Yes, I Know How Hard It Is

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From Writer Unboxed:

When I said I was majoring in Creative Writing, it began.

“Do you know how hard it is to make a living as a writer?”

Then, when I said I was applying to graduate school programs, they said, “Do you know how hard it is to get into an MFA program?”

When I said I was trying to publish short stories, they said, “Do you know how hard it is to get published?”

When I said that I was working on a novel, they said, “Do you know how hard it is to write a novel?”

When I was pregnant and starting to have kids, they said, “Do you know how hard it is to write and have kids?”

This was all part of Phase I, though I didn’t yet know this beast even had phases.

When I had two kids and said I was publishing a novelokay, here they were outright baffled. We moved into what I’ve come to call Phase II – which is: You seem to be saying you’ve experienced legitimate success and I’m confused.

“A novel that you’re publishing yourself?” they said.

“No, it’s coming out with Simon and Schuster.”

“But how did that happen?”

“I have a literary agent.”

This appeased them. Okay, someone else made this happen for me.

“Is it a children’s book?” they asked.

“No, it’s an adult literary novel.”

Then they circled back to Phase I and said, “Do you know how hard it is to get good reviews and have a bestseller these days?”

Let me be clear. These were accountants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, stay-at-home parents, chemists… People who did hard things to make a career and who knew absolutely nothing about publishing and yet, still felt free to—maybe even compelled to—explain things to me.

And, of course, when I mentioned that I was pitching ideas in LA for film and TV, they said, “Do you know how hard it is to get something picked up in LA?”

This incredibly consistent cultural effort to keep my hopes down—and therefore keep me in my place—continued on for a few decades. I published over twenty books, had four kids—my career kept going.

Fast-forward, I was recently at a small dinner party with friends and mentioned I had a new book coming out, a collection of mostly high-concept, literary short stories, intimately told, written with an eye primarily for film and television.

The man hosting the party seemed very interested. I explained what I enjoy—making a film or the beginning of a television show appear in someone’s mind as they read—and also explained my business model, that the stories go out to producers.

“And have you had any luck selling them?”

“Yes, we’ve sold many of them.” At this point, my spouse, Dave, and I were thinking about setting up a production company do you know how hard it is?”—which we now have done.

“And who have you sold these stories to?” the man asked.

I understood we’d moved into Phase II, and I needed to help him make sense of this.

“We have over twenty projects in development with some at places like Netflix, Paramount TV and feature…”

The conversation went on as he ate, saying very little. His spouse asked some questions, and I tried to explain how the stories worked as intellectual property…. And then, as he was trying to make sense of it all in his head, something clicked for him.

And he said this new line–one I’d never heard before.

Friends, get this.

He said, “So, I guess it must be easy to sell things in Hollywood these days because there are so many streamers.”

This was Phase III. I didn’t know there was a Phase III. I felt like I witnessed innovation. To rationalize my success—as a woman because it always seemed gendered to me—he had to completely recalibrate his entire view of the entertainment industry, a complete overhaul.

It had to be the only rational reason why I could succeed at this level.

It couldn’t be that I was actually good enough to succeed at this level.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG suggests that the author of the OP hangs around with the wrong types of people.

4 thoughts on “Yes, I Know How Hard It Is”

  1. Herd animals. Gotta love ’em.

    Even in a post in a website called Writers Helping Writers, “legitimate success” is defined as having a book published by Simon & Schuster. Excellent. A small advance spread over three or more payments, and IF the advance earns out (and IF the agent doesn’t cheat the writer) pennies on the dollar for every book sold.

    On the other hand, writers who believe in themselves enough to start their own business, self-publish and earn 70% or more per book sold—like, oh, I don’t know, say Brandon Sanderson—are not legitimately successful. Got it.

    While we’re on the topic, believe in yourself and your abilities enough to hang out a shingle in pretty much any endeavor Other Than Writing and you’ll be roundly congratulated. But announce that you’re going to self-publish, even after having been traditionally published, and you’re seen as a failure. Tsk tsk.

    • I suspect many writers do indeed see success as being published by Simon & Schuster. The money isn’t nearly as important as the achievement.

      I think the term of art is “hobby writer.” This was favored a few years back by the people referring to themselves as “real writers.” OK. Hobbies are good things. Many people who believe in themselves and their abilities have hobbies

      • Oh bovine excrement. Those writers believe the small advance (if any) and the 10-15% royalty they split with their agent (IF the agent doesn’t rip them off) IS big money. Meanwhile they give up all rights to their work.

        I’m not sure what you’re calling a hobbyist writer. A guy who writes a memoir for his kids is a hobbyist. Another who writes a novel just to knock it off his bucket list is a hobbyst.

        The only big money involved in traditional publishing is the number that goes on the publishing company’s balance sheet when they assume ownership of the writer’s story, which they stole for a pittance.

        And by any real-world definition, a “real writer” is is a person who writes, which in turn means one who puts new words on the page. Nothing else is writing. You aren’t an engine mechanic if you don’t repair engines or a plumber if you don’t repair plumbing.

        • Those writers do indeed make a small amount of money, and they split it with their agent. And they reject the notion that those who believe in themselves and their abilities must follow some fixed path and embrace somebody else’s mission in life. They are quite capable of determining their own objectives, goals, and values. This is because they believe in themselves and their abilities.

          Common usage over the last ten years would say a hobbyist is one who makes a good living doing something other than writing, and writes as a hobby. A hobby is a leisure activity done for recreation or enjoyment.

          Lots of authors aren’t interested in the big money. That independence is a sign of people who believe in themselves and their abilities. Simply getting published by Simon & Schuster is their objective.

          Good to hear that a real writer is just a writer. Would that mean a real author is just an author? Same with authentic author and writer vs author and writer? How about authentic writing vs writing? That’s refreshing to hear because we have been gifted over the years with writers who see themselves as special and insist their way is the only way.

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