six months of the year, he’s living the life and enjoying his wealth.
I will admit that bits and pieces of this depiction might be true for a tiny minority of top tier authors, but it’s how many people envision the life of most full-time authors. This is especially true of unpublished authors. Granted, the first impression of most people when I say, “I’m a writer,” is “You make money doing that?” But as soon as people understand that I’m published in hardcover—oooh—and make a living from my books, they picture a fairly tale author’s life that seems to be preprogrammed in society’s collective subconscious, especially the novice writer. I know because I used to be one.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Authors can be broken into three groups. The first is bestsellers. These are the millionaire elite and represent perhaps 1% of all authors. The second group are failures. A good portion of published authors fail and are never heard from again. That’s the group novice writers don’t even speak of. It’s too scary to consider. The last group is what we call mid-list authors—those who aren’t bestsellers (or who may have been once upon a time) but sell enough to justify publishing more books. And here’s the kicker, the vast majority of mid-list authors have 9-5 day jobs and only have time to write at night and on weekends.
Have I crushed your dreams of being a full-time writer, yet? No? Okay, how about this. The average advance from a big publisher is now about $5000. That’s right, $5000. Oh, wait, you’re a midlist author, so you’ll have to pay for your own marketing. More if you want PR. When you’re done, you might be able to afford a nice celebratory dinner someplace fancy, like TGI Fridays.
Now that I’ve dashed the hopes and dreams of authors reading this, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a full-time mid-list author. I support my wife, three kids and father-in-law and I’ve never been a NY Times Bestseller. And I’m not alone. There are a growing number of mid-list authors leaving the day job behind. But our lives don’t look anything like the preprogrammed vision of the author’s life. In fact, we generally work 60 hour weeks (sometimes more), 52 weeks a year and skip all but the biggest holidays. To illustrate exactly how much work I do in a year, I’m going to fill you in on my 2011 (past, present and future). I’m not including dates, because there’s too much to remember.
Books released in 2011 (roughly in chronological order):
3) THE LAST HUNTER – PURSUIT
4) THE ZOMBIE’S WAY by IKE ONSOOMYU (me)
5) INSOMNIA and SEVEN OTHER SHORT STORIES (collection)
–Rewritten, repackaged, revised, re-edited editions of:–
6) ANTARKTOS RISING
7) RAISING THE PAST
8 ) KRONOS
9) THE DIDYMUS CONTINGENCY
11) Unnamed novel under secret pen name (sorry)
12) THE LAST HUNTER – ASCENT
13) THE NINJA’S PATH by KUTYUSO DEEP (me)
14) CALLSIGN: KING 15) CALLSIGN: QUEEN
16) CALLSIGN: KNIGHT
17) CALLSIGN: ROOK
18) CALLSIGN: BISHOP
19) CALLSIGN: KING – UNDERWORLD (Book II)
Yup, nineteen books released in 2011, and what is significant about that is that I designed the covers, laid out the interiors, and formatted the e-books for sixteen of them (released through my personal Breakneck Media imprint). That alone is a full-time job. Several, in fact. But I also promote ALL of them, including social marketing, viral videos, video trailers, and much more, all on my own. I design and maintain my website, my pen names’ website and write blog posts like this one. But that’s not too bad, right? It’s manageable for a highly organized publisher…err…author?
Oh yeah, I write books, too. Here’s the books I wrote/am writing/will write in 2011.
1) SECONDWORLD (released May 2012)
2) THE LAST HUNTER – PURSUIT
3) Unnamed novel under secret pen name (sorry again)
4) THE LAST HUNTER – ASCENT
5) ISLAND 731 (released Spring 2013)
And I co-authored/am co-authoring these novellas:
6) CALLSIGN: KING
7) CALLSIGN: QUEEN
8 ) CALLSIGN: KNIGHT
9) CALLSIGN: ROOK
10) CALLSIGN: BISHOP
11) CALLSIGN: KING – UNDERWORLD (Book II)
I will admit that my co-authors have taken on most of the work with the CALLSIGN books (I know, I’m slacking), but I’m involved in the story development, rewriting and editing process, never mind the covers, and formatting that takes place afterwards. So, five novels written and six novellas co-authored. Oh, and I wrote a script for the pilot episode of a Chess Team TV series (not happening).
The point of all this, aside from tooting my own horn like a manic clown, is that you can make a living—and a good one—as a midlist author, but you need to work like a bastid and commit to excellence. I’ve taken on three pen names. I’ve taught myself how to professionally format print and e-books (you won’t find any half-ass jobs in my books). I’ve spent the last fifteen years learning to design covers using Photoshop and Illustrator. I’ve spent just as long teaching myself how to edit video, and audio, and html, and flash. Doesn’t sound like the life of a full-time writer, does it?
But it is. It’s a lot of work, but I’m my own boss. I’m creative every day. I’m still gunning for the NY Times list with my hardcovers and mass market paperbacks, but I’m making a living as a mid-list author by pumping out books, publishing them myself (professionally) and marketing them myself. I very much look forward to the day when I can hire someone to do a lot of this for me (I hire an editor now—the only thing I don’t do) but until then, I’m going to shelf my preconceived notions of what an author’s life looks like, roll up my sleeves and work. And if you want to be a full-time author, you should be prepared to do the same. Who knows, maybe you’ll strike gold with your first novel. It happens. But it’s not likely, and if you’re not prepared to work hard, you might not even make it to the mid-list.
So what’s on the docket for 2013? I’m thinking about relaxing a little. I’m currently planning on writing FOUR novels, not five. And if the CALLSIGN books are all hits, you can probably expect another five. So, nine books. I think I’ll make a movie with all my free time (you think I’m joking). If you’re a writer, I have one last piece of advice, stop reading this and get back to work!