A couple months ago I wrote briefly about misconceptions of creative writing. There will be a small overlap between these two lists. You can refer to that piece here. A lot of what is misunderstood or believed about writers is attached to the act of their work (writing). That makes a lot of sense, because many think of authors as their job, not just a person. What they usually think of is a stereotyped image, probably put together from television and movies and the little bit of English class that they retained. Let’s face it, only the salacious really sticks out in the minds, because it is either deeply interesting or strongly disconcerting. Thus, the brain has a lasting anchor with which to recall the memory.
That doesn’t mean that these ideas should be maintained. At least, they should be given more consideration by those who assume them as plain truths.
1. Authors are Drunks and/or Addicts
Come on. Every person that writes is addicted? The laws of probability don’t even support such a possibility. And, this is one of the more dangerous ideas about writers. It can create a lack of respect for authors, which makes it more difficult for them to be paid appropriately or even hired in the first place. In addition, would be authors think that they have to abuse substances in order to become better at their writing, or to achieve a level of authenticity, in the event they are covering an tale on addiction.
You might think that’s a stretch, but I’ve seen young people really buy into an image. Think, for instance, of the rock and roll star, known for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The lifestyle is pursued, in a lot of cases, in every aspect, faithful to the stereotypes. Addiction proliferates through the business, because it is believed to be inherent in it. That is both dangerous and stupid.
I like a beer or a cognac now and then, but I’m not interested in getting drunk. I feel like that’s something you work out of your system sometime during college. Particularly, for me, it’s never been a past time I look forward to. And, no, hangovers aren’t one of my plagues. I never had one, and I’ve been mighty drunk before. Nope. I’m not belligerent either. Quite the contrary. I over share and laugh a lot. Nothing crazy.
It’s true I’m no fan of other substances. My brain’s health is my livelihood’s health. I can’t be sure how anything illegal is going to affect me, and I will not risk my health and my skills to find out. (I’m not talking about pot, for those worried I’m a born again mother’s against whatever—although, I’ve never partaken of that either). I am fascinated, however, by LSD studies and marijuana as a medicinal. Medical research is finding uses for many substances, because our attitudes are improving toward them, including how we treat those who have fallen victim to an addiction.
2. Authors Make Tons Of Cash
Some do. Very few, however. I wish I could say that I survive on my book sales alone, but that is not true. All of the authors I know do not. The only authors that do survive on their royalties are pretty famous individuals.
You might be wondering how this is the case. I’ll refer you once again to 9 Misconceptions About Creative Writing. Also, the rest of the list is going to clarify a few things about what exactly is expected of an author (who hasn’t already made it to the top of the list.
3. What Authors Do Is A Rare Talent
What we authors do is a honed skill, which is learned by applying lessons from school and higher education. What many refer to as talent is just crafting. Once you do a task enough times, you start to learn ways to manipulate the process for various outcomes. Absolutely, just about anyone can learn to write. What authors do, is write well. They are professionals who have invested a lot of time, and often money, into learning how to craft the written word.
For instance, I have 20 years of experience, which includes college courses from undergraduate level through graduate. Others may choose to learn on their own, which is not something I recommend, because it is actually far more costly and takes longer than going to a university. It’s costly because of all the waste involved (time, supplies, stress, seminars, schemes, research, printing, etc.).
Also, if you haven’t noticed, there are quite a few authors out there, all vying for reader attention. They’re nothing to sneeze at. I’m honored to count myself among these skilled, hard-workers.
If you want to call the end result of all that education and practice simply talent, I guess that is fine. I’m not going to quibble. After all, authors make art that is a form of performance, and talent is a word often used in connection with performances.
4. All Authors Are Either Professors or Teachers
I guess with all that education, this is a pretty smart assumption. Many authors supplement their low royalties with other income, and teaching is a means to do so. Most of the authors the average person knows are one of two types: a celebrity or one of their english teachers/professors. That’s where this idea comes from, although it’s not entirely true. As part of professional development requirements, professors are required to publish. It’s a gold star on primary educational staff’s resume, too.
That said, Authors can be found hanging around just about any field. Because authorship doesn’t pay much, many authors treat it as a hobby, until they do make it. Also, some just like working elsewhere, or doing other things. We’re not one-sided beings.
5. Authors Get Advances On Their Books
If only this were true! The truth is, most authors aren’t given anything. Their percentage of the profit from sales (royalties) are often low (expect to get about 10% or less with large publishers). Indie publishers get a higher percentage of the payout because the middle men are cut out from the start. Small presses can’t afford advances, except maybe small ones to help with a mini marketing campaign, but that defers author compensation until the costs are recouped.
Please look at number 2 again, just to review.
