by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
I've discussed this in my own fiction more than once, the difference between cats and dogs as I see it. Leave a cat home alone for a week with sufficient food and water, the cat will gauge what is in the bowls and then spread it out, knowing it's got to last until you walk through that door again. When you come home, there will still be some food and water remaining. But try the same thing with a dog? (Not that I have, so this is pure hypothesis, although I think you'll agree.) The dog will eat the week's worth of food immediately, throw up, and then starve.
There's a point in all this, of course. In order to survive as a writer, unless you're one of the very lucky few, you need to be more like a cat. You need to be able to look at an advance check, however large some of them may seem at first, and say: OK, this has got to last me until some more money walks through that door.
Some writers, and sometimes through no fault of their own, never do sell a second book. Or if they do, it takes a long time. I once knew a writer who received a $500K advance for Book 1. You'd think that would set anyone up for a while but this writer did not listen to the wisdom of T. Coraghessan Boyle, which states: When you make that first sale, don't go out and buy the big house. But the writer did buy the big house. And then the bad thing happened. The publisher, having been so excited when they acquired the book - hey, they paid $500K for it! - found a shiny new object, a book that excited them more, a book they paid more money for. So the writer got zero marketing attention, the book predictably underperformed, and it was years before a second book could be sold. So what could the writer have done differently? Been more of a cat, less of a dog.
In terms of my own career, the way I've made it last since 2003 is two ways:
1) Diversification. On only a few of my individual books have I received anything close to what might constitute a year's salary. So I diversify. I write for different age groups. I write in different genres. This way, rather than needing to adhere to the publishing rule of just one book per year, because otherwise you'll saturate your market, I'm able to have multiple books come out per year. (I realize that these days, with ebooks, for some people some of this is moot. There are many authors releasing several ebooks per year in a single genre and some are even making good money that way. But truthfully, while I've released some ebooks, I have failed to take off in that field.)
2) Supplementing my income with other work I love. I'm fortunate enough to have strong grammar skills and a good editorial eye. This means that during lean times, I take in freelance editing work to help keep the bills paid. It's no great hardship. In fact, there's little that I find more satisfying than looking at a manuscript, seeing the potential there, advising the author on how to take it to the next level...and then seeing that happen. Sometimes I think that if I'd realized at a younger age just how much I love editing, I'd have been riding that train to New York all this time instead of trying to sell to New York.
No one should ever feel sorry for me. For a decade now, I've made a living - with a little help from my editing mind - doing what I love to do: writing. And it's been no hardship writing in multiple genres, because I love taking on new writing challenges and letting my creativity range free. But the thing that's helped me stay financially alive in this crazy business, some years just barely? I'm a cat.
So how about you? What do you so to keep it all going?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 32 books for adults, teens and children. Visit her at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBaratzL