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Dear friends of writers, I am going to share one eensy weensy bit of advice that can drastically change the lives of your writer friends: telling us, the writers, that you enjoyed our work does absolutely nothing for our bottom line. What does do something for our bottom line is telling others.
Don’t just comment on blog posts; share them. Don’t just buy and read the book; write an honest review (good writers will not be hurt if it’s not a glowing 5-star rave-fest). If something a friend wrote moves you; share it with someone else who may also be moved by it. Do the same if something a friend wrote incites you and makes your blood boil. It’s fine! It’s all fine.
Don’t get me wrong; of course, I enjoy hearing that others liked what I wrote. But to be frank, most of the people who read my work are not writers themselves and so they don’t really understand the process that results in quality writing, and how or why it differs from one writer to the next.
Yet so often when I personally check engagement on my posts, there are many link-clicks to go through to read the work (which is both exciting and appreciated!) but hardly ever anything for shares. I know the links aren’t being distributed otherwise because I see the traffic sources and destinations for all of my platforms. I know this is often similar for other writers, too.
Praise does not pay a writer or author’s bills. It’s supremely frustrating to see so much praise and appreciation for the work and many people agreeing it should be one’s profession, but think the power of it becoming one’s profession is in others’ hands. It’s not. Writers and authors are nothing without readers, and you are only one of them.
How writers and authors get paid is complicated. There are so many ways to generate income, but none of them are guaranteed or stable.
It’s not easy to just “get a book deal,” which is what’s known as traditional publishing. It involves many months of waiting, query letter writing (think cover letter for your books), synopses, and also shopping for an agent to make the process just a tiny bit easier…and agents are people you also have to impress and convince that you are worth being on their roster. And that is just getting signed to a publisher. And all that comes after you already wrote (revised, edited, and re-wrote) the manuscript, which can also take months.
Traditional publishing is a years-long process that does not see the big dollar signs people think it does. This isn’t as common, but it can also screw talented authors out of their intellectual property and control over their work.
On the other end of the spectrum is a broad brush of self-publishing and freelance writing. I don’t just mean books, but also blogging and copywriting for clients. There is a constant struggle with this; for freelance writers to land clients they have to pay their bills but so many other writers out there will take a job for pennies per word.
Creative work, in general, is not valued fairly. We all consume, appreciate, and adore art of all kinds in our daily lives. Humming along to our favorite jams in the morning to waiting all year for Superbowl commercials—those all require intense creative output. Writing is the least valued of them all due to the opaque (and lonely) nature of the work. Consumers generally have some knowingness that movies don’t just happen, nor does music, or stage productions. But books and writing just appear out of thin air, right? It only takes an hour to read so it must have only taken a few to write.
If I went any further down the rabbit hole of what it takes to actually bring a book or even a well-written article to your screen or put in your hands, we’d be here for quite some time. Which none of us have. But the reality is is that writing of any kind often requires up-front costs (time, resources, and equipment at least) and there’s a high risk it won’t pay off.
For all the time I have been writing, my most profitable month is this one, November 2019. It’ll land me, for the first time ever, a three-figure payment. Wow! Three figures! Yeah, a whopping $100 or so. That’s a good month for a writer like me (and I have Medium to thank for it, really!)
My next Amazon royalty payment will be $4.17. That doesn’t even get me back and forth to my day job for one single day!
I think sometimes what holds people back from doing this kind of stuff is the pressure to “sell” or be a street-teamer, and it can be especially off-putting for those who are not outgoing or wordsmiths of their own.
But if you genuinely want to help your starving-artist friends, independently research what it takes and costs for them to produce their work to get an idea of what goes on behind the scenes (it’s not magic, I’ll tell you that much). Ask them questions. Tell your friends you appreciate their work and that you want others to enjoy it, too, and ask them how to make that happen. I promise it won’t always be “please sign a blank check so I can live in the mountains off-grid for six months and finish my masterpiece” but maybe we think it sometimes.
Think of a band or actor you admire, one you’re a big fan of. Do you recommend some of their music to others or absolutely insist your new friend has to watch your favorite film with you? Consider how you follow their career. And then do that for the writer friend whose work you genuinely are a fan of. Be a fan! Trust me, the genuine enthusiasm and interest in your friend’s career as a whole will go far. Others around you will sense it, too.
Fanfiction—an astounding genre all its own—is a whole other ballgame, but that’s a story for another day.
I don’t sell ad space, but writing costs me a lot of time and resources. Consider my memoir, NORDISCO, which is available directly on this site or through Amazon. If you would like to support my work in other ways, click here, or follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Thank you and best wishes!