What an Author’s Life is Really Like

I saw an article from a celebrity who was talking about what being a celebrity is really like, and it inspired me to write this post.

1. Most people don’t recognize an author in real life.

No one in my town knows that I write until they ask me what I do for a living and I tell them. They’ve never heard my name. They haven’t seen me on social media. They haven’t seen me on online book retailers even though some are avid romance readers. Authors don’t have to worry about being approached in public to have someone autograph their book. I mean, it would be fun if this happened, but so far it’s never happened to me. And I’ve sat at tables at events where I have my books on display and most people aren’t interested in my autograph then, either. I can even offer a paperback for $5 (which costs me $12.99 to buy) or offer a “buy one get one free” option. For anyone wondering, I did originally set the price at $12.99. I wasn’t looking to make a profit off of those books. I was looking to get more exposure in the local community. It was a total wash. Very few people (even romance readers) show any interest. This is why I no longer waste my time at these events. If you’re not a well-known name like Stephen King or Nora Roberts, most people don’t care about you.

The best place to engage with people is online because those people are more likely to give the average run-of-the-mill author a try. Most authors aren’t household names. Most fall into the land of obscurity. Even authors who make a “six-figure income” are largely unknown since even I had no idea they existed until another person brought them to my attention. It’s just the nature of the business. With the amount of books available, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. That’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because you are given privacy, but it’s bad because it’s harder to find an audience.

2. Most authors aren’t making a “six-figure income”.

This is the myth that annoys me the most because it’s the one touted the most in the author community. Authors have a tendency to act like if you’re not bringing in six figures, your advice isn’t worth listening to. A lot of people out there don’t make six figures at their jobs, but they aren’t shamed the same way authors in the indie author community are. Can you imagine us telling teachers that their views on education is not important because they aren’t making a “six-figure income”? Or would you tell a mechanic he has no right to give you auto advice if he makes anything less than “six figures”? But we do this to authors all the time.

Not everyone needs to make six figures in order to be happy or to make a living. If you don’t have debt, if you can live below your means, and if you are in an inexpensive area, you can easily make it on less than six figures. It’s all about maintaining a modest lifestyle. You do need to mindful of taxes, of course. (I didn’t realize this early on and had to sell a truck to pay my taxes. To this day, I still miss that truck.) An average rule of thumb I go with is about half of your income should be set aside for taxes, but it’s not really that high. You have to talk with a qualified accountant to get an idea of the exact percentage you need to pay. This percentage will change based on new tax policies that are implemented in any given year. But once you factor in your taxes and if you keep your expenses low, you can make it on five figures.

Also, you don’t need to be a New York Times or USA Today bestselling author to “make it”. Is it a nice perk? Sure. Any achievement is nice. I’m just saying that hitting a bestselling list isn’t a requirement to make a living with your writing. I’ve never made either list, and I’ve been making a living writing since 2012. There were a couple of people who said that they would never buy my books unless I did hit one of those lists, but fortunately, most people don’t think this way. So if you’re afraid you need to hit the list in order to be seen as a “real” author, don’t be. Writing a book people want to read is the most important thing you can do.

3. Authors aren’t always as confident in their books as they appear to be.

Around 2008, traditionally published authors in my romance group said, “You’re only as good as your next book.” In other words, all it takes is for one bad book to ruin the enthusiasm people have for your work. I think most people will forgive one dud, but if you continue to write “meh” books, you’re going to end up losing readers.

This is why every book comes with a great deal of pressure. It’s also why I end up thinking of the market even though I strive to write for passion. With every book I write, I end up asking myself, “How will people perceive this scene? Will people like this character? Should I go back and change something? Maybe I should go in an alternate direction with this story.” It’s hard to stick with passion. Like really hard.

Every author wants everyone who reads their book to enjoy it. We know it’s not a realistic expectation, but there’s a part of us that still tries. When the book is published, there’s often that sense of dread that says this is going to be the book that completely tanks the writing career. This is why reviews can hit us so hard when they point out a book’s flaws. The only way I can think of to combat this is to keep reviews and emails on hand from people who said positive things about our books. Go to those as often as you need to.

