Writing is Not an Entitlement Program

I demand a hefty advance!

I was having a nice chat the other day with a friend who’s a fellow author and the owner of an eBook publishing company. She was regaling me with stories from the trenches: namely, book submissions from diva authors.

“Then he sent me an email insisting he was expecting a six-figure advance for his fantasy tome, even after he’d read the contract and agreed to the percentage split,” she said, laughing and shaking her head.

My mouth dropped open in surprise. (Note to readers: this is an unattractive expression, and I don’t recommend it. The flies are annoying.)

The writer in question had never published a word, either by himself or traditionally, and his manuscript was going to need some serious editing to make it salable. The sad part is, it wasn’t the first time my friend had encountered this particular spasm of ego. She’d told me of several newbies and not-so-newbies who had insisted they expected her company to do everything without them, including copy and content editing, rewriting, marketing, etc. so that they could just sit back and let the bank roll right on in.

First of all, those days are pretty much over unless you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Second of all, who the hell do they think they are, not taking responsibility for their business, their creative output, their livelihood?

Let’s be clear: writing is very much a business. It’s hard damn work and takes time to hone the craft. Then there’s all that marketing stuff. If you think it’s anything different, then you need to take a cold, hard reality shower (nicely mashed metaphors, don’t you think?) If you’re a new writer, yes, you need to have an ego. If nothing else, the delusion that you’re as good a writer as say, Dickens or Tolstoy or Hemingway or even Dan Brown will stand you in good stead when someone tells you to go and work at the local fast food joint rather than visit your sophomoric attempts at writing on the unsuspecting public.

But that should be as far as it goes.

Humility is a good quality for a writer to cultivate. People will be more inclined to help you, for one thing. For another, isn’t the country filled enough with folks who think the world owes them something? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered writers who are mad at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Kobo or iTunes et al because they’re somehow keeping them from becoming a bestselling author. Really? Could it possibly be because it’s a hard freaking racket and it takes a lot of work (or money, if you have it) to sell books?

Figure it out. If you’re encountering pushback of some kind regarding your sales/writing, take a step back and analyze what might be wrong. Could it be that your characters/story/whatever isn’t connecting with the right people? If so, find another way to reach readers. Be open to changing your marketing plan, cover, description, etc. Maybe your grammar and/or spelling isn’t up to snuff. That one’s easy. Hire an editor or barter with someone to edit your work if you can’t afford to pay one. Bad cover? Either change it yourself, or hire it out. I know of at least one good graphic designer who charges less than $50 for a cover. If you’re with a traditional publisher, don’t expect them to do everything for you. Take the initiative. Take responsibility. Don’t go around complaining about how you’re an effing genius and no one notices. Make them notice. If you are, things will eventually work out.

Or not.

That’s the beauty of it all. The world owes you nothing. It’s all about your belief in yourself and persistence. And picking yourself up and trying again.

And again.

Who knows? You might be right. If you do it without complaint and without feeling like you’re entitled the victory will be sweeter, and people might actually be happy for you.

And that’s the sweetest enticement yet.

Author: D.V. Berkom

DV Berkom grew up in the Midwest region of the US, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes in the male point of view whenever she gets a chance. Indies Unlimited: https://indiesunlimited.com/author/d-v-berkom/ Amazon US author page link: http://www.amazon.com/DV-Berkom/e/B004EVOYH6 Website: www.dvberkom.com

27 thoughts on “Writing is Not an Entitlement Program”

  1. Nicely said! I have stepped back more than once to reconsider my marketing, but I ‘ll be d****d if I’ll give up. I’m not sure if I would want someone handling every aspect of my career, it is personal after all is said and done.

  2. “First of all, those days are pretty much over unless youโ€™re Stephen King or Nora Roberts.”

    Great post, DV. I’m not sure those days ever existed, with the obvious exceptions. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good point about the ‘Minnesota nice,’ Steve. I had a boss in MN who used to complain about the people being too nice. In his case, it was a good thing people were holding back. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Great post, DV; is there really anyone out there who still thinks like that way? It’s difficult to believe that anyone has had their head up their a*** for that long.

  4. Which part do folks find egregious? I’m curious.

    The six figure advance by a novice writer is, well, obvious. ๐Ÿ˜‰ That’s the low hanging fruit. I mean, most of us know that the average advance in many genres is four figures these days – the average first novel is much lower!!

    But what about “copy and content editing, rewriting, marketing, etc.”?

    Frankly, these ARE what publishers provide. It’s what the publisher does that validates them getting even 1% of the income from a book, let alone the hefty 50-75% that most retain.

    Writers pour hundreds of hours into a novel. Consider that if you’ve spent just 200 hours on a book by the time it is published, you’ve invested $10,000 or so of your time. That’s your stake in the project. If a publisher is not at least matching that, then they should be getting less than half of the income from sales, so generally one should expect a publisher to put significant time (expense) on their end into a book. If publishers are not investing in the project, why should they get a percent of sales?

    As indies, we know that good editing and covers are easily acquirable. So really, the ONE thing that a publisher potentially has in their corner is marketing. It’s why I example small presses which invite me to submit very carefully. I look at their last 6-12 months of releases and check their Amazon rankings. If those rankings tend to show strong evidence of good sales for almost all their releases, then I can be pretty sure that the publisher is marketing the books. If the Amazon ranking on their releases looks more like a “shotgun blast”, with some doing well, some making a few sales, and some doing poorly, then I know that the publisher is doing diddly for marketing, because that’s what any random sampling of halfway decent indie books looks like – the wide spread of results is indicative of author promotion without publisher support (or at least without effective publisher support).

