22 September 2018
Do Authors Expect Too Much? (wait a minute...this is a serious post. Has Bad Girl lost her mind?!)
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?