I just read Heather Demetrios’s Medium article “How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying.”
If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works … I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions. I would have set a foundation for a healthy life as an artist, laying the groundwork to thrive in uncertainty, to avoid desperation, panic, and bad decisions that would affect me for years to come.
How would my life be different if a fellow writer or someone in the industry had told me that the money I’d be receiving for my advances was absolutely no indication of what I could make on future book deals? What pain could I have avoided if they had advised me not to spend that money as though there would be more where that came from? I suspect I may have avoided a near nervous breakdown and not come so perilously close to financial ruin and creative burnout. But no one came forward.
The article is fascinating, and well worth a read by any author, traditional or indy, but it’s hard to feel any sympathy for Demetrios after that introduction.
Anyone who is blaming his or her unhealthy artistic life, desperation, panic, and near nervous breakdown on the fact that others did not offer unsolicited professional and financial advice–in fact, anyone who needs to be told “not to spend money as though there would be more where that came from”–is, I’m afraid, headed for more of the same.
The question she should be asking herself is, “How would my life be different if I had done some research into how the publishing world works?”
I’d somehow missed several critical aspects of the business, and that was on me (to some extent). Surely there were writers who had gotten the memo about how advances worked, and the ins and outs of publishing.
The responsibility for understanding critical aspects of the publishing business is on the author to every extent, and the “memo” about how advances work is the contract. The author–traditional or indy–may not have the background to understand the technicalities of a contract or the budgeting implications of an uneven income stream, but the resources are out there to help one navigate those tricky shoals.
I love the metaphor of boat building and navigation as an analogy for the author’s craft and career, and the boating equivalent of Demetrios’s attitude would be like coming back to port after a turbulent voyage and whining, “Why didn’t anyone tell me there was a sandbar out there? Why didn’t anyone radio me when the storm started to roll in?” Because as the captain of your voyage, you should have had nautical charts with you, and gotten weather forecasts before you set off.
Demetrios ends the article with some great advice:
- If you’re a writer, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t worry about seeming too green, too naive. You do yourself no favors when you apologize for yourself. You have a seat at the table. Dig in. Ask for seconds.
- Always be an advocate for yourself. Wanting answers and seeking accountability is not demanding, it’s good business. Know what you want, value what you have to offer, and ask for what you need — from your publishers, your agency, and anyone else on your team.
- Seek quality mentorship from writers who are further ahead of you on the path, and have the kind of career and author presence you aspire to. Don’t engage in water-cooler complaining sessions. Be an active character in your story, and someday, when you become the experienced author, pay it forward.
But she suggests that she’s the only person out there offering this type of support to authors, and if that’s what she believes, then she is still not doing her homework. There are loads of resources for authors (including Medium‘s Page Count website, where Demetrios’s article first appeared). Three of my favorites are:
- Joanna Penn’s Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur
- Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer
- The Alliance of Independent Authors
You can find tons more by Googling “author business resources,” “publishing contracts explained,” and similar.
As an author, make a commitment that you won’t rely on the kindness of strangers to pilot your craft through its voyage.