In the Prelude to his one and only short story collection, John Grisham mentions purchasing all 1000 copies of his first book, A Time to Kill, and trying to sell these copies out of the trunk of his car. He quickly, learned, as he states: "the difference between writing books and selling books." The latter, of course, proved to be far more difficult.
Indeed, many writers have their own stories related to the naive posture that most folks have toward writing books. The American public continues to believe that writing books is the same as selling books, and that all writers make lots of money. In fact, most writers make little to no money, and only the selling of books makes income possible.
Much like Dr. Seuss, who used to grow tired of hearing people tell him, "Some day I'm going to write a children's book!", every published author has heard the nonsense and would like to offer certain advice to others. Here are my nuggets:
This is the easiest aspect of being a writer. Which is, of course, the action of writing. I write volumes of material every year. Writing is the first and the easiest step in the ladder of authorship. Writers write. But the writing of books and the publishing of books are two very different things. I have, for example, written more than a hundred books in my lifetime (maybe even two hundred by now). However, only twenty of these have been published.
Very difficult step. It's getting more difficult with each passing year, in fact. Fewer publishers want to publish, fewer editors want to edit, and the profit margins on books, in general, is getting slimmer year by year. Bookstores are bankrupt and closing. Getting a book published has always been tough, but it's so tough now, a writer had better have a rich spouse or a wealthy uncle if he or she thinks a living can be earned through published material. And with fewer people turning to books and magazines and newspapers as a source of information and entertainment, publishing opportunities are slim. The average American no longer reads even ONE book per year. Most read zero!
This is where the writer actually makes money. In my case, I've been very successful as a writer, fairly successful as a published writer working with publishers and editors, and a complete loser when it comes to selling books. I am the George Costanza of royalties. I rarely get paid. No one buys my commodities.
For anyone aspiring to write, I'd recommend clipping this blog and pasting it above the computer screen. It will remind you to keep writing (write every stinking day!) and keep submitting (submit something every stinking week!) and to keep trying to market and sell what you do get published (but learn this lesson from someone other than me . . . call John Grisham. He knows how to do it.).
I can't imagine selling books out of the trunk of my car. But I do know that, like Mr. Grisham, I am my own best customer. After all, I buy most of my books myself. And I give most of my books away. You wanna copy?