Gareth L. Powell at The Cube, May 2022
I spend a lot of my time online providing aspiring authors with tips, advice and general encouragement. I even wrote a book to help them. But too much positivity can be dangerous, and sometimes we all need to feel the cold draught of reality blowing under the crack in the door.
And, as the title of this post suggests, there will be hard times.
Some people have a romantic notion that being a writer involves sitting around in your pyjamas all day, sipping tea and trying to decide which glamorous party to attend that evening. And to be honest, pyjamas and tea do play a large part in the process. But there’s also an absolute crapload of work.
Nobody’s going to pay you to sit on your ass doing nothing all day.
You have to write. You need to get your words out there. If you’re represented by an agent, you need to give the something to sell to publishers. If you’re self-published, you need to get the product in front of the book-buying public. And writing a book is a hard slog that can take anywhere from three months to two years. It’s not an easy option. In fact, you might need to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and it will eat into the time you have to do other things.
There will be days and weeks where you feel discouraged. Your prose will sound flat and your characters like idiotic sock puppets. You’ll forget what you were trying to say, or run out of plot halfway because your pacing’s off. Imposter syndrome will whisper doubts into your ear, telling you that you’re awful and nobody’s ever going to read a word you write. And when you add in the strains of constant work, rejection, poverty and bad reviews, the writing life can be brutal for your mental health.
The reason we hear about debut novelists scoring six-figure deals for their debut novels is because those kind of successes are rare enough to be newsworthy. The truth is, you will probably struggle financially. The majority of authors don’t earn a lot of money. The average advance for a first novel is around £5,000, which isn’t a big return for a year’s work. If your book does well and earns out its advance, you’ll start to receive royalty payments. Selling the translation rights in different countries can bring in more money, but you really need to have several books out there and selling well before you’ll start to make a sustainable income.
You didn’t think I’d end this on a depressing note, did you?
I never felt happy or sane until I became a writer. It was all I ever wanted, and I was more than prepared to endure all the pitfalls I’ve mentioned above. I went into it with clear eyes. I started small, with stories in Interzone magazine, and gradually worked my way up, learning as I went.
If you genuinely, absolutely, definitely want to be a writer, there’s no reason you can’t do it, if you’re prepared to work your butt off and have a survival plan for the lean years.
Accept there will be hard times, and adjust your expectations accordingly. You can do this; it might just be tougher than you hoped.