    If I see that sort of wide spread, I’m probably going to pass on the publisher unless they are willing to cough up a pretty decent advance, because why would I give away 3/4 of my profits unless doing so is going to make me enough MORE sales than I can do by myself to make up the difference?

    1. Thanks for your post, Kevin. I agree, you can make a living in this business, but it’s hard work. Many, many, many beginning (and not so beginning) writers don’t get that. That being said, the old adage ‘work hard and believe in yourself’ definitely fits.

  5. This is quite on the button, my lady! I teach college students how to communicate in writing, and many are not prepared for the harsh reality of learning grammar, much less the daunting task of perfecting the use of their vocabularies and reading for meaning. Reading was a lot like working out–you have to puncture that ego threshhold–until you can begin to get strong and be able to critique and understand the author. As Marshal McLuhan once said, “Reading is a hot medium,” and it requires a lot from the participant. The youth of today are completely raised in the “Cool” mediums of TV and the Internet. No wonder they think they are part of the show without ever having to work to get there. Thanks for an insightful article!

    1. Thank you, Jim. I heard that a lot from teachers at the college where I worked. Writing is a craft. Craft=honing, work, learning, practice. Thanks for your comments. Esp. love the ‘puncture that ego-threshold’ comment ๐Ÿ™‚ So true.

  6. Hear hear! I found myself nodding along with this. Humility, politeness and a heck of a lot of graft. That’s what you need these days if you want to make it at all. (And determination.)

    1. LOL Carol! Personally, I use as much graft as I possibly can (of course, it isn’t much at this point). I ain’t a poli sci major for nothin’ ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Very well said. Writing is hard and an everyday learning experience. Indeed there are many new writers at their debut work who think the next day it will be their “50 shades of” glory (ie, selling by the millions). On Amazon threads they often go on rantingโ€”even beyond the MOA threadsโ€”because readers are not buying their masterpiece, everyone must be idiot and ignorant.

    Humility and determination, willingness to learn, admit own mistakes, LISTEN to critics, and probably be lucky enough to be able to hire a publicist at the 3rd of 4th novel out. Being open to readers, enjoy reviews, the well thought out, matter not the star, and thinking about readers as the most important individuals out there, not as cows to milk.

    Another thing that really hurt is the plethora of writers filling up pages with typos, grammar errors, plot holes, flat characters, and then lamenting why readers have such a low opinion about self-publishing authors. Mind, it is a great (r)evolution in the publishing industry but sometimes I ask myself whether a filter should not be in place before allowing a MS to become a distributed ebook.

    1. Good points, Massimo. There used to be a filter–it was called the slush pile–but it became so clogged, very few new writers were emerging. Now, the readers decide. And though it’s not a perfect system, it has its good points.

  8. Amen! I’ve learned that it’s okay to say you’re a newbie. It’s okay to ask for help. Yes, I may have 7 novels on the market, but I’m the first to admit I don’t know half of what I should. I have a wonderful editor, and she makes my work all that much better. I take time to market, do research, and apply what I have learned, but I’m still a newbie. And even as I dip my toe into Hollywood waters, I’ve found that folks are more open if you show a generous helping of humility, a little hero worship, and admit you don’t know $#!t about the industry. I count myself lucky that my script is in the hands of 2 A-list producers, and fingers and toes crossed that I haven’t come off as a total moron rookie in my writing. If that’s the case, I’ll go back to the drawing board. But humility will always be there, even if I make it to a major best seller status.

    Excellent post!

  9. Great post! I think the term “baptism by fire” is appropriate for the newbie!! I have learned so much in the first year that I had no idea existed. Thanks for being there to learn it all with you ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Seems like most people (newbie writers included) are of the opinion that anyone who gets published will be a millionaire in no time. When folks at my day job find out I am a published author, they immediately ask, “Why are you still working HERE?” I have to explain to them calmly that only 1/2 of 1% of all people who write can live on what they make. Anyone who writes because they think they will get rich is sadly mistaken. But for those of us who write because we love it, because we can’t NOT write, getting published and selling a few books is gravy. I certainly won’t complain.

    1. There are thousands of people making a fair living off fiction writing alone, just in the USA. There are tens of thousands of people making a living from some form of writing.

      Most people don’t get rich. But it’s possible to make a living from your writing stories. If I wasn’t very confident of that, trust me, I’d be finding someplace else to work in storytelling. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I write because I am good at it, enjoy it, AND because it’s a very good way to make a living if you write well and are willing to put in the hours. Selling books isn’t gravy for me. Never was. Selling books is to me what selling plates of dinner is to a restaurant owner.

      The writing is art. The selling is business.

    2. Love this, Melissa! Although self-publishing is changing those numbers (slowly) it’s still tough to make a living. And, like any self-employed person, a writer isn’t guaranteed the books that are selling now will be selling next month.

  11. Yes, as was previously said, you’re right on with your thoughts, DV. I think sometimes we become so insulated on here by spending our time communicating with other folks who know what’s really happening out there that we forget we’re probably in the minority. Most writers, especially new writers, don’t know the cold, hard facts. That’s why articles like yours and Indies Unlimited in general are such are so important in terms of getting the word out.
    Thanks for a very fine article, my friend.

    1. You’re welcome ๐Ÿ™‚ As usual, Martin, you’re spot-on: insulated is right. I know I need to change my assumptions when I teach classes on self-publishing. The students range from traditionally published authors to no knowledge of how to order a book on Amazon. Class discussions are interesting, to say the least.

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