Now that we are going through some economic turmoil, the new query vogue is for authors to mention their financial troubles and their hopes that they will be able to make money by writing.
I have a few thoughts.
1) This is hugely depressing
2) Step awaaaaaay from the computer
Yes, we’ve all heard the story of authors who were dressed in rags and eating cans of beans before they wrote a hit novel and became richer than oil barons.
But honestly, this is kind of like trying to resolve your financial problems by attempting to win the lottery. Only a lottery ticket costs a dollar and doesn’t take hundreds of hours to buy.
There is no such thing as getting rich quick in publishing. It takes forever! Let’s say you DO write a book that becomes a big hit. First you have to spend hours and hours and hours writing it, then you have to find an agent, then you have to find a publisher, then you get maybe half the advance, then you have to wait a long time until it’s published, then you have to wait for it to take off, then you have to wait for the royalty period to end and maybe four months after that the publisher will pay you. By the time your money actually comes in we could all be using some currency of the future and novels could be BEAMED DIRECTLY TO OUR HEADS.
But. At the very least, if you are trying to escape penury through publication, do not mention it in your query. I get enough bad news every time I open Publishers Lunch.
Wait. That was a depressing post. PUPPIES!!
Linda Lou says
Want to make great money by writing? Become a technical writer. I get paid well and although I don’t give a crap about the stuff I’m writing about, every day I am practicing my craft. Technical writing teaches you to “write tight,” which is essential to creative writing as well.
Nathan’s depiction of the publishing process is a reality that, for me, puts more weight on the self-publishing side of the scales.
Funny, I get encouraged by the deal reports every time I look at Publishers Lunch. People are still selling books! There’s still hope!
Kim Lionetti says
Hmmmm… Nathan’s away for weeks and when he returns there’s talk of a wedding… Spencer and Heidi announce their union while he’s gone… Coincidence? I think not.
Could it be there was a double ceremony in Cabo?
Betty Atkins Dominguez says
You should hear my woes, you'd all send money and I'd get rich that way alone…. oh, XC#@!& With this lot, I'd have a better chance with publishing!
No mention of Speidi getting married, Nathan? No Mention of Nana on the Hills list night? I am so disappointed.
Stephen Moegling says
As a new novelist who just landed an agent, I can say honestly that my brain did strange things when it came time to write my first queries. It didn’t matter how many books and articles I read on the subject, or even the great seminars I went to conducted by agents –when I sat to write the Immortal Query––I made the same novice errors I suspect most newbie novelists make, which tend to involve wearing your heart on your sleeve. Writing a one-page letter that sells yourself and your beloved work felt to me as hard as writing my novel. With that said, I never told an agent that I was flat broke and needed a miracle. Ouch.
Confucius say, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
My ultimate dream is to be able to live off my fiction writing. I don’t expect it to be easy or to happen quickly. But if I could make even a lower middle class living by writing fiction, I’d be able to write all day, every day, without a day job getting in the way. Which, for me, would be heaven.
For now, I’ll struggle through on tech writing and copywriting contracts, just happy I’m making something of a life writing. But the dream will always be there.
Oh, and give me a grown dog any day. Mine may be getting old, but he’s still damned cute.
You’re so good at answering questions, I have one that piqued my curiosity.
In a recent Publisher’s Lunch e-newsletter, there’s an abbreviation (I think) after the notice of sales, e.g., “Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively’s FAMILY ALBUM, to Carole de Santi at Viking, for publication in fall 2009, by Emma Sweeney (NA).”
What does the “(NA)” mean?
Thanks, and sorry for this off-topic post. 😀
Nathan Bransford says
North America. So, the rights sold are for the US and Canada.
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
It’s pitiful, I suppose…but I feel exactly the same way:
“But if I could make even a lower middle class living by writing fiction, I’d be able to write all day, every day, without a day job getting in the way. Which, for me, would be heaven.”
Vancouver Dame says
Welcome back, Nathan, hope you had a great time. The guest bloggers were interesting, but it’s your humor, and your honesty about publishing that keeps me coming back to read your blog.
Mentioning the state of one’s finances in relation to writing is overstepping the bounds of professionalism. What is the purpose – to gain your pity, rather than your respect as an author? I’m amazed at what people will say to get one-up on the other guy. I’m sure we could all think of reasons why our book should be the next breakout novel. Thanks for telling us what NOT to put in a query. That list keeps getting longer or is it my imagination?
I figure if I write a successful novel and I win the lottery, I will have fame and fortune. And if follow the rules my mother taught me, I’ll have a few friends left, too.
Probably need to do all three.
Maybe I’ll pet my cat the rest of today.
I suppose I understand authors wanting to hit it big with their book so they can not only quit their day job, but so they can actually have money, but I am surprised they are mentioning it in a query. I guess I just look at getting published as a way to have your story told, not just to make money. If money is your main motivation, chances are your book is not going to be very good.
It’s a sad fact of our warped logic, here in the UK as in the US, that we pride ourselves on our recognition of reading as a Wonderful Thing while doing as little as possible to reward the people whose skills provide us with words to read.
Maybe there’s a parallel universe where people choose plumbing and astrophysics for their Very Costly Hobby…
A humble request…
Do you, by any chance, happen to know who Secret Dubai (the blogger: secretdubai.blogspot.com) is?
