I’ve been friends with author Tina Ann Forkner for about nine years now! OMG! Nine years! She’s a loyal friend and a fabulous writer. We’ve had many conversations via email, text, phone, and in person. We’ve talked writing, life, the writing life, and the writing business. Tina is level-headed, smart, and as practical as this writing gig allows. So when she wanted to share with all of you (and me) her thoughts on writing — and wanted to make money doing it — I said YOU BETCHA. Sometimes we think we’re insulting our art by wanting or even needing to make money doing it. I’m with Tina — while I love to write, this is my job, and it needs to bring in some (vegan for me, thankyouverymuch) bacon!
Please share your thoughts in the comments! And check out Tina’s book covers, and a photo of the two of us!
A Publishing Confession: I Want to Make Money
By Tina Ann Forkner
This is one of those posts that I might regret writing tomorrow, but I need to say this. I am writing for money.
There, I said it. I want to make money from my career. If you stumbled upon this post because of the title, my admission probably sounds ridiculous. Who doesn’t want to get paid for their work? Everybody! But you see, I am a writer. If you are a writer, I’m talking to you because I need to make this admission in a safe place, and even if you aren’t in the same place as I am, I believe that most of you are. If this is an error in my thinking, please set me straight.
Writers aren’t supposed to do it for the money. Our culture says we should practice our art for art’s sake, but when is art ever given away? Okay, maybe by the same people who are in the same boat as we writers are, but seriously, when has anyone ever offered you a free Picasso? No? Have you ever walked into a bookstore and they were handing out free books? No? That’s never happened to me, either, and yet as the author of books, I am not supposed to care about money.
In fact, as an author, I am supposed to promote my books, but I am not actually supposed to ask people to buy them. I’m supposed to merely suggest the idea, not even in words, but through a secret message by putting the books out there in front of people and hoping a lightbulb pops on that says, “Hey! I will buy this book.” Otherwise, I might offend the customers by looking like a salesman, as if I might be trying to get them to be part of a pyramid scheme or something. I don’t know, maybe it’s hidden in the plot? It’s a strange way to sell books. Think about it, can you imagine the chef of a restaurant bringing you plates of food and just showing them to you, then walking away and leaving it up to you to say, “Hey, can I buy that?”
Well, as my husband says when he hears a terrible idea, “I’m not buying that.” I think it’s a terrible idea to get into publishing only for the love of it. I want to sell my books and not be passive-aggressive about it because I think my writing is worth more than to give it away. Don’t get me wrong. Of course I love writing, but in the end, it’s not only about the beautiful words and the stories that have the opportunity to inspire and sometimes even change a reader’s outlook on life. I wish writing could be about just those things, the way it was back when I was in college and it was all pure and only about writing. But that’s a pipe dream, my friends, a cliché my English professors would scribble all over if they read this. That was before I achieved what was at the time, an impossible dream. I got published.
Now, I’ve achieved the publishing dream that most of my English Degree peers have not yet reached. I even get to say that I was traditionally published my first time around and have not one, but five books, as well as a brief list of decent accomplishments related to my stories, but it turns out that those things are not enough. My stories, no matter how beloved by my readers, are not enough to measure up in the world of mainstream fiction. To the people who make the rules, it’s not enough. To all of those who decide what books the stores will carry, who write the algorithms that decide what books the online customers will see, and who give their premium space to the highest bidder, I am not enough.
I’m not talking about self-fulfillment. My heart is full because my readers are kind, gracious with their praise, and eager for my stories. I could not ask for better readers and I love interacting with them. They make my heart full. What’s empty, though, is my author wallet. We aren’t ever supposed to say that, are we? Not if we are true writers. We’re supposed to say that we write for only the love and passion of it. Heck, I’ve said it! If we are true writers, we need to pretend in front of our readers that we don’t have an electric bill, the cost of college, and the healthcare costs of a five person family. Why we aren’t supposed to admit publicly that we are working for money, I am not sure, but sometimes, I want to stand up and scream, “I am worth more than this!”
Since this is mainly an emotional rant to fellow authors (who will understand and maybe secretly cheer, but probably not loudly), let’s talk a little bit about the why and how. We all know that while publishing opportunities as a whole have opened up, the marketing of books has largely been thrown back into the hands of authors unless you are already famous. I’m not famous, and I could easily start my own marketing business with the hours and dollars I have spent marketing all of my books. I am happy to do my part, sure. I even enjoy it, but is all this work enough?
Apparently not. I am racked with guilt about how much time I have spent Not Writing and have instead put into marketing. What it boils down to is that I have barely turned a profit and despite a few days in a #1 slot on an Amazon Best Seller list and being able to add award-winning to my title, I cannot get a foothold. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe my readers are just being nice and I suck, but I think they are smarter and busier than that. They are the ones who keep me going and the best part about being an author in this day and age is that I have actually made friends with many of my awesome readers. Some of them feel like they know me, and the feeling is totally mutual. I love that about being an author.
In fact, I love being an author. I love writing stories. I love sharing those stories with my readers and if I had a couple hundred thousand more readers just like them, I could do this and never feel guilty, never feel tired, and never feel depressed that after eight years of being published I still write in what sometimes feels like obscurity no matter how much time and money I have invested.
I do have a part-time day job, as well, and I happen to be married to a hardworking husband, but even mentioning these things makes my writing sound like a hobby. All of you writers out there know that writing is not a hobby. You know this, right? Because if you are treating it like a hobby, you might be contributing to the perception that writers don’t deserve to get paid, and I want to be paid. Don’t you?
Writing is what we’re good at. It’s what we love to do. We should expect to earn money for our work. Imagine being in the Mary Kay or home party jewelry business and not wanting to earn money. Not to mention that when I buy my make up from my consultant, I pay a heck of a lot more than people would if they bought all five of my books. Can you believe that? Five books for the price of a couple of tubes of lipstick. I love my lipstick, but I don’t expect to get it for free.
So, that’s my rant. Cry me a river, right? Don’t send any tissues. I’m stocked up. And don’t send me any sad songs because I’m just as disgusted with myself for feeling this way as you might be by the fact that I am airing our dirty laundry in a public forum. And I say our dirty laundry because surely I am not the only one who feels this way.
Please tell me I’m not the only one.
What’s the solution? I guess there isn’t one, unless attitudes about books and authors change. Customers have been trained to want our products for free or for almost nothing. Libraries are struggling to stay open and bookstores, even Indies (so slap me), although at a slower rate, are less and less for the author these days.
Sometimes, I wonder, what would everyone do if we all put down our pens? Would our protest even matter? Of course, the question is pointless because it will never happen. Even I don’t want it to happen. We will always write. We have to write. We can’t not write.
For now, probably like most of the rest of you, I am a bondservant to my own pen.
Tina Ann Forkner is an award-winning author of five novels including Waking Up Joy, The Real Thing, and Nashville by Heart. She works by day as a Substitute Teacher and lives in Wyoming with her husband and three teenagers. Learn more about her novels at www.tinaannforkner.com, where you can also buy them.