Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Reasonable Life

Author Kimberli McKay offers an alternative view on encouraging writers.

We are a culture of encouragers. Artists who advise the young to go ahead, chase that dream.

But should we?

I’m not suggesting we crush aspirations beneath the boot heel of our experience. I’m saying encouraging others to chuck it all to reach their writing goals may not be the wisest advice we who have trudged the road to publication can give. A conclusion I reached after a lifetime of longing to write and fourteen years of concentrated effort toward that goal. When my husband began attending seminary, I had the time and means to finally pursue my dream of getting published. I worked during the day and wrote in the evening. And when my husband was called to a church in eastern North Carolina, instead of finding a job on the economy, I became a self-employed writer.

Over the years, I won a few awards, published a few articles while working on novels, attended writers’ conferences, and met some wonderful people. When the criteria for Christian fiction changed to widen the audience and boost sales, I published independently.

But at what cost? When I looked at my life and the lives of my comrades in arms, battered and bruised by constant rejection and concern as to whether a (or another) contract would come, and drained financially by the costs our business incurs, I wondered if the path we had taken was the best way to go. By comparison, people around me who had maintained steady jobs, whether their collar be blue or white, were the ones building up savings, purchasing new cars, and taking cruises, while my job kept chipping away at our bank account.

It isn’t about the money, some may counter. It’s about the craft.

That’s fine, but we can still be practical, earning a living while honing that craft and our stories. Just recently, a teenager told me she wanted to be a writer. I expressed my pleasure and then proceeded to suggest she go to college, get a solid education and then a career she'll enjoy. One that will pay the bills. She could still write and be brilliant at it, but with over eleven million books available on Amazon (210,017 of which were released in the last thirty days as of this writing) she’ll need a steady income to sustain her.

I could sense the girl’s disappointment (and her mother’s relief) but traditional publishers only publish so many titles each year. Switching to indie to get that book "out there" includes hiring an editor, a cover artist, a formatter if an author is unfamiliar with the formatting process, and paying for numerous, often expensive ads. It's costly enough for one book, but to bring in a somewhat consistent income, authors need to publish new books often and then continually market those releases. And that takes money.

We can dream all we want, but instead of encouraging young people to chase those dreams, we should tell them while the world will always need good books, it also needs nurses, respiratory therapists, park rangers, engineers, and more. And to live a reasonable life as an author, a writer needs a job that will help them support themselves, their families, and their writing career.

Kimberli is the author of Dash of Pepper, part of the Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection and more. In addition to writing, her hobbies include genealogy, knitting, and the study of Carolina history. She resides in eastern North Carolina where her husband has served as senior pastor for nearly ten years.

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