We all have in mind the story of an author or an artist who has succeeded overnight. Ostensibly.
Because behind any success fulgurant (and durable), there is especially a lot of work. But it is difficult to visualize the hours of solitude to write, the nights to worry about the future, renewed efforts to succeed. So we dream of the same result.
However, there are also many writers and artists who have decent incomes and of which you have probably never heard (at random: me?). Almost as in all trades, by the way.
Become a writer: a career like any other?
99% of authors who publish their first book sell a fairly modest number. Often a few dozen. Sometimes a few hundred. Sometimes, just a few copies. And it’s completely normal.
After all, the first time you got an internship or a job, were you immediately promoted to CEO of your box? I guess no … And there’s no real reason for it to be different in literary life.
Of course, there are the lucky ones. Those who have a network. The smart guys who find shortcuts. Authors who already have a personal fortune. But how is it different from the world of work?
When you start, it’s normal to be a beginner. An official is on an internship for one year before becoming tenured. A manager has “a little experience” after 3 years. A consultant is considered really profitable after 5 to 10 years.
And it’s exactly the same for other cultural and creative industries. A piano player takes several years to perfect himself before hoping to hit a dime. Ditto for the actors and the painters … Why would that be different for the authors?
Become a writer: a business like any other?
Whatever one may say, writing is absolutely not an innate gift. The proof (and it’s a truism) is that everyone has to learn to write … But like any skill, it takes years of work to perfect it.
And if you want to live, it’s good that it’s a business. But as for most businesses, it takes months or even years to build an audience (a clientele or a readership) sufficient to live.
So why should your first book be the best masterpiece of your life with the most sales of your life? It’s a safe bet that by persevering, you do much better on your fifth, tenth or fifteenth attempt …
And if we look further and you have already published several books, there is no indication that each book will be more successful or better sold than the previous one. As for any career and in any business, there are ups and downs, errors of course and sometimes disappointments along the way. Just bounce!
As far as I’m concerned, my best-seller so far is FASTING, which is my tenth book … while a dozen others have followed. This is probably a bit of a shame but I do not exclude to do better with the next.
Writer: an artistic activity unlike any other
It is an injustice of the literature compared to other artistic activities: in painting as in music, the critics of art value the development of an artist, its increasing mastery and maturity, its evolution over the years.
For example, Picasso, who died at the age of 91, has left behind more than 50,000 works … only a few of which are considered masterpieces. Did you know that you could buy one of his drawings for a few hundred euros?
On the other hand, in literature, there are (almost) only for the first novels and the dazzling successes of new authors. Yet, writing is an art like any other: we improve over the years and we get better with time (even if it is not necessarily the taste of everyone).
So just as for Picasso, it is only by continuing his creative work over time that we can create masterpieces. For my part, I have not written any, although I am proud of some articles published here and there … but I do not intend to stop on the way.
Look at prolific authors like Enid Blyton, Georges Simenon or Józef Ignacy Kraszewski: each of them has written several hundred books, whereas you can probably name only a few. And that’s quite logical; you never know in advance which work will become important or which book will be successful!
Writer: an economic model unlike any other
Even if your first five books are not very successful but persevere, you can still live with your pen. Because each book you write adds to your intellectual property assets so even by selling only a few copies of each book, the set produces compound interest.
And a book that does not work today may work well tomorrow because one of your other books will be successful. After all, contrary to what many people think, The Da Vinci Code is not Dan Brown’s first novel, but the fourth. And it helped (largely) boost sales of the first three!
So you have to learn to be patient and perseverant: every new book you publish gives you access to a new audience, and the readers you touch as time accumulates can eventually form a solid base on which you can support for the launch of your next books.
To develop your writing career, you must continue to write even if the sales of your previous books are not as high as you would have liked. Do not be put off by short-term editorial disappointment and keep on working. It is by pursuing your efforts that you will succeed.
Did you know that Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd attempt to break into the gaming market? Be perseverant.