Monday, September 23, 2019

Why We Do This.

My newest book, Graveyard Bay, launched on September 10th. In the past week, I’ve done several book signings, one book talk (with dinner), and was a featured author at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance show in South Carolina. Next weekend, I’m flying to Scottsdale, AZ, to sign books at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

Since the launch, I’ve had readers tell me that the book has kept them up at night reading. One told me she stayed up until four in the morning so that she could finish the book. A work colleague told me a similar story, giving me a slight shudder when she talked about the scary ending.

That’s what we do this for, isn’t it? To know that you’ve told a good story? To know that you might have scared the bejesus out of someone? To know that you might have made a lasting impression and a new fan?

If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Early on in my writing career, I showed my wife a royalty check that was smaller than the others. Her comment was, “It’ll come.”

My answer to her was, “Well, you know I don’t do this for the money.”

That’s when she grabbed me by the front of my shirt and said, “I never want to hear you say that again.”

Perhaps it didn't happen quite like that, but I'm a storyteller.

It would be fabulous to be that tiny percentage of mystery authors who can make a decent living and not need a day job. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the President of our Chamber of Commerce here on the coast of North Carolina and being a cheerleader for this area is a wonderful experience. I'm not anywhere near ready to retire yet.

But writing is my passion. I do it because I love it. The reality is I could not live solely on the income from my books—yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Just not today.

Last July I attended Thrillerfest in New York and one of the events it a debut authors breakfast. There were about twenty writers who have either recently released a thriller or was about to. They had a chance to spend about two minutes talking to the audience about themselves and their books.

What was most disconcerting was that there were four or five of them who announced to the large crowd that, now they had a book under their belt, they had quit their day jobs. The crowd loved hearing that and applauded.

I wanted to grab those authors by their shirts, the way my wife had grabbed mine, and say, “Why the hell did you do that? That’s premature. You have to be realistic.”

Here’s a short explanation about how this generally works. Unless you’re self-published, and that’s a whole other subject, once you sign a contract with a publisher, the author receives half of the agreed upon advance.

Once the book has undergone revisions with the publisher’s editor and is locked and loaded for release, the author receives the second half of the advance.

That advance is not a gift. It’s exactly what it says it is--an advance on earned royalties from book sales. The author is paid a percentage of the number of books that are sold. If you don’t sell enough books to cover the advance (and you certainly hope that you do), the author doesn’t see another dime.

That’s why we authors are always hustling to promote ourselves and our books.

I think the best way to sum this all up is with a quote from another Poisoned Pen Press author, Jeffrey Siger. Mr. Siger is a former Wall Street lawyer who did manage to quit his day job to become a full-time mystery/thriller writer who also lives half of the year on a Greek island. In an interview, he said of becoming a full-time writer, “I’m also a realist, and in making my decision I knew and appreciated that writing, as with any career in the arts, is a lousy way to make a living, but a wonderful way to make a life.”

Thank you, Mr. Siger.


Rick Blechta said...

Good post, Tom, in fact so good that I'm going to riff on it during my post today!


Thomas Kies said...

Help yourself, Rick!!

David P. Wagner said...

That's it, Tom. I'm quitting my day job. Wait a minute, I'm already retired. Anyway, great post. Give my regards to all the gang at the Pen.