22 September 2018

Do Authors Expect Too Much? (wait a minute...this is a serious post. Has Bad Girl lost her mind?!)


by Melodie Campbell

I'm guilty of this one. I'll say it right up front.

Janice Law and O'Neil De Noux got me thinking serious thoughts, which is always risky for a comedy writer.

I make a living as an author.  But not a particularly good one.  Probably, I could make the same working full time at Starbucks.  As authors in these times, we don't expect to make a good living from our fiction.  It's a noble goal, but not a realistic one for the average well-publisher author with a large traditional publisher.

This isn't a new observation.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said something similar about his time:  The book publishing industry makes horse racing seem like a sure thing.

So if we can't expect big bucks from all this angst of writing fiction, what do we expect?

When The Goddaughter came out, there was quite a fanfare.  I was with a large publisher that agreed to pay for refreshments.  Eighty-five people overflowed the place for the launch.  Local newspaper and television brought cameras.  This doesn't happen in mega-city Toronto.  But in Hamilton, a city of 500,000 where my book was set, I got some splashy coverage.

Those eighty-five people included some of my closest friends and cousins.  I was delighted to see them support me.  We sold out of books quickly.

I've had another twelve books published since then. I've won ten awards.  I am still fortunate to get people to my launches.  But the mix has changed.  The people who come to my launches now are fans, not relatives and friends.  With a few exceptions (and those are friends I treasure.)

Back when I first started writing - when big shoulders were a really cool thing - I expected my friends and extended family to be my biggest supporters.  I've been fortunate.  My immediate family has been terrific.

But expecting your friends and extended family to celebrate your success in continual ways is a road to disappointment.

I've come to realize this: if you work, say,  in a bank and get a massive, very difficult project done, there are no parades.  Your friends and family don't have a party for you.  They don't insist on reading the report.  Your paycheck is your award.

Yet as an author, I have expected that sort of response from my non-writer friends.  I expect them to buy my books.  (First mistake: all your friends will expect to be given your books for free.  For them, it's a test of friendship.)  I expect them to show up to support me at my big events if I am in their town.  Maybe not every time.  Is once a year too much?

It's been a lesson.  I have people in my circle who have never been to a single one of my author readings or launches.  I've given my books to relatives who are absolutely delighted to receive a signed copy - but they never actually read the book.

Worse - I've done the most masochistic thing an author can do.  I've casually searched friends' bookshelves for my books.  Not there.  (Note to new authors: NEVER ask someone if they have read your book.  You are bound to be disappointed.  This is because, if they read it and liked it, they will tell you without prompting.  If they read it and didn't like it, you don't want to know.  If they didn't read it...ditto.)

Yet along this perilous, exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking journey, I've made a discovery.  Your closest friends may let you down. I no longer see my closest friend from ten years ago.  I write crime and fantasy.  She let me know that she thought that unworthy.

People like her will find excuses not to go to your events.  I don't know why.  It could be a form of envy.

But the best thing?  Some people you least suspect will be become your best supporters.  This came as a complete surprise to me.  A few friends - maybe not the ones you were closest to - will rise to the occasion and support you in every way they can.  I treasure them.

To wrap:  Most authors need approval.  We're doing creative work that involves a lot of risk to the ego.  There is no greater gift you can give an author-friend than full support for their books.  Be with us at our events.  Talk enthusiastically about our books to other people.  We will never forget it, and you.

Do we expect too much from those around us?  Is it because we don't usually get a constant paycheck? What do you think?


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16 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Great piece, Melodie. And totally right on. And re: this: "First mistake: all your friends will expect to be given your books for free. For them, it's a test of friendship." One could turn it around and say the test of friendship is whether they buy your book to support you. But I think in the real world, you're right, they expect you to give them books. I've stopped doing that for the most part.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Yes, Melodie, yes. The older I get the less I expect in return. But I still love the creative process – writing a good scene and moving on. A Valerie Martin once told me to just keep writing. Keep writing.

Eve Fisher said...

