Home » David Farland, Writing Advice » I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to write so that they can get rich quickly

I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to write so that they can get rich quickly

25 November 2016

From bestselling author Dave Farland:

It seems that in the past few weeks I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to write so that they can get rich quickly, and I worry about them.

I don’t begrudge people the desire to get rich.  If you’re a writer and you make a decent wage at it, it will give you the freedom to keep writing.  That’s a good thing.

But I’ve met a couple of novelists who have told me that they have a terrible time writing, that even though they make good money at it, every word that they write is a chore.  That strikes me as being . . . rather painful.  Why do a job that you hate just for money?

In both cases, the novelists seemed to write less and less until they went out and took other jobs.

So that’s one problem with writing just for money.  But there are others.  I see many writers trying to take shortcuts.  They try to go out and get major publishing deals before they’re ready—before they’ve really learned to write.  In fact, many of them will go write a novel and then work to get that major deal without ever having gotten a single critique.

That’s like sitting down at a piano and banging out your first concerto while hoping for a recording contract.  It’s foolishness.  These same people will pay decent money for stupid scams.  For example, there’s a writing book that claims you can write a bestselling novel in thirty days—in only five minutes per day.

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30 Comments to “I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to write so that they can get rich quickly”

  1. “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.” Moliere “`

    They’re trying to make money on a skill they never truly learned and will be surprised when they don’t like doing it and aren’t ‘in demand’.

  2. There will always be people like this, just like those folks who tried out for American Idol because they had the lead in their junior high choir. It’s their dreams and their time.

    The people I have a problem with are those who prey on the naïvete of the wannabe artists and those who feel it’s their job to discourage the wannabe artists for whatever reason.

    • Agreed on the predators and the naysayers. Boo hiss!

    • I don’t know if I’m discouraging or encouraging, but I do tell any new people that it takes a long time to learn to write well. If you like to do it though it’s easy, you’ll have fun while learning.

      They’ll invariably point out people who don’t write ‘well’ who have made a ton of money. Stephanie Meyer, EL James, etc…some even point to Stephen King and JK Rowling as not being great writers.

      Lol. Hard to know what to say to that. All those people tell great stories. I think some people think ‘writing’ is just the mechanics. Like, grammar and commas and paragraphs.

      To me it’s also laying down a fantastic tale that kicks you in your feelers right when and how it needs to. That’s the hard part. Having your writing sort of fade into the background while the story is blasting through the readers skull.

      That and punctuating dialog. That’s also hard.

      • Ask yourself what the purpose of your writing is?

        I admit I write for entertainment, my own and hopefully others. If I’m not writing something that makes the reader forget where she is and miss her subway stop because she’s so engrossed in the story, then I’m not doing my job.

        Barbara Hambly did that to me once. 😀

        • Love Barbara Hambly. She tells a great story, even though her writing sometimes needs an editor (IMO, too many cliches, especially in her earlier books). I will still read anything she writes no matter the genre. One of those writers I will reread dozens of times.

  3. Even the people who get famous but don’t write very well put a lot of time and effort into their work.

    Those who find out they can’t get rich quickly will go on to some other scam.

  4. The really sad ones are the those who find them staring retirement in the face and thinking this is a way to supplement their meager pension/savings. How do you tell them it won’t?

    • You can’t, they’ll just think you’re trying to make sure they don’t cut into your profits.

      Though you could go over with some ten-sided dice … 😉

      Roll three ‘tens’ to see if an agent will pick them up.
      Roll three ‘tens’ to see if the agent can convince a publisher to pick it up.
      Roll two ‘tens’ to see if they’re in the top 1% to make enough to support themselves with it.

      Oh, and is their book written ‘yet’? Could take a few years in itself in which they may give it up if they find they don’t like it.

      You might warn of the scams like ASI that are there to take and not give them money, and of course you can show them Amazon — though you might warn them that ‘they’ get to pay for their own editing and cover (maybe grand-kid can draw them one).

  5. The only thing I can add are these three Charlie Rose episodes that I watch over and over. Bookmark these and listen to them many times.

    John Stewart was on the Charlie Rose Show talking about their book _The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests_.

    I have not read the book, but I have watched the interview many times, and will return to it many times. His viewpoint and discussion of the “ethos” they developed for the show echo what I have tried to do in my life, and now with the books I publish.

    Trigger Warning: There is some discussion of Politics. HA!

    “The Daily Show”

    Then this is John Irving on his process. Note that he considers his stuff “Comedy” in the classic sense.

    John Irving

    Then there is the episode with John Banville where he talks about how he takes years to write a book as Banville, and only months when writing as Black.

    John Banville/Benjamin Black

  6. Sorry, Farland.

    You sell several books with titles such as “Million Dollar Outlines.” You can’t take money from the suckers while complaining that the suckers want you to take their money.

    I suppose people need to “Million Dollar Book Signings” so they can appreciate the hidden theme that the real million dollars is the gushing in your heart from writing only what you love?

    • Have you read the books? Because there are a few good tips in there, and it mostly boils down to doing the work, learning the ropes, honing your skills, and then maybe you’ll one day sell as much as Kevin J Anderson, because that’s how he does it. Taking shortcuts is not part of it,

      • Yes. They are excellent books, and I agree. If a person started their writing career by reading these books, it would certainly lead them on a more direct path to commerciality than taking some fruity “write what your luuuuurve” free-association-type writing instruction.

        But here’s a question for you: Is a more direct path the same thing as a shortcut?

        • “If a person started their writing career by reading these books, it would certainly lead them on a more direct path to commerciality …”

          How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice practice practice.

          Unless you think you can watch someone play and then do as well as they do. Or pick up a gun and a book on shooting and your first six shots will punch out the center.

          As we’ve noticed from many of these books, one will tell you to not do what another tells you to do. (worse than my grandmothers discussing the best way to cook up a chicken! 😉 )

          No matter how good the ‘book’ may be on the subject, it can’t turn a person that need a bucket to carry a tune into a musician, the all thumbs guy into a carpenter, or the people with no stories to tell into writers.

          Yes, there are naturals out there that can sing/play/write as easily as they breathe, but they are few and far between. That book might actually hurt those types as it tells them they’re ‘doing it wrong’.

          I guess what I’m saying is that while some people may be able to do it easier than others with or without the book, there are no shortcuts, you either know what you’re doing or you don’t.

          Though with writing it isn’t a easy to read holes in a target, nor a judgement of your peers, but the reading public that will declare you good or bad at it — but only if they can find the silly thing in the first place!

          And that’s another bit most of the ‘for the money’ types don’t see, not only do they have to write something worth buying, they have to sell it too. (To a publisher or to the public, both can be hard.)

          Hmmm, maybe a game? Like the ‘game of life’, but steps in writing? (Got a bad agent — get paid nothing for the movie rights.)

          • That’s an interesting analogy that I’ve considered many times as a writer and as a musician. I think you can get good as a writer by watching (ie, reading) books by authors you enjoy and perhaps want to emulate. I was thinking, “why doesn’t that work for music?” and it’s because we all (supposedly) know how to put words on paper, either with a pen or with a word processor, but we don’t all have the skill to play a piano or a violin. Give me a trumpet and there’s no way I’ll play it without a handful (or more)of lessons on HOW to play it. But give me a guitar, and without a single lesson except for learning on my own, I can play something recognizable.

            Writing is about developing your own voice, it seems to me. You have to know the rules of writing, but we spend a good part of our lives learning those rules. We don’t spend that same time learning the rules of music necessarily. Perhaps you also have to have some innate natural storytelling talent, but I’m not sure that someone without that talent couldn’t pen some sort of competent tale…

            I think reading (watching) is a very large part of learning how to write, just like watching someone play the correct fingering on a trumpet, or watching someone hold a gun for target shooting is a very large part of learning how to do those things competently.

    • Part of the problem is if they haven’t already been writing because they enjoy writing they aren’t going to suddenly start loving to write. And if they’re writing because they think they ‘have to’, it will show in that writing — and turn off the readers.

      As for me, it was ten years of writing for a few friends before I even considered that someone might be willing to actually ‘pay’ to read it — and then I started rewriting using some of the skills and stiles I’d learned over those ten years. (And ‘stile’ fits better than ‘style’ in my case. 😛 )

      Anyone jumping into writing cold thinking it’ll be ‘easy money’ might want to take up dog walking too/instead — it pays better in the short run and you can get all sorts of ideas for stories from the people and things around you.

      • New writers are adorable. Like puppies who wee themselves with excitement. It’s actually nice to be around them, no matter what flavor of delusion they’re under. So what if they’re fired up thinking they’re going to be the next writing superstar? Whatever gets them through that first draft. 🙂 They can always figure out if they’re really writers once they have something completed. I only feel sad for the people who quit halfway. (Or waste a lot of money on get-rich-quick workshops.)

    • I don’t think he means books to help writers, I think he means, books that make false claims to writers. The problem with any writing book is the writer doing the reading, has to be ready. I love “Fire in Fiction” by Donald Maass, however, five years ago I wouldn’t have been in a place to understand most of it. There is a certain level you need to achieve on your own before a lot of the stuff makes sense.

      • Fire in Fiction is terrific! I’d love it if someone would do the equivalent of examining breakout books, but in the indie world. Heck, I’d buy it for a breakdown of the whole “Shade of Vampire” series alone. Hits are fascinating.

  7. Good books don’t guarantee publishing contracts, publishing contracts don’t guarantee a lot of money, neither does Indie publishing guarantee an income for a good book. There is no substitute for hard work to drive exposure. That’s not even mentioned in his post. Though it is true many new writers don’t know what they don’t know and get sucked into scams, not to mention have wildly unrealistic expectations.

  8. On the surface, the notion that one might be able to sit down with a computer/word processor/typewriter/pad of paper and just think up stuff and then make money from it, is pretty appealing. It’s a gross misunderstanding of the degree of skill and talent and sheer work involved, but it’s still appealing. I’ve been asked several times about how one goes about doing it, and I basically have to tell them if they’re looking to make money, go do something else instead.