4. Most of the conflict an author will encounter comes from the writing community.

When I got started with publishing my books, I had this naive belief that all authors would support each other. I thought that our love of writing would trump everything else. I thought the biggest obstacle would be readers not liking our books. I expected the negative emails and negative reviews. I figured that was par for the course. What I didn’t realize was how much negativity would come from other authors. My biggest critics are writers. My biggest supporters are readers. Writers read to find errors. Readers read to enjoy the book. Every time a writer says they’re going to read one of my books, I want to run and hide.

Probably the biggest source of conflict, however, comes from writing groups. I love being in writing groups because I learn about the publishing world and get marketing ideas from them. So the writing community can be resourceful. But some of the groups are hotbeds for arguments. The problem comes in when you decide to engage in debates within the author community. Stuff like writing to market vs writing for passion or KU vs wide can spark an argument that will go on for days. Some writers end up resorting to putting down others they don’t agree with. There are also smaller things that can cause surprising arguments, like “white or cream” paper for one’s paperback or uploading books to individual retailers vs letting a distributor like Smashwords or D2D take care of that for you. Then there’s the hypocrisy I’ve noticed. For example, if a relatively unknown author in the indie community does something wrong, it gets blasted all over the place, and that author is heavily criticized. However, if a well-known author in that community does the exact same thing, most authors will run to defend the action. So the authors making the most money can get away with anything simply because they’re “more important” in the community.

My advice is to tread lightly when arguments pop up. Some writing groups I once enjoyed descended into an atmosphere of toxicity. I had to end up leaving them. There’s enough negativity already going on in the world. I don’t need to taint my enjoyment of writing along with everything else. That’s why I ignore the drama unless it’s something that poses a threat to the future of indie publishing, such as if an author tries to trademark a commonly used word or if an author is stealing other people’s work. Stuff like that should be addressed in order to keep things fair for all authors. But getting caught in things that ultimately don’t matter aren’t worth it. Sometimes it’s best to let things pass through.

5. An author’s family and friends are not always their biggest fans.

For the most part, my family and friends never read my books. I had a father-in-law and uncle-in-law who read some of my books, but they’re dead now. My family and real life friends have no interest in romance. Now, I did acquire some real life friends who like my books, but I met them after they became interested in my books.

So this idea that an author’s family and friends are buying their books, leaving lots of glowing reviews about those books on Amazon, and are sneaking into reader groups to promote those books isn’t true. I see this myth getting circulated quite a bit. I have yet to come across an author whose family and friends are their most ardent supporters. The authors I know are in the same position I’m in.

The truth is, we have to slowly develop a readership. We can run ads, but we have no idea who sees the ads or who buys our books because of them. We can set up websites, blogs, and social media accounts to develop on online presence, but we have no way of knowing who is seeing any of it. Ultimately, the best form of marketing is word-of-mouth by people who love our books, and that’s something we have no control over. We depend on the kindness of strangers.

6. To get books out on a consistent basis, authors have to write even when they don’t feel like it.

This idea that authors get to wait around for their muse to inspire them before they write is a myth. This is a challenging job. It’s not easy to put words down when your mind just isn’t in it that day. I don’t put out as many books as some, but I do have a routine that I adhere to as much as possible. This isn’t easy when unexpected things pop up or when a spouse/kid wants your attention. A lot of people seem to think that when you’re at the computer, you’re just playing around. Unfortunately, for every interruption I get, it takes 5-15 minutes to get back into the story I’m working on, and no matter how many times I explain this to my family, they don’t care.

The biggest challenge in an author’s life is getting the book done. I’m in the mood to write about 50% of the time. On the other days, I trudge through it. Usually, when I get past the first 500 words, things get easier, but there are those days when every single sentence is like pulling teeth. There are days when I want to walk away and never write again. To better your chances of making a living with your writing income, you have to be consistent. I aim to get a book out every other month. I’ve seen too many authors take a year off only to realize they can’t pick up where they left off. They were once making a living, but they don’t anymore. There seems to be something that happens in extended breaks that ruins their career. Maybe readers got impatient and stopped following them. Maybe retailers shifted algorithms in a way that made them a lot harder to discover. I know a new book gets more attention at a retailer than an old book does. There are authors who get one book out a year and manage fine, but they’re doing other things to bring money in, such as offering courses, making You Tube videos, or running a lot of ads. They have other venues of making money. For authors like me, who don’t have other venues, the next book is extremely important, and you can’t go too long between book releases.

