It’s become clear to me over the years that a lot of people (or most of my family at least!) have little idea what being a published author actually means. When I got my book deal from Arrow back in 2012, my family were divided between those who assumed that I would now be dashing out bestsellers every few weeks and comfortably making millions (Auntie Thora) and others who assumed I’d make less than no money and that it’d take forever (Uncle Frank).
I hated to disillusion them – well, Auntie Thora anyway, who I was secretly hoping might be right. But the truth, as ever, lay somewhere in between. So, much as I love myths, I thought I’d dispel a few of the favourites.
It generally takes more than a handful of days to write a novel.
I know, shocker, right. Sorry Auntie Thora.
A lot of fiction writers need at least a year to produce a book and it takes me a little longer. Now, of course, there are exceptions to this. Kazuo Ishiguro famously dashed off The Remains of the Day during a four week “crash”. Oh yeah, and probably made millions from it. But that’s far from the norm. A handful of writers do extremely well (I’m thinking JK Rowling, EL James, John Grisham, James Patterson). A good number do well enough to write full time. But the largest proportion, including myself, work part time to supplement the money they make from their books.
However, I don’t think it’s ever quite as bad as Uncle Frank had imagined. I remember him asking me when he came to visit once if we’d had to re-mortgage the house to give money to the publishers (about £50,000 he seemed to think). Slightly taken aback, I explained that that wasn’t quite how it worked – that the publishers in fact paid me an advance so that I could spend time writing. They then recovered that from the profits of the book, and were entitled to far greater profits than me because they were the ones taking the risk. Uncle Frank looked genuinely shocked. I’d obviously dislodged some long held view of the way things worked.
When I showed him the study where I write, he went on to voice what I think is a more commonly held view. ‘Ah, so this is where you sit and wait for inspiration!’ I nodded and laughed, not wanting to disabuse him again. But it doesn’t really work like that either. Contrary to what most of my family think, I am not generally found wandering around my house in a kaftan, sipping on mint juleps and waiting for the muse to strike. More’s the pity. I’d love to be doing that on a daily basis. But instead, I am found in that same study, tapping away, trying hard to improve my writing.
In short, being a writer is much like any other career. The longer you do it, the better you become at it. You have to slog away – the breakthroughs come because you’re working hard, not because you’re waiting for moments of genius to descend. There are deadlines and pressures – just like any other job. It’s a tough and uncertain career. Time is spent agonising over whether people will like your book or whether in fact anyone will buy it at all! And it can be lonely, stuck in your own head for so much of the time. But that’s where the joys of social media come in. Through it I’ve met so many lovely authors and fabulous book bloggers who provide a huge amount of positivity and support.
All things considered, the good, the bad and the ugly, I love being a writer. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.