Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Misperceptions About Writers

From my experience, the public's ideas about what a writer is and is not can be startling to those with a little "inside baseball" knowledge of the way things really work.  In fact, to those of us who write, such misconceptions can provide a great deal of entertainment.  Let's discuss some of the more prevalent, and quite wacky, things that people believe:

1.  Writers are pretentious snobs who look down on everyone while wearing tweed.

Writers rarely look like some antiquated version of Ernest Hemingway.  Most are normal (looking) people who are as varied as anyone else in a hundred different professions.  Some like to consider themselves frumpy, while others like to write wearing nothing but a bathing suit and a smile.  I personally wear jeans and a t-shirt most of the time, usually because that's what I find to be most comfortable.  I know my wife wishes I could be a little more stylish and fit the fashion stereotype others think about when they hear the word "writer," but I'd feel about good about it as I would if I'd jammed a pair of fishhooks into my eyebrows.

2.  Once you get published, your working days are over.
More than once, I've heard that "once you get published, you'll never have to have a 'real' job again.  Pffft, must be nice."  A couple of points here.  First of all, I can assure you that just writing in and of itself is hard work.  It may be wonderfully exhilarating work that you enjoy every day, but it's still work.  You have to prepare the story, put it on paper, and then adjust and readjust it so that you can get the right wording.

Further, writing a book is only part of the profession.  After it's done, you have to get it in the hands of people who might plop down a few bucks to enjoy it.  Without paying customers, you may be a writer, but you're going to get awfully cold in the winter when your pipes freeze(no heat) and you have zero body fat(no food).  There are contacts to cultivate, covers to help design, schedules for publishing and touring to create, and readings and signings to be a part of.  Although a writer might love what he or she does, trust me - it's work.

3.  When you get published, you finally have financial security(aka - how does it feel to be rich?).

This has to be the most laughable stereotype of them all.  So many people, none of them actual writers, have told me that I'll have it made when I get published.  They usually say this while drooling and with a jealous gleam in their eyes, envious of the riches that are to come my way when a major publisher picks up my novel.  Here's a news flash - MOST WRITERS DON'T MAKE ENOUGH WITH WRITING ALONE TO COVER THE RENT.

Yes, the best of the best of the best get a great deal of attention.  Stephen King famously makes about $40 million a year.  JK Rowling owns a castle in Scotland for chrissake.  And Stephanie Meyer went from being a receptionist to selling over 50 million copies of that puke-ridden sparkly vampire crap nearly overnight(to be fair, most of us are jealous of her success; we think she's a crappy writer and believe she's got next to no real writing talent, but we'd shove our own mother off a bridge to have half the success she does).  Unfortunately, these are the very rare exceptions.

Of course we'd love to have the riches these writers do, just as any schmoe who plays a pickup game of basketball would love to get the same money Kobe Bryant does, but the odds on that are long.  We strive, but few get there.  Most writers have second or even third jobs, and this whole writing thing is something they do on the side because they love to do it.  A real writer will tell stories whether anyone ever reads them or not, but that doesn't mean people will fork over tons of cash to hear them.

4.  As a writer, you'll have legions of adoring fans.

Again, there are exceptions, but most writers toil in anonymity.  Even for those who've made it big, they can usually go out and get a latte without too much trouble.  Be honest - can any of you really pick James Patterson out of a crowd?  Or Harry Turtledove?  Or Dean Koontz?  I'm sure if they cut you off in traffic and they didn't have a big "I'm Nora Roberts!!!" sign on the back window, you'd give them the finger just as quickly as you would anyone else.  Screaming fans who fall over themselves for a peek at their favorite writers are rare.  JK Rowling may have trouble with people fawning all over her, but most people wouldn't be able to pick Alan Dean Foster out of a lineup.

5.  Once you've been published, you're in like Flynn.

It isn't all gravy once you've been published.  Do you have any idea how many writers write one novel and never have that level of success again?  Until you have a proven track record of selling books based on your name, each novel you write has to pass muster with the publisher all over again.  Sure, being published gives you a foot in the door for that second work, but if it sucks as bad as that God-awful new Charlie's Angels series that (thankfully) never got off the ground, you've got as much chance of selling it based on your previous track record as I do of becoming a male model based on my stunning good looks.  Most new writers lose money for their publishing houses.  If the publisher feels you don't have further potential to expand their base of sales, I promise that they'll drop you as fast as McDonalds got rid of the Hula Burger.

These are just a few of the misperceptions I've noticed people have about writers.  Which ones have you encountered?


  1. That we know everything. That writing is effortless for us. That we never need to kno how to spell something. That there is no such thing as writer's block. That we like being told how to do a story another person's way (not being critiqued...but hearing the phrase, "You know what you should do instead?"). That publishing I easy.

    *whew* it was nice to let all of that out. Thank you! ;)

    1. I think my favorite of your lines is about being told how to re-write our story to fit someone else's taste. My reply has always been, "Well then, write your own damn story." ;-)

  2. Great post.... but you're saying we can't get that cabin in the mountains?

    1. Aw huney, u kno I'll git ya that cabin. :-D