Friday, May 19, 2017

Writing: Profession or Hobby?

One of my favorite "writing" books is Lawrence Block's Telling Lies For Fun And Profit. It was one of the first such books I read from cover to cover, and I still go back to it from time to time. Block has written a number of such books, most of them based on his columns in Writers Digest, and they influenced my growth as a writer. In one of them, he talks about the "Sunday writer," and I long ago decided that's where I fit in. I didn't think I'd ever make a living at this writing game, and I was quite comfortable where I was. But that's changed over the years.

Block wrote and published a number of books, and I've read and re-read most of them. He also wrote (sometimes using various pseudonyms) some magazine articles and books that varied from the noir variety to what I would call "erotica." But the main thing is that he wrote a lot. And because of that, he was able to support himself through his writing.

I've noticed, especially since many writers are turning to self-publication (the "indie" publishing route), that writers are finding what Block (and some of his colleagues) said was true--the more books that are out there, the higher your income is likely to be. I say "likely" because readers are learning that not everything that's self-published is worth paying even a low amount for the e-book version. But for those who spend the time and money to have professional editing and memorable book covers done for their work, there's indeed a significant market out there.

What of the "Sunday writer?" I'm not certain that class exists anymore. Writers seem to be like cyclists going down a hill, needing to do more and more (while making less and less), until eventually they crash or slow down.

Am I still a "Sunday writer?" I guess I left that class when I was first published. Of course, since I'm retired I don't depend on a day job to meet expenses, but I'm hearing from fellow writers (and experiencing this myself) that it's becoming harder to generate a dependable income via writing.

Do you see changes in the publishing industry? Good or bad? Any suggestions? I look forward to reading them.

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4 comments:

Elise Griffith said...

It's always been hard to earn a living from writing. I had 3 (nonfiction) books published in 18 months in the late 1990s, complete with book signings, t.v. spots, etc., and while the advances helped us get into a house, my income would have been considered low even then. Prior to the book contracts, I'd written for magazines. That generated a more regular income, actually. Today's magazine industry has changed even more than book publishing. Then & now, unless you're in major magazines or on the NYT best seller list expect to live simply and have another income source. I think it's best to write when you're passionate about writing vs. trying to earn a living from it. Always has been.

Richard Mabry said...

Elise, I think you're quite right. Unfortunately, there are people who see writing as a way to provide an income stream for themselves. The admonition to "Don't quit your day job" may be said as a joke, but it's quite real. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

I discovered Lawrence Block when I first started writing! Somewhere I still have all his old articles I saved. :-) And as for depending on my writing to support me, I figure at .05 an hour, it won't get me very far. (that's figuring all the hours I've put in. lol)

Seriously, though, it's hard to depend on fiction to pay the bills. Non-fiction is a different story because there are so many avenues. But I wouldn't do anything else. :-)

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, non-fiction (especially if you have a built-in platform like a speaker) can be an avenue to supplement your income by selling books. I agree--fiction, not so much. But, as the saying goes, "A writer can't NOT write." Thanks for your comment.