Authors Need to Eat, Too
Like many people in our Living Large community, I enjoy nothing better than a good book.
Today, that typically means a good book on my Kindle Fire, which I love, BTW.
It was my turn to choose a book for my book club and having read the reviews for “Gone Girl,” a new novel by Gillian Flynn, I went against the grain of our typical book club fare and announced it for my pick.
It goes against the grain of our typical book club read because it is a new release and those are hard to come by at the library around here.
Although contemporary and a good read, which has already been optioned into a movie by 20th Century Fox to be produced by Reese Witherspoon, some of the ladies in my book club still showed resistance.
“Are you sure we’re going to be able to find this?” One woman asked during our meeting last week.
Ironically, “Gone Girl” is set around the marriage of two writers, both of whom lost their print magazine jobs during the crash of 2008 that sent the publishing industry and nearly everyone connected to it into its own personal recession.
My own freelance writing business, which relied heavily on print magazines and newspapers at the time, was sent into a tailspin and I was left scrambling to reinvent my business for web writing, or risk losing it. By then, I had my business for a decade. This was not an option, since working from anywhere is partly what enabled us to move to Our Little House in the first place.
Dale also lost his job in 2008 and another in 2010, which made for some interesting times for us over the course of 18 months.
In the book, we watch as the financial strain causes the protagonist’s marriage to unravel. The wife goes missing and the husband is suspected in her disappearance (ala Dateline, which the author refers to in her prose, isn’t it always the husband on those episodes of Dateline?). The book’s author, a New York based magazine writer who was laid off in 2008, nails the industry’s plight well. It is an excellent psychological thriller that had me glued to the very end.
I find the book’s subject ironic because many of the women in my book club don’t buy new books. That’s why we typically read older books, the ones they can find at our library (when they chose the book I wrote to read one month, I supplied the free copy for everyone to read and only one woman asked to purchase a copy). I find it ironic too, since one of the others in the group who admits she is “too cheap” to buy a book was once a working writer.
I don’t blame people for wanting to save money – although money doesn’t seem a major concern for many, if any, in this group – I too will check out books from my library and I will also purchase older books used.
But I also understand how this business works for most writers. We slave away for months on book proposals and manuscripts (as I am doing right now) without seeing a dime of income until the book sells, it is published and the book starts registering sales.
Even when that happens, we are lucky if we make 20 percent of the sale of each book and very, very lucky if we sell 5,000 copies, about enough to earn what the federal government describes as “low income” for an annual salary. Most books don’t even earn that.
In the meantime, our bills still come due each month and we have to juggle our time between paying assignments and writing our books. A good friend of ours recently asked how my own book manuscript is coming (due October 15) and I replied, “Slow.” He asked if writer’s block was the problem and I told him the real problem is juggling the paying work with the book writing.
When we commit to a book manuscript, what most writers who haven’t made it into the best-selling-movie-deal-category yet are committing to is giving up our leisure time during those months, as our work time has to continue to be devoted to our day job, the paying stuff.
In essence, it is a second job.
I read an interview with Gillian Flynn, who was no different. She wrote both of her first two novels while she worked her day job at the magazine.
I know many people either don’t know how the publishing business works for authors or they don’t stop to think about it.
So, when the woman from book club asked if we were going to be able to find the book to read at the library (i.e. for free), I got out, “I don’t know, I paid for it and downloaded it on my Kindle…” but I’m glad it was before I could add the snarky, “…..helping the author actually make a living for entertaining me.” I was interrupted by another woman who verified that she indeed did find it at the library, but that everyone (presumably the other dozen or so members) would have to hurry and read it before it was due back because there was a waiting list.
Gillian Flynn finally has “made it.” She scored enough sales on her first two books to get the publisher to give her a contract on the third, which finally landed her that coveted spot of having a movie made from the book, typically where the big money is. She probably won’t have to work nights and weekends again writing her 4th or even 5th, 6th or 7th books while she holds down a day job, but that’s only because enough people were willing to pay her for her talent on the first three.
Do you check out books, buy new books, used books or never buy them at all?