Friday, January 25, 2008

The Terrible Two

by Elodia Strain

I’ve always kind of wondered why I never really knew how many books starting-out authors (those of us who don't hit the big time right out of the gate, anyway) are selling these days.

I think I know now.

Sure there’s the whole thing about how it varies from author to author and from genre to genre and from publishing house to publishing house. But I think the reason really boils down to the fact that authors guard this information dearly because of The Terrible Two.

And by that I mean the two possible reactions that follow an author's disclosure of how much he/she is selling.

The Terrible Two:
1) If the person asking discovers that the number is lower than she expected, an awkward flow of, “Well, at least you’re doing what you love” and "Well, maybe someday you'll hit it really big like (insert name of latest literary phenom)," ensues and doesn't end soon enough for either party.

2) If the person asking discovers that the number is higher than he expected, he starts to think, "Hmm, I bet I could write a memoir/short story/picture book in my free time and bring in a few Benajmins," and then asks the author for help writing/editing/cover-lettering/agent-hunting, etc.

Just about every author I know has been a party to both of The Terrible Two at some time or another. Have you?

I really think I'm on to something with this. Or maybe after midnight I start to think I'm a lot smarter than I really am. Let me know what you think. (About my theory, not about how the passage of midnight affects my ability to gauge my smartness.)


Marcia Mickelson said...

I really hate that question too. It's terribly personal, and people don't hesitate to ask.

Marsha Ward said...

My former branch president once asked me if I made my living from my novel writing.

If only!

He was quite genuinely concerned that I had enough money to live on. I assured him that I had other means available to me to make up the difference.

Stephanie Black said...

I'll wager that most people who aren't in the business assume we make a lot more money than we do. The only numbers they hear about are the huge ones, like when a new author gets a half million dollar advance, so book-writing is going to look pretty glamorous!