That’s why I have learned strategies to write while feeling exhausted, to push through times when the story isn’t coming easily, and to finish my current book when I’m itching to start the next. I think people assume writers are always typing away with a lot of enthusiasm, but the truth is, we’re often fighting the urge to hop online to do something else. Discipline is key. The routine is not easy to stick with. But it’s like exercise. You don’t get in shape by waiting to feel like working out. You get in shape because you work out even when you’d rather stay in bed. Routine is extremely important.

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That’s all I can think of for what an author’s life is really like. Are there any authors out there that have something to add that I missed?

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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9 Responses to What an Author’s Life is Really Like

  1. This is the second reveal of what being an author is really like (the other was a YouTube video), and every time, the majority of points I’m like, “YES! I know, right?”

    • I didn’t know someone made a You Tube video on this topic. Now I’m off to look at You Tube videos. 😀

      • It’s Lindsay Ellis’s latest video, if that helps.

        • It does. Thanks. I was coming up with other authors, but there was nothing that was very interesting.

          • Let me know what you think of her video

            • She’s with a traditional publisher, so her experiences are a little different from what I’ve noticed. When she mentioned having to publish 500 books or having to be a millionaire in order to have writing as the primary job, I suspected she wasn’t self-published. I’m shocked the editor didn’t hold her hand more since she was a debut author and this was for a publishing house. I’m not too surprised that the publisher isn’t doing a lot to promote her, though checking her rankings across some platforms, I’d say she doesn’t need their help. She’s going a bang-up job all by herself. Also, she’s right about envy being a real thing. Early on, I had to learn that it was impossible not to compare oneself to other writers. All you can do is acknowledge it and move on.

  2. My thoughts:

    1. No one would have a clue what I look like except maybe a couple of fans who saw me at a convention or two. That’s both good and bad, I suppose. Now that I’ve changed pen names, no one but people who know me in real life would recognize me.

    2. I can’t even dream of a six figure income. Maybe that’s why so many readers think authors can afford to give away a bunch of books. If only they knew the truth. I make a lot more money at my day job. I make very little income from my books. Maybe when I retire….

    3. I’m SO insecure about my books. Authors are generally introverts and don’t enjoy marketing, and we usually take things to heart. And since we don’t shout our feelings to the world, most readers have no clue how we really feel

    4. One of the most disappointing things I discovered about writing is the attitude of other writers. It’s so hurtful to see people who you thought would support you act so scornful of what you’re doing. Who knows, maybe it’s their own insecurities that make them lash out at others.

    5. That’s another disappointment. To see how family and friends react. When I changed pen names away from paranormal to sweet romance and mysteries, I thought I could share with my church family and my friends. But no one seems to care. I’ve always been so fan girl about authors, but I guess you have to be Stephen King for people you know to even think being an author is a big deal. I don’t want glory or honor. I just want an occasional “atta girl, you wrote a book”. LOL. I was fortunate enough that when I got the courage to post on my personal FB page about a book I wrote, one of my high school classmates shared it and encouraged people to buy it. That was really sweet of her. And she and a few others bought it!

    6. Writing consistently is where I fall short. Because of my editing business and full time job, I let the writing slip away. But I’ve been itching to start back on my Gothic romance. Again, I can’t wait to retire!

    • I do think that the reason we get asked for free books all the time is because of the authors who are bragging about making “six figures”. If I thought the average author was making that and I was on a limited income, I’d assume it would be no big deal for an author to give me a $2.99 or $3.99 ebook for free. But if readers believed most authors are struggling to make ends meet (and some need day jobs to stay afloat), they would be more inclined to pay for book because $2.99/$3.99 really isn’t a lot of money to pay for something that took a lot of work to create. It’s all about perception and value.

      You could be right about other writers being insecure and using that insecurity to go after other writers. I hadn’t considered that possibility. It’s a shame that there’s so much division in the author community at all. I wish it wasn’t like that.

      I’m sorry the people in your real life circle didn’t show more interest in your books. That’s so disappointing. Ironically, it just seems to be people outside our immediate circle who seem to care we write books.

      As for your writing schedule, I don’t see how you can get much done with all you have on your plate. In addition to the job and edits, you’ve been put through the ringer in regards to health issues and home issues. It’s like you get slammed left and right. I pray that things ease up from here. You’ve been through enough.

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