28 May 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 27 comments

I was talking to an acquaintance today who I haven’t seen for years. He asked what I’ve been up to. I told him, with whatever sincerity I could muster, “I’m an author.”

His reaction was interesting. First, you could see his eyes widen and a look cross his face like, ah, you slick bastard, if anyone could figure out how to make money for nothing, it would be you. Because everyone knows that authors basically sit around and stare at things like the slow kid in elementary school in between bouts of binge drinking, and occasionally, and I do mean as infrequently as the media reports anything resembling the truth, write something.

Which may not be far from the mark, but still. Ouch, you know?


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So anyway, he then said what I’ve heard so many times that it’s all I can do not to drive my stiffened fingers through the speaker’s thorax.

“Oh, that’s great. I’ve been thinking about writing a book, too. I just never have the time.”

My response? “Yeah, I can see how that would be tempting for an attorney like yourself. I totally understand the feeling. I’ve been thinking of arguing a case before the Supreme Court, but just never find the time.”

Or if it’s a doctor, “I know what you mean. I’ve been thinking about performing open heart surgery, you know, to get it off my bucket list, but life keeps getting in the way.”

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of folks who are uploading their ill-crafted screeds onto Amazon and pressing “publish,” so the stereotype that basically any idiot can be an author isn’t that much of a stretch. I suppose what bugs me is to be lumped in with the person who spent all of minutes learning their craft, wrote their little ditty with about as much care and attention as I devote to wolfing down a pop tart, and published it.

People don’t seem to get that it’s easy to be a contestant in an open-call talent show. But it’s fairly infrequent to make it to the finals. One does not equate to the other. And being an author that makes a living is akin to being in an open talent show with a million entrants, and only a few thousand finalists, if that.

Perhaps the biggest irritant is the perception that being a writer sort of something you do when you’re bored working your greeter job at Walmart. Perhaps being a bad or marginal writer is, but being a good one is an elusive goal. I’d argue it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I’ve never shied away from challenges. But being a self-published author tops the list, more difficult than it was learning architecture and going on to design dozens of large custom homes, or operating a construction company that specialized in the absolutely highest end for the most demanding people on Earth, or running a successful international import/export firm in dozens of jurisdictions, or making wine with one of the biggest wineries in Argentina…I could go on, but the point is that I’ve done a few tough things which required a fair amount of effort and mental dexterity, and writing makes them all look like child’s play.

The unfair part, is, of course, that being a good, or even great, writer, doesn’t mean squat. I mean, I’m guessing, not because I am one. But play along – the point is that you can be really, really good, and it’s still no assurance that you’ll make any money at this, much less have a career. If you go the trad route, especially now, if your work doesn’t fit in a tidy pigeonhole that represents exactly what a committee of acquisitions editors determines is the most commercially viable (meaning easiest to sell, in their opinion, forgetting for a moment that 90% or so of everything they sign fails to sell much), safest choice, you won’t get a deal.

The point is that if you pursue the trad route, the odds are overwhelmingly that you won’t ever get offered anything, and if you do, that it will be such a shit deal that only a moron would sign it. That’s not such great news for those who devote the ten thousand hours to mastering their craft.

If you go the indie route, the odds of making some money are better, but still stink. The good news is that while your odds of being an outlier who earns tens of millions a year as an indie are almost nil, your odds of being one of the emerging middle class that earns a good to great living are far better than going trad. But they’re still crap. I mean, imagine being handed a revolver with a chamber that held ten thousand rounds, only one of which wasn’t loaded, and volunteering to hold it to your head and pull the trigger, versus being handed one with the significantly better odds of only a thousand rounds chambered and one empty.

Still not great odds.

I counsel authors to write because you love it – to do so for any other reason is delusional given the actual odds of making more than beer money. But that’s different than saying that writing well is easy, or that anyone can do it, hence the poor odds. It’s more like because there are so few slots and it’s such a mercurial business that you can have a thousand wildly gifted authors, and only a few will catch. It’s still extremely hard work to be any of those thousand. I know to laymen it often doesn’t seem that way, but it is.

So if you’re someone who has always thought about writing a book but never found the time, perhaps you’re lucky. Because it’s only once you try something that you appreciate how difficult it is to make it look easy. I think that’s what many miss. They see a gymnast or a dancer executing impossibly hard routines and making it look effortless, and mistake that because, when done well, IT’S SUPPOSED TO SEEM EFFORTLESS TO THE AUDIENCE, it must be effortless to execute, too.

Not so much.

End of rant. I spent my day uploading crap to Wattpad and doing cover stuff and writing this blog, and now the day’s gone and I have to find 5K words somewhere in my head. That will keep me working till midnight. Again. Like I did yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that.

It really ain’t as easy as it looks. Like most passions, do it because you enjoy it, not because you expect a reward other than the work itself.

Sucks, but there it is.

Thank God for tequila.



  1. Terry P
    Wed 28th May 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Well, I can honestly say I have never wanted to write a book. Don’t know how and really don’t want to learn. Like I told someone else awhile back, “I’ll leave it to the pro’s.” I’d rather read than write! And by the way, what’s the next book?

