When I read Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow in the 1990s, it made sense to me. A few years later I quit my job and started a freelance technical editing business. I never made a living at it and crawled back to my old job a couple years later.
Oh, I gave my business everything I had. It didn’t come naturally to me, but I forced myself to make cold calls and network. I produced a brochure (do businesses still do that?) and wrote a monthly client newsletter. I landed a few good jobs, but they dried up. My specialty was editing documents for environmental and engineering consultants; there weren’t many of those in Northern Nevada, and they were sure they didn’t need an editor or could edit as well as I could. In those days when few were using email, my market was too small.
Over time I’ve realized that I’d seen what I wanted to see in Sinetar’s book–the parts about doing what you love. She certainly didn’t promise I’d make money doing it nor did she say how long it would take for the money to follow.
I’ve been seeing lots of people like me lately. Our sons, for example, are starving artists. (Well, they live on homemade pizza and fast food dollar items.) They build custom motorcycles using parts they make themselves and create metal and leather artwork. Their work has been in national and international motorcycle magazines and websites. Almost no one buys what they make.
It’s maddening for them. They’ve dreamed for years of being famous artists and often don’t feel any closer than when they started. They don’t understand how people can reject what they think is great. I asked them for input on this post, and one of them said, “It’s impossible to do what you love and appeal to a mass market.”
They do get praise, which means a lot to them, but how sincere is praise when no one buys their work? Pay is evidence of appreciation and vice versa.
I’m seeing lots of authors in the same position now that I’m doing Trembling Leaves and working at Booktrope. I have the same motherly feelings toward them, but I don’t have much comfort to give. Instead, here’s my advice:
First, keep doing what you love. You will be miserable if you don’t. I don’t agree with Samuel Johnson that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
Second, have realistic expectations. Being a famous best-selling author would be a bonus; few reach that level, and (ahem) you have lots of competition. Some say, “Aim high! Reach for the stars! Don’t limit yourself! Do what you love, the money will follow!” I say, “Do your best and you might be surprised at what happens.”
Third, if you’re truly doing what you love, you’re writing your own story in your own genre in your own voice. Your work is unique and is likely to appeal mostly to readers who like the same kind of writing you do. Consider the possibility that there aren’t many like you. You have to figure out how to reach them, but you have a tool I was just beginning to use in the ’90s: the Internet.
Finally, appreciate the readers who do enjoy your work. Write more for them. Thank them for reading your books and appeal to them to help you with word-of-mouth marketing (maybe their friends like what they do). Don’t take them for granted while you’re worrying about the people who don’t appreciate you.
I’m impatient when I tell people I’m an editor and they reply, “I’d love to be a writer.” I want to scream, “Then write!” If only getting paid for it were as simple.