There are some pervasive myths out there about writers and writing.
Writer Myth #1: writers make good money
At least with mystery writers, the average time between when a writer decides get serious about writing and publishes her or his first book is eight to ten years. Advances — not great to begin with for the majority of writers — are shrinking, or in some cases, disappearing. Writers now pay for things, such as editing and marketing, once covered by publishers. In order to survive, many of us rely on day jobs, or have significant others who have day jobs.
Go the self-publishing route and make lots of money? These days, anyone can write and publish. The question is, can we market and distribute? For many writers, the answer is not well enough. The average self-published writer sells less than 100 copies per book.
Most of us aren’t in this out of the goodness of our hearts. We want to make more money on each book, and we also know doing that will be a long, hard slog. There is no way we could keep doing this alone, year after year.
Writer Myth #2: writers are lonely people
Yes, there are many solitary hours at the word processor. Yes, as deadlines approach we become testy. It’s a good idea for friends and family to go away for a while until we get over the testiness. Writing is tough. Writers need a support system.
Having both feet firmly in the mystery writers’ camp, and having at least a passing acquaintance with romance and speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) writers I know that most writers are warm, open, gregarious, generous people. We love to get together at conventions. We love to be part of critique groups. We love to have dinner, tea, a beer on a restaurant patio, or just plain conversation with other writers. We worry about one another and try to do whatever we can to smooth the way for each other.
On-line writing friends are great, but I encourage you also to seek out other locak writers who you can see, in person, once in a while. If possible, join a critique group. If you’re a mystery writer check out Sisters in Crime, and, if you live in Canada, also Crime Writers of Canada. Both groups offer incredible personal support. For the guys, yes, SinC has both men and women as members. We sometimes speak fondly of our Sisters in Crime and our Brothers in Law.
Writer Myth #3: men and women have equal opportunity in the mystery/thriller market place
Sisters in Crime was founded in 1986 because of a real discrepancy in the way women were given access to reviews, shelf space, and awards. Have things improved? Somewhat. Late in 2005 Sisters in Crime has compiled a yearly review of parity between men and women in things like reviews in major review publications and awards. For the 2013 report, go here. Reports from 2005 to 2012 are available on-line also.
Sub-myths about the market place
Women write cats-and-tea-party mysteries; men write the real stuff. Wrong. Both men and women are writing the entire mystery spectrum from the traditional mystery (formerly known as cozies) to the mean-street noir, and beyond.
If women want the awards, they should write like the men. I beg your pardon, what century are you living in? What sells mysteries? Enticing characters, complex plots, and terrific writing. Neither gender has a lock on those three things.
You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down. ~Annie Dillard, writer and journal keeper
Writing is fun and messy and hard. Ignore the myths. Follow Annie Dillard to the nearest cliff and jump.
Next Tuesday on Writing the Novel blog: Characters, Part 1 of 4 – The Character Starter Kit. Hope to see you there.