If you write for the fame, the glamour, and the money, you must be either James Patterson or writing serious code. And yes, I know a lot of people who have expected me to tell them where they can read my stuff for free. Nowadays, I tell them SleuthSayers. :)

Melodie Campbell said...

Thanks, Paul. I really think the turnaround is the true test of friendship, as you suggest. If they aren't prepared to spend $10 once a year to buy your book, are they really friends?

janice law said...

I think we all must remember that there is no accounting for taste- especially for bad taste.

You are very fortunate to have replaced duty supporters with real fans. Rejoice!

Melodie Campbell said...

O'Neil, "the older I get the less I expect in return" - I wish I could add that line to the post itself! for me, like you, the reward is in writing a good scene. Thanks for that comment.

Melodie Campbell said...

Eve, I'm laughing! Yes, must tell them that. I usually say, the library. And if yours doesn't have it, ask them to get it in :)

Melodie Campbell said...

Thank you, Janice. I'm realizing that a bit of my angst is "you're never a hero in your own hometown" syndrome. Your wisdom is indeed welcome.

Anne R. Allen said...

Most of my friends have never read one of my books. Some have asked for free copies, which I give them, but they never mention the books after that. If I say something about my series heroine, they look blank.

I call this syndrome "Groucho Marxism." This is their motto: "I DO NOT CARE TO READ A BOOK WRITTEN BY A PERSON WHO WOULD ACCEPT ME AS A FRIEND."

They are afraid your work will be terrible because they know you. I have no idea why this happens, but it does, more often than not. Sigh.

Now, they do show up for my book readings, but that's because of the cookies. And wine. Wine has a lot to do with it...:-)

Alison E. Bruce said...

You are so right about the paycheque. As Heinlein once wrote, "Money is the sincerest form of flattery." If people are willing to pay you for your work, through a paycheque or a book sale, other kudos aren't necessary. (Welcome though.)

Melodie Campbell said...

Anne, you always have me laughing! Wine and cookies, indeed. But taking a serious note from your witty-wise words, I am wondering if some non-writer friends are afraid to read our work because they might not like it, and don't want to be unkind. That's the most generous explanation I can think of.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Great post, Melodie. I see a lot of new and aspiring authors who expect far too much. I see authors who become embittered when their books don't sell, so they quit. But I see others who've paid attention to change and accepted new realities and managed to put it in perspective.

I grew up poor and for me a steady paycheque has always been important. I never saw the sense of putting all my eggs in one basket for two royalty cheques a year, of unknown amounts, regardless of how many copies I could sell.

My biggest challenge these days is to help the new ones see the reality without stomping on their dreams, because I truly have no idea who might turn crime-writing into a good-paying career.

Melodie Campbell said...

Alison, I LOVE that quote! Going in the memory bank. Too be lost later, of course...

Melodie Campbell said...

Debra, your last paragraph is brilliant. I face that with my college Crafting a Novel students. I am required to give them the facts of life, but I also don't want to crush dreams at the same time. It's a hard line to walk, as a professor. But I've found in 26 years of teaching this stuff, that the people who want to write will continue to write, and those who think it would be cool to be an author, eventually decide they don't like sitting alone in a room with a computer all their spare time.

Kat Flannery said...

Awesome post, Mel! I remember when I felt like this with my first few books. It can be disheartening. I tell my students and other aspiring authors this one thing: you are either writing for recognition or you're writing to write. I am the latter. Write what is in your mind, heart and soul.
I love to write, and touch people's lives with my books. I figured out long ago that if I was to ever succeed in this world of literature I'd need to write for the readers I do have. I am grateful for them...if an author does this everything else will fall into place. It all takes time. New authors need to understand this. I did not make a steady income until I had established myself as an author with several books out.

**I loved how you wrote "don't ask friends/family what they thought of your book." THIS one sentence is pure gold!

Melodie Campbell said...

Thanks for commenting, Kat! I find the hardest thing in the world is not to ask people if they have read my books. And I should add that to the post: if you are writing for money, we just laugh. If you are writing for recognition, I hate to think what will happen when you get out there. If you are writing because you love to write - then you will be happy.