January 10, 2013
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

(picture from the Cornell University Library.  The money represented in this image has very little to do with the money discussed in this post — First Second does not have anything whatsoever to do with bimetallism, thank you very much!)

Over the winter holiday break, I watched the beginning of Murder, She Wrote, which I had never seen before.  I was bemused to find that the protagonist writing a book and getting it published (having never met, talked to, or corresponded with her editor, publicist, or publisher at all prior to the book’s publication date) and in a matter of a few short days after publication getting on the New York Times Best-Seller List, afterwards getting on all the morning tv and radio shows.  She was in fact so popular that her publisher brought her to New York City to stay there in a hotel indefinitely just in case (as far as I could tell) any future media requests came up.  Realism was brought in only inasmuch as Fictional!Writer Jessica Fletcher does not hit #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List — just #2.

So in the interest of fairness, aboveboardness, and honesty, I feel that I should let you know — aspiring writers and artists, this is not your life.  I caveat to say — if you do the equivalent of winning the publishing lottery and producing the next Twilight, it could possibly be your life.  But as with the regular lottery, many will enter; few will win.

If you’re a person who’d like to do writing and/or art for a career, making books is definitely one of your options.  It’s one of the more obvious, visible options, because books!  It turns out that people who like writing and art tend to have encountered books before in their lives, as books tend to contain both writing and art (well, depending on the book) and are widely available in both libraries and schools, both of which everyone in the US is forced to go to as a child.

How do these careers in making books work?  Do you just write and/or draw a book, find a publisher, and then you’re set for life — you can just sit back and let your career proceed and the money roll in (following being on all the morning shows and hitting #2 on the NYTimes List)?

That’s not typically how it goes (sadly for all of us).  While there are a few lucky people for whom that may be the reality, for most people who are professional writers and illustrators, keeping their career afloat requires continual networking with booksellers, comic book sellers, librarians, teachers, and readers — as well as agents and publishers — to make sure that every book they write or illustrate gets peoples’ attention and sells well.  A lot of writers I know (not necessarily ones who do comics, because those tend to take longer on the drawing end) write at least one book a year; some people write as many as six (!) books a year, some of them work-for-hire projects under pseudonyms.  And on top of that, many of those people still have full or part time jobs, or do a lot of freelance work.

I think it’s wonderful that people do chose to make books.  But it’s not necessarily the easiest career, and getting from point A of publishing your first book to point Z of being Stephen King, or even to point X of making a living and being able to support yourself and your family solely off your books, is something that most people starting at point A never achieve.

So if you’re thinking about pursuing a career in book publishing, it’s a good idea to have more then the thoughts of Uncle Scrooge-esque piles of gold in your future to motivate you.  You also have to love what you’re doing — and be willing to work very, very hard.

2 Comments on “ Publishing: It’s Not About the Money ”

  • kim baker | January 10th, 2013 1:23 pm

    Disillusioned! I’ve just been assuming I had a hotel room near the Flatiron at the ready, just in case.
    I’m going to watch Murder, She Wrote over my (ramen) lunchbreak….

  • Devlin Thompson | January 23rd, 2013 7:03 pm

    While I don’t know how they’ve placed on the NYT list, I should note that Jessica Fletcher has written and published 39 real-life books in the last 24 years, without even bothering to actually exist. Would-be authors need to understand that you’re not only in competition with other writers, but a veritable army of phantoms– Richard Bachmann, Franklin W> Dixon, Carolyn Keene, Ellery queen, and Newt Gingrich, to name but a few!

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