Is being an author financially “safe”? Does being an author carry risks that other fields do not? I suppose what I’m asking is, “What is the life of an author like”?
In reverse order, again:
What is the life of an author like? This is almost an impossible question to answer, because every author (and every person) is different. But here are a few things I’ve noticed that either happened or became much more pronounced after I’d been published:
- It’s a lot harder to take in stories without taking them apart. With any kind of narrative, anywhere I encounter it, I’m nearly always double-tracking: getting to know characters and following the plot, but simultaneously thinking about structure, stakes, how quickly the conflicts are established, the rhythm of the prose. It is far rarer for me to simply fall into a story. This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to writing — I think similar things happen whenever you acquire sufficient knowledge/passion about a subject. When I was serious about theater, I’d double-track at every performance I attended: lighting, set, and costume design occupied as much of my attention as the actors. (Actually, this still happens sometimes.)
- You develop an awareness of your audience. (Hi, folks!) This is simultaneously wonderful and terrifying. Wonderful because hey! People are reading your stuff! And sometimes they completely adore it! And tell you! Terrifying because as soon as you have an audience, you also have a set of expectations. Was your first book about unicorns? If your next book is about zombies, you will hear about it from the disappointed unicorn partisans.
- Caveat: This process may be different for folks who got an audience before being published traditionally. Fanfic writers, webcomics folks, zinesters, bloggers, vloggers, others, what do you say?
- Your ideas about what “success” means keep changing. Before I was published, being published was my sole goal: the fence to jump, the rock to scale, the Hellespont to swim. Once I was on the other side, though, I saw nothing but more fences, more rocks, more mythologically significant bodies of water to cross. I’m not saying you’ll never be satisfied (or maybe I am?), simply that the goalposts are always moving.
Does being an author carry risks that other fields do not? Yes. Obviously, unless you’re doing, say, reporting in a war zone, the physical risks to life and limb are minor. This is not mining, or heavy machinery operation, or farm work, or firefighting, or combat. But there are other kinds of risks. Friends, family members, and lovers will see themselves in your work. They may be flattered, but they may also be deeply hurt. Either way, you may not have had them consciously in mind at all when you created those characters or situations. Also, as a writer, you spend a lot of time in your own head, which is not always a pleasant locale.
Seriously, no. Financial security is extremely unlikely as an outcome of a writing career. Lots of authors have day jobs, partners who support them, and/or a lot of debt. Especially in The Current Economy ™. But if you’re serious about writing, the bleak financial prospects won’t make a difference.
As always, I welcome additional thoughts and questions!