    • I was fortunate enough to speak to R.A. Salvatore once and I asked him how to be a writer. This was about 20 years ago. He told me, “If you can’t stop writing, you’re a writer.” Telling stories and drama are in our blood. You can’t teach someone an imagination, or a sense of pacing and voice, these are all things they need to learn on their own. You can fake it for a bit, especially with all the books that say, “On page nine you need to have your first plot point.” Eventually, those people quit. There are plenty of ways to make money doing something you can’t stand. This is why I write, it is the way to make money doing something I love. Frankly, I would (and have most of my life) do it regardless of income. Since the advent of self-publishing, I have been able to at least justify my musing with money 😀

  9. None of us really has to write to put food on the table. Each of us could do something else (and most of us probably do, in addition to writing). In years past, things weren’t so easy for writers. There were some who quite literally didn’t eat unless they wrote.

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money”–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    Johnson achieved fame with his magisterial “Dictionary of the English Language,” and eventually the king gave him an annual pension of 300 pounds (quite a lot in those days). But for most of his life Johnson wrote just to live.

    When his mother died, in a week he wrote his only novel, “Rasselas,” in order to pay her burial expenses. That’s how impecunious he was.

    In those days there were no publishing houses in the modern sense. Printers were publishers. Sales often were in the hundreds of copies, not the hundreds of thousands. There was a reading public, but not much of that public could afford books, so few books were sold.

    “I’m tired of love/I’m still more tired of rhyme/but money gives me pleasure all the time.”–Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953).

    By the twentieth century things had gotten better for writers. It was easier to make a living by writing–but not much easier.

    Belloc was one of the most prolific writers of his time, with more than 100 titles to his credit. Only a few were fiction. Mostly he wrote histories, biographies, travel accounts, and political things.

    Like Johnson, Belloc put food on the table by writing. When he didn’t write, the cupboard was bare.

    Neither Johnson nor Belloc wrote just for money or even mainly for money, despite what these jocular quotations may imply. On the other hand, they didn’t have the luxury of writing “just for art.”

    We can be thankful that their straitened circumstances impelled them to produce some excellent works, and we can forgive them for not having a condescending attitude toward those who rely on their writing to pay the rent.

  10. Writer’s forums — and the KDP forums especially — are full of people who think all one has to do is slap some words down, find a free picture somewhere, upload to Amazon, and wait for the money to roll in. Whether they’re naive or just got caught up in some scam makes no difference. Nothing you can say will disabuse them of the notion that writing is easy, people want to buy their poetry, memoirs, scientific and/or religious rants, or those books so poorly written as to be incomprehensible.

    Invariably, these “books” are priced higher than decent novels, and any attempt to bring the writer to reality results in insults and rants to rival any mad king you could name.

    I’ve studied and practiced writing virtually my entire life (and I’m no spring chicken), and I still don’t know everything. I’ve studied publishing for almost six years now, and I’m constantly finding new stuff, or changing stuff, that I have to work hard at learning/relearning.

    Frankly, I’m insulted that people with no skills or work ethic at all think they can pop out a book in a week and become a millionaire shortly thereafter (and one on KDP even expected us to tell him how to do it, step-by-step, so he didn’t have to learn anything). I don’t mind helping people, but they sure don’t appreciate it, and I’ve finally accepted that I would be better off writing.

  11. You can’t disabuse people of their fantasies. They’ll discover the reality in due time.

  12. But I’ve met a couple of novelists who have told me that they have a terrible time writing, that even though they make good money at it, every word that they write is a chore. That strikes me as being . . . rather painful. Why do a job that you hate just for money?

    Support their families like millions of others have done for thousands of years. Think they all loved their jobs and found personal self-actualization in their work?

    Writers aren’t special.

  13. I got to go to a workshop given by Dave Farland a couple of weeks ago, and he told a lot of interesting stories (such as the fact that he sat down with Stephenie Meyer and outlined “Twilight” in about an hour, after she asked how to write the world’s bestselling YA book of all time. And that we have Harry Potter in the US because Dave was consulting with Scholastic at the time and he told them to push HP (even though marketing didn’t want to because the book was too long and they hated it) and said to put a $10 million advertising campaign behind it).

    And the reason he had so many stories? Because despite having a lot of books to his name, he’s had to work day jobs to support his family. A lot of very interesting jobs that were entertaining to hear about (helped designed “StarCraft Brood Wars!”), but even someone with his level of recognition in both writing and teaching still had to earn a living somehow.

    So I’m sure he’s even more inclined to disabuse people of their notions that writing is a get-rich quick endeavor.

    But to be fair, there have been plenty of people who have learned to game the system that have made themselves a fortune from KU. So you can put some words together, throw a picture on it and pay people off to “buy” it so that you can make a ton of money on it. It’s not ethical or moral (IMO), but people have figured out how to exploit “novel writing” to make money.

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