6. Authors Are Obsessed With Books
I have always dreamed of having a fantastic library, just like Belle gets in Beauty and The Beast. But, that’s not because I am a writer. It’s because I am a reader. I started out as a reader before I started writing. There are so many great memories attached to books in this manner. Certainly, having a great library would make things easier for my research, but I go to public ones, and don’t have to do the cleaning.
A lot of authors read quite a bit, but not all. In my case, because I work and am raising a child, finding time to read is very tough. Research is my main focus when picking up a book due to the tight schedule. I’m also of a mind that if it doesn’t feed my work, I’m not bothering. I’m very careful with what I bother to read. I’m sure anyone sees the sense in that.
Some authors are also concerned that they may inadvertently include things they pick up from another person’s work. This could get you dragged for plagiarism. That’s career ending. Still, a lot of very popular authors recommend reading a lot in order to hone the skill. What I have found: taking classes with directed readings that are focused on the specific learning commissioned gives you the best bang for your buck. So if you’re looking to craft in a certain genre, you need to know that genre well. You don’t necessarily have to know the competition.
7. Authors Have A Team That Works For Them
This is sort of true. My publishing crew are all freelance. We don’t work under one roof together, or for one company. Each of us owns our business and collaborates to complete a project. Who each member is changes from project to project. Not all editors handle all genres. Cover designers, proofers, and designers have schedules. I’ve had a handful of editors, each wonderful and appropriate for the work I hired them to help me with. Some of my books have had to wait because of design delays, while coordinating schedules. Marketing assistance is even trickier!
However, if you’re picturing the diva author on their cell phone, with shopping bags hanging from the arms, and a dutiful assistant trotting behind while they review their hectic schedule, rushing to the limo, you’re misrepresenting an author to yourself. That’s a definitely a Hollywood image. I’m sure some author out there lives like this, but it’s far from the norm.
This and the idea that authors make a lot of money, and probably partake in sketchy vices, attract some people to the field only to find out this is not at all the case. It’s got to be very disappointing for them, but I know it’s frustrating for authors who are doing it for the writing, not fringe benefits.
8. Authors Are Egomaniacs
I’ve heard that actors and other performers are, too. It appears that anyone who crafts something for public consumption is thought of as an attention seeker. We artists are left trying to negotiate a subtler presence, so the public doesn’t brush us aside as an annoyance, while some embrace it to great effect. It’s not a fair assessment at all.
Of course we authors seek attention for our work. That is the point of bothering to write it down. But to make that negative comes from a seat of either jealousy or desire to abuse someone via the thing they care about. I’d really like to see this stereotype put to rest. Are we supposed to sit silently by and hope you take notice of us, strike up a conversation and somehow come by the fact that we’re writers? Dare we answer if we have books for sale?
Everyone wants to fit in with their chosen group. Everyone wants to be praised for a job well-done. There is nothing wrong with that. Folks who make you feel like shit about it are being bullies. So I guess that says who the real egomaniacs are! Turnabout is fair play.
9. What Authors Do Isn’t Very Important
Art matters. Writing Matters. Imagine a world where those skills were removed. Who is going to write the news? Your favorite television show/movie? Video games are written. Copy (ads) are written. Lyrics are written. Within business, professional correspondence and other communication documents are written.
Books teach us about ourselves. They allow us to experience life through another, and to learn about things we may never experience. They teach empathy and critical thinking. They entertain and alleviate melancholy. They bring people together, and sometimes they facilitate difficult social issues conversations.
History is written. Government is written. The supermarket is written.
The next time someone dismisses an art form to you, ask them to imagine all of the ways that type of art is expressed in the world, and then imagine it erased. Sometimes things that we take for granted seem unimportant, but when we stop to think about the gigantic contribution writing has made to our world, we realize that it is hugely important.
10. Stealing/Illegally Downloading A Book Doesn’t Hurt Anyone
If you’ve gotten to this point, and you’ve recalled numbers 2, 5, 7, and 9, then you know that downloading intellectual property such as books is more than a sketchy thing to do. You’re literally stealing food from another person’s table. A lot of authors have families to support. Almost all do not receive advances, and even if they do, the amount is negligible. Every copy they sell counts toward their finances, but also to the visibility of their product. When illegal copies are shared, that’s less ranking and less income.
Digital copies are usually a few dollars, less than a starbucks coffee. Authors receive a small percentage of the take, equating to loose change for each copy. Most authors are struggling to be seen, not just read, so they can make the public aware of their product. An illegal download prevents that. If you can’t spare a couple dollars, don’t imagine that someone else should for you, especially a producer of goods you’d like to buy.
On a side note…most of the sites boasting free downloads of books or music are loaded with viruses. In the end, you’re going to pay. The price could be identity theft. In the very least, it will be the loss of your device. It’s not a maybe. The sites only exist to bait victims, and they especially love going after the something for nothing crowd.
Hopefully this list has helped you rethink some misconceptions you hold about authors, and has been a fun read lending some insight into the writer life.
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