Last week, I wrote about the number one question that writers get, and this week, I’m writing about the second most common question that writers get, and probably one of the most annoying ones. I’ve found this question to be more common from Americans, who are bottom-line driven.
When I tell people I’m a writer, I typically get a slew of questions. Aside from “are you published?” (yes) and “where can I buy your books” (here), I’d like to take a moment to answer some of the questions people seem to like to ask me, how I feel about those questions, and which ones you should never ask of any writer.
- Where do you get your ideas?
- How much money do you make?
- What’s your writing/book/short story about?
- What is your writing process like?
- I want to write a book about [x]. How do I do it?
- Do you ever get writer’s block?
- Why do you write horror? What’s wrong with you?
- Why don’t you write like Harry Potter novels or something? Those make lots of money.
I find it funny that this is the number two question, because it’s a shit question (that’s right, I made a poop joke). While I’d love to be able to support myself entirely on book sales, the truth is, less than 10% of writers in the world actually support themselves exclusively on their books/novels. The vast majority of writers have second jobs that support their writing habit. If they don’t, they don’t get to write.
So many writers—90% of them—have jobs to feed their real career. Some are editors, freelance writers, ghostwriters, and in publishing already. Some have jobs completely unrelated to their real career as a writer. Some are doctors, nurses, psychologists, attorneys, pet shop owners, customer service representatives, data entry clerks, fast food workers, wait staff, etc.
Stop asking this question. First, loads of writers you consider well-known wrote as their passion and had second jobs to support their writing. It does not make their writing any less legitimate. Second, it’s really not your business how much a person makes. Third, it may or may not be a measure of their success. They may consider even selling one book to be a success. I was high on Amazon’s best seller list for the first month of my book launch, but what was “success” in my mind was finishing the book.
It’s not a hobby. It’s the career we want and have in a world where it is generally unsustainable without a second supporting job.
When people ask me that question I give them my stock answer: “enough that I need a second job.” That usually clears things up and says, politely and perhaps a bit humorously, the subject is not up for discussion.
If you’re a writer, there is no shame in having a second job. Just be sure to find one where you’re not so exhausted at the end of the day that you can’t write. That’s the tricky part. But do keep writing. Your next manuscript might be the one that catches fire and you can live off your book earnings. See, we never know which stories will become the next viral hit and which ones will flop. If your goal is to become one of the 10%, then you have to keep writing with that in your mind.
If you’re a reader, please stop asking this question. It’s nosy, annoying, and shows your complete lack of interest in anything the writer is interested in. Most writers would much rather talk about their work rather than their income.
We write because we have the need to do so. If it becomes lucrative, then so be it. We keep writing, regardless.
This post is dedicated to my friend, Jim McDonald. Great writer. Wish I was at Dragon Con with him last weekend! Go buy his books, especially if you love fantasy novels.