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Being an author doesn’t always look how you think it does – but that’s okay

I have been doing this author thing now for 7 years, which is kind of insane. I’ve learnt a huge amount in that time, about all manner of things. Submissions, and promotion, using social media, pricing strategies and the emotional curveballs that can crop up at any point during any book.

I’ve also learnt that no matter how many books I’ve written, how many have had great reviews, or bestseller status or are published by a great publisher, people will always doubt me when I say I’m an author. They will second guess my opinion, they’ll ask for advice and then ignore it.

Because I don’t look like what a ‘successful author’ looks like in their mind.

So what does a successful author look like to someone outside the publishing world?

  • They don’t have a day job because they make enough money from their books
  • They have print books as well as ebooks
  • These print books are ALWAYS available everywhere in every bookshop as well as supermarkets
  • They don’t have to bother with social media because their books talk for them
  • Their book win awards, are ‘critically acclaimed’ or in some sort of famous book club
  • Their publisher/agent are a big name with lots of big writers attached
  • They get movie/TV deals and foreign rights

Am I a 'real' author_

So, now that most successful working authors I know feel sufficiently terrible about themselves, let’s unpack that, shall we?

A huge number of authors who get to stay at home to write full time are able to do so because they already had a very well paying job before they quit to write, or their partner earns a good wage. That’s not to say you can’t make excellent money writing, but those who do are few and far between. Self publishing is opening up more opportunities for that, but a huge amount of work still has to go into it. Society of authors said a little while ago the average wage for an author is around £11,000 a year, so you know what, yes a lot of us still have day jobs, or part time work to support the writing. Perhaps some of us are dreaming of the day we’ll get there, but until we do, we’re still real writers.

There are more mid level authors than huge name authors or unknown authors. What’s midlevel? People who sell books! They have their own followings, they have decent sales. They may get foreign rights and audio, they may have an agent, they may have dear readers asking every week when their new book is out. They write novels and they continue to grow their readership. It’s likely they have another job too. Mid level authors are a huge part of the author world – just because you haven’t heard of an author doesn’t mean they’re not doing well, they’re just working their little corner of the readerverse.

When people outside publishing think of authors, they think of the huge names who become self-fulfilling prophecies. The ones who have a brand, determining that fans will buy their books. We all have those authors who we won’t hesitate to buy their latest work as soon as it comes out. But for every author you’ve heard of, there are a few hundred more who are unknown to you but are still doing pretty damn well. There’s probably some really excellent bands out there you haven’t heard of too – doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t creating great music to a fan base who loves them. Politely, the internet may make us think that we’re the centre of the universe, but we’re not.

If you want to hear me blather on about ebooks and print again, you can do that by reading my last blog post. ‘Nuff said.

Assuming you must be writing drivel just because it’s not award winning or literary is super annoying and something I come across regularly. I write romantic comedies. Sure. I want people to laugh. But don’t tell me I don’t spends weeks and months and years plotting out stories and characters that share a message, one of positivity and hope and healing. Every book I write has a point, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t sell. I’m tired of hearing crap about literary fiction because honestly, I was trained to write that and for every excellent book that’s proclaimed a ‘masterpiece’ there’s another 500 books that are narcissistic navel-gazing twaddle. We write to be read, not to feed our own egos. There is nothing shameful about writing books that people enjoy.

The idea that your agent or publisher have to be famous and ‘heard of’ is ridiculous. Please see previous point about being the centre of the universe. Readers aren’t involved in publishing – I’d be surprised if most (non-blogger) readers could name the company that published their favourite books. Just because you haven’t heard of something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

There is no other profession I’ve experienced where, when you tell someone what you do, they immediately pick holes and try to make you feel small, or like you’re doing something wrong. I’m not ‘waiting for my big break’ (also, if you’ve met me you know I don’t wait for anything, I’m out there busting my arse to make it work) – this is what the working profession is. We write books, and we submit them, and sometimes they’re published. Sometimes they do well, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the definition of ‘well’ changes. Sometimes the book you put your soul into has great reviews but few sales. Sometimes the book you didn’t feel pleased with sells a huge number of copies but the reviews stink.

This is the life of an author – one of constant balance and struggle and growth. One of deadlines and plot holes and revisions and edits – these are things that happen whatever ‘level’ of author you are. There has always been snobbery in the literary world, whether for romantic fiction, or ebooks, or self-published books. It’s time that people stopped questioning this job. Firstly, because it’s rude, and secondly, because you’re not really listening to the answer.

What other profession would have responses like:

‘Well, how much do you earn?’

‘But are you like, a real author, or just ebooks?’

‘What, so you print them yourself and sell them places?’

‘But I’ve never heard of you.’

‘Well I’ve always thought I could write a book, so I guess I can call myself an author.’

‘Well that’s very nice for you, isn’t it?’

‘If you were a real author you wouldn’t be working full time would you?’

‘Oh so you’re going to be the next [insert absurdly famous author that is usually JK Rowling] here.’

Stop. Just stop. When Sandra tells me she’s a marketing manager do I ask her if she’s really a marketing manager, in line with the little I know about marketing managers from watching movies? When I meet Dave the accountant, do I ask him how good he actually is at his job, because I’ve previously used numbers in life so therefore I’m an expert?

Clue: no.

Please stop defining writers by incredibly harsh standards – there’s a whole bunch of mechanics going on back here that you don’t see. There’s daily deals and Bookbubs and promotions and excellent editor feedback and audio deals and agents and all this amazing stuff that feels like we’re getting promoted, or getting a pay rise, if this job were in the real world.

Mid level authors exist. Some aspire to be huge household names. Some want that space on the shelf in Waterstones, or the movie adaptation (hey, who doesn’t?) and it won’t happen for all of us.

But this is still our job. And we’re here, doing it. So let us do that without shame or questions or doubt.

If you’re writing a novel, you’re an author. That’s it. Go forth and take over the world. Or don’t. It’s cool. Share your stories and make yourself proud. You’ve got this.

Digital has changed what it means to be an author

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