My will to write is sloughing off like… like… I can’t even come up with a frikkin’ simile here! That’s it; I’m going back to my day job as an assassin for hire. At least it pays well, and the flexible hours make it possible for me to be with my kids when the come home from school.
Heidi the Hick says
Yeah, I write because I love it and because I have a strong need to tell stories blah blah blah
I wanna get paid for it!
It’s worth it. We need to put a value on creativity and imagination.
Be careful, Mr. Bransford. I’m a recovering rasslin’ fan. After listening to Jerry Lawler for years, an exclamation like “Puppies!” can have an entirely different meaning.
Though, if you were just trying to lighten the mood, I guess that could still work for some people…
Avily Jerome says
People actually mention their financial woes in queries?!? How tacky!
“Dear Mr. Bransford, please pick my book to represent, because, even though I haven’t done my homework and it isn’t well written and it doesn’t have a great plot, I need it more than anyone else because I’m poor.”
Hi Nathan, I did a double take when I saw this post. I have a blog
(note to self: update blog).
I’m a freelance journalist and in that capacity I think people should put their writing on a business footing and regard their name as a brand. Good publications will always need good writers. However, if $$$$$ are your main focus in life then writing is the WRONG career.
It’s summer where I live, and the work slows until late January so rather than sitting about feeling broke I save a little bit through the year to tide me over each summer so I can throw myself into my fiction. This may pay off later or not. But I love it now.
Something for those who throw pity parties for themselves in their queries to consider;
If agents actually saw low financial status as a quality worth consideration in their choice of new representees, most writers would have agents!
I would never even THINK of mentioning financial woes in my query letter.
I mean, anyone can make up a sob story–they have to realize agents won’t fall for it.
Then again, perhaps they’ve become desperate…or just weren’t all that wise to begin with. 😛
I predict this economy will produce more writers. It’s harder to write when everything is peachy, isn’t it?
I’m wondering…do you think it pays to mention your a trust fund brat with so much money you could fly your agent to Paris every day?
I might just do that when I get around to writing query letters. Nathan, your such an inspiration.
There goes all my hopes and dreams. Crushed. Thanks a lot. 😉
I dunno, Nate-dawg. I think a lot of people are experiencing layoffs right now and I’ll bet some of ’em just wanna signal how much free time they have, in theory making them a better client. I say: ignore it, remember you agents are filters as well as a salesmen. Our freaky writer personalities keep you guys in the biz.
Jeff Carlson says
Dude, sign me up for the novels BEAMED DIRECTLY TO MY HEAD!!! 😉
“But honestly, this is kind of like trying to resolve your financial problems by attempting to win the lottery. Only a lottery ticket costs a dollar and doesn’t take hundreds of hours to buy.”
That is soooo my line. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks!
Nathan Bransford says
Whoops! Did I steal that one from you?
Things that involve lottery tickets, check cashing stores, and other features of life on the bad sign of town are often registered trademarks of mine. Not because I alone live with them, but because I’m the only one in the ‘hood who would think to make them into marketable phrases. Even rap usually avoids stuff like that.
Just so you know. 🙂
I appreciate this post, because I think people need to be reminded that writing is not a fast way to make money. Especially those who are new to the ‘business,’ but are in trouble, and are looking for a ‘way out.’
But I think we can also be compassionate here. Some people are in serious trouble, and are feeling desparate. When that happens, people don’t always think clearly, and they may include phrases in their queries or cover letters that are too personal (like, I need money.) Survival fears are the worst – it can be truly terrifying if you don’t know how you’re going to survive financial.
I think the gift of this post, is that Nathan is encouraging people to be realistic. That’s important in an economic downturn like this. Put your eggs financially in a basket that is likely to pay off, not a lottery ticket.
For myself and my friends that work for various newspapers and magazines in Colorado(Vail Daily, Aspen Times, Glenwood Post/Independent, to name a few), food is overrated! (Colorado was listed as one of the leanest states in the union according to an obesity poll done nationwide w/in last year or so, if not the leanest state … don’t remember) PC in CO would read: will write for ski pass. S. Susan VanLeeuwen
People can be very odd. Sadly some people try to play a sad song to get their way. I heard a story in the news of a mother who told a bunch of lies to get some Hannah Montana tickets for her daughter.(It is beyond me why you would do anything like this anyways…but for… Hannah Montana? …Why?) She was caught in the lie and she had the tickets taken from her after she won a contest for her sad story.(Maybe she could have written a book…? She might have been convincing…?) Anyways my point is this, if you want to deceive people it shouldn’t be to someone who you are trying to establish a relationship with; Bad, bad, choice of opener. It’s like telling a first date you have a sexually transmitted disease. (Yuck…) I don’t think they will want a kiss goodnight, or that second date. NEXT!
Holy crud, what was I thinking? My mother owns a catering company, I was her assistant until I was 23, now am mere consultant. I own a designer spice company … very popular with chefs and waitstaff in the Vail resorts (Saucy Wentch Spice Co (please note misspelling of Wench.) I’ve got resumes and testimonials. PROPOSAL: I’LL FEED YOU IF YOU WRITE MY QUERY LETTER!!! How ’bout it?