Saturday, January 28, 2012

Books and money

Someone made a comment on Meghan's post yesterday that she was concerned not so much about the awards, but about "limitations that are put on new artists and authors BEFORE their work goes into print."

Changing the rules of awards wouldn't change that, though it would change the lives of the (few more) people who won. Publishing is moving more towards books the publishers think will sell large numbers of copies. For those of us who don't write those books (though to be optimistic -- who can ever really predict which books they are?), awards have huge financial consequences. Unless we win a major one, we can't make a living from our books. We have to work at other things if we and we alone are responsible for supporting ourselves.

Yes, it would be nice to win a big, life-changing award (when THE PENDERWICKS won, the author was able to buy a house for the first time in her life!) and live on advances and royalties. Who wouldn't love it?

But if you're a published author, is not being able to support yourself from writing really that bad? Anyone who is passionate, disciplined, and creative enough to illustrate or write books can think of other ways to earn money and make them work. Yes, it takes some time and energy away from books; and for most of us there isn't as much money in it as there would be in a "good" full-time job -- but it gives you more freedom than a full-time job does.

Maybe working at other things is even good for writing in the long run? Unless we have something to pull us out into the world, for many introverts (and most writers I know are introverts! Most illustrators too for that matter!) it's all too easy to stay home, do your writing, and only see a small number of people. And what do you have to write about if you spend your life doing that? Most novelists whose work has lasted were intensely engaged in the world in some way -- sometimes in really fascinating ways (Somerset Maughm and John Le Carre both worked for British intelligence, to name just two).


Grace Lin said...

This is a really interesting post. The only thing that I wanted to add that it is a little bit of a myth that after you win an award, all of a sudden you are living the high life. To be sure, some award winners garner that amount of money (I imagine Hugo Cabret did) but there are plenty of award winners that have faded back to obscurity after their moment in the sun. A couple good years don't guarantee a career. Awards definitely help, don't get me wrong, but no one gets to rest on their laurels for long.

For me, personally, school visits still pay for many of my bills. This could be a mixture of the kind of books I write (no big motion picture interest, etc) and because I was an honor winner, not a gold. But don't get me wrong, I am not complaining at all. The award broadened my readership much farther than I ever imagined and I'm very, very grateful for it. But haven't been able to buy a new house with it.

alvinaling said...

Yes, I think traditionally winning the Gold for both the Newbery and Caldecott makes the most difference in terms of sales--the winners are almost guaranteed a spot on the NYTimes bestseller list, while it's more hit or miss for the honor books. But even winning the gold does not mean you're "set for life". It's a tough, tough market, and this is part of the reason why parents often discourage their children from trying to make a living with art of any kind. Because it's extremely difficult and extremely rare that one can do it. But I imagine people do it because they LOVE it, because they can't imagine doing anything else.

I had a friend who was trying to make it as an opera singer tell me that at her last audition, she was told point blank that at her age and with the skills that she currently has, she will never make it as a professional. And she believed them, but it didn't make her want to stop singing, it made her want to sing more, but for herself. She said it was actually very freeing. So, now she's pursuing other ways of earning money. Anyway, she could have decided that they were wrong and tried even harder, but she made the decision that felt right to her. Everyone has their own path.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Artists do do art related jobs because they love what they do but I don't think they ever really know what they're getting themselves into until it's too late. They always have an idealized version of things to some extent. that's why it's good to let people know how it really is, so that they're prepared! All kids hear about are the success stories, never the failures. It's not like an art school is going to hire an illustrator who DIDN'T make it to come in and talk! They hire the big huge success story to come in and talk. And that's what gets planted in their heads. That's what was planted in my head. Even when you hear that it's a long shot or 1 out of 10 you still think you can maybe be the one. The thing is, the more I'm at this, the more I feel like the game is a little rigged. This is so in so many different areas. Just take celebrity books for example. I can't compete with a celebrity because they have access to go on the night shows and the television circuit and so on. therefore they'll get more promotion and it's a vicious cycle. Their books are almost guaranteed to sell! Is it fair? Not really, but as my mom said to me when I was little and I wanted the red car that was given to my sister and I got the blue one: life isn't always fair.