Those who visit my lil’ blog may wonder what it’s like to be a writer – that is to say, one who attempts to write as a professional. You know, for money. To pay bills. And a mortgage whose principal balance never seems to get any smaller. Perhaps you have a vision of a writer’s life as one marked by joyously creative output and personal fulfillment; followed by travel to New York for the talk show circuit, where the gleeful hosts fawn shamelessly; limo rides in big cities to attend book signings with equally adoring fans lined up in the cold for a chance to meet; and a sexy lifestyle generously fuelled by monthly royalty checks and movie rights offers to be reviewed and inked. And the ascot. Don’t forget the ascot. Alternatively, you might think of a disheveled and unshaven man, (or woman) in a tee-shirt, pajama bottoms and ratty slippers padding around the house, as he struggles to find inspiration at the bottom of a coffee mug – or bottle of vodka – all the while pretending to be out so the landlord won’t bang on the door, again, to demand this month’s unpaid rent.
I suspect that the vast majority of writers experience lives that fall somewhere in between the aforementioned, purely fictional scenarios. Personally, I like the pajama bottom look, but like to class it up a little with an ascot and pipe. But seriously, most working writers either draw a salary banging out content for an employer, or have a job completely unrelated to their passion for crafting stories. The latter write part-time, when they’re able. Very few take limos, anywhere. Uber maybe.
To be honest, other than reading the blogs of other writers, I don’t know or hang out with many of them. It’s a mystery how they live, or how much they actually make. I do know it’s a tough business, and that few make enough from writing to sustain even a modest lifestyle. The economics of traditional publishing are so upside down, that even talented writers (and some that aren’t) with “book deals” earn far less than most would expect. Self-publishing on disruptive digital platforms, like Amazon’s Kindle Direct, for example, turn the economics and royalty share right way up, but limit promotion potential and reach – choking book sales and one’s payday. Indie writers today have to front the marketing expenses in the hope of recouping and reporting positive income on their respective IRS (CRA in Canada) returns.
It has occurred to me that ours might be the only profession in which one might be tempted to brag about paying tax, at a cocktail party.