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 28th May 2014 at 8:01 pm

      Requiem for the Assassin. Of course, JET VII publishes on June 22, but that’s already in the can…

  2. Wed 28th May 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Well said, as usual. And I’m totally stealing your responses for the next time some cheeky doctor/attorney gives me the side-eye 🙂

  3. Wed 28th May 2014 at 9:09 pm

    I feel bad that happened with your friend, and at the same time a part of me is glad to hear it. It’s nice to know that even the person who I feel is the best writer around gets the same reaction I often do. I call it the Friends & Family Syndrome. They see you one way whereas strangers see you another way. I often have people tell me how lucky I am that I get to “stay home” now. They forget that I’m always working, doing some facet of this business, morning and evening, and that I currently don’t make much money.
    When I told them my first women’s fiction book sold 11,000 copies the first year and spent 7 days in Amazon’s Top 100, they were like. “Cool. Is that good?” They don’t know how hard I worked to get that, and in the end, I guess it really doesn’t matter. Just sucks to be disrespected.
    I didn’t know you worked at a winery. That sounds like blast! And yummy too. I want wine now.

  4. Wed 28th May 2014 at 10:16 pm

    You nailed it! I’ve had this happen so many times that it just drives me crazy. Or they ask…”Are you still doing that writing thing?” Oh, you mean am I still sitting at my computer day after day, writing thousands of words, promoting my other books, figuring out covers, formatting, etc.? That writing thing? Yeah, I guess I am. What I want to ask them is if they are still doing that ‘breathing thing’. Writing is what I do whether I make a million dollars or one dollar. But you can’t expect a non-writer to understand that. Ooops – I had a rant of my own. 🙂

  5. Wed 28th May 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Well said and appreciated. David Morrell in his book,The Successful Novelist, mentioned a similar experience and it had been an eye opener. I absolutely love the process of writing. I often joke to my wife how I could barely purchase a pair of socks with my literary income. Thank goodness I have a profession that pays the bills and support the publishing. I respect those who are blessed with the ability to make a living from what they love. That is the icing on the cake.

  6. Wed 28th May 2014 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks for putting some perspective on the craft. Not so crazy about the odds of success, but self delusion is one of my strong suits so it doesn’t apply to me anyway. I do still envy your lifestyle. I’ve worked harder at things for which I had less passion, so writing is a joy, even on the bus at 4:00 am. Thanks for the inspiration and advocation.

  7. Thu 29th May 2014 at 4:05 am

    I’m a mother of 3. Full time corporate VP in technology. A member of 12 step recovery. And a trad pubbed author.
    Out of all the things I am and do, writing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
    A migraine is hanging out tonight, but I’ve got to write. I’ve got to find 1400+ words to make my WC daily goal, to stay on track and finish the current WIP.

    Thank you for posting this. I didn’t need the reminder of why we so what we do, but it was sure nice having it anyway.


  8. Thu 29th May 2014 at 7:13 am

    Hello Blake,
    You’re a successful writer because you know how to be a success first, writer second.
    If you have the guts to be tough, the muscle to stay the course and the class to be brilliant, you’re more likely to be a success at whatever endeavor you set your crosshairs on. Add in a dollop of the kind of luck that intersects your life if you’ve done the massive preparation needed, and the odds shift your way.
    OK, time for a drink…

  9. Morgan Jameson
    Thu 29th May 2014 at 10:31 am

    It’s also rarely considered to be a ‘real job’, at least until you succeed at it. Even some of my friends kind of look down on it, and people scoff privately I think. Then they hear you have an agent, and have actually finished more than one book. That’s usually when I get the ‘I have a great idea for a book’ comment, which has to be the single most hated comment heard by writers.

    While I am not yet published, I have decided to go indie, despite having a great agent. Why? She told me debut novels over 100,000 words would not even be considered by traditional publishers. My new thriller is approx. 544 pages, and is two parallel stories – not something I can cut 43K words out of. (Roughly 172 pages.) It would ruin the book.

    I think sometimes the hardest thing to do is to stay true to yourself, even when someone ‘in the biz’ tells you it’s too long. The few betas I’ve had read it so far have raved about it, and the thing I hear over and over is: “I couldn’t put it down.”

    I am not going to stop until I make a living (as meager as it might be) doing what I love to do. Sometimes it just comes down to tenacity and being willing to make hard decisions, like cutting a favorite chapter. (Or leaving it as the case may be.) It’s a much harder row to hoe than most people think. It really is a lot of work.

  10. Thu 29th May 2014 at 11:57 am

    Whenever I hear: “I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve got a couple of really great ideas…” I encourage them to do so.

    It’s the only way they’ll ever realize how much work is involved.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 29th May 2014 at 12:09 pm

      I agree. Never know until you try…

  11. Thu 29th May 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I love this! I am reblogging on my site. 🙂 Educating people on the life of an author is a good thing.

  12. Thu 29th May 2014 at 3:55 pm

    The other fun comment I hear, and I haven’t even sold a novel yet, is “Can you help me write a book?” Because, yes, I can take the ten years worth of reading, attending conferences, highlighting novels, and studying the craft and wrap it all up for you. Yes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time, but once I’m halfway through, don’t ask me to show you. Dig in and learn. I now suggest that would-be writers watch American Idol. I mean the beginning, where thousands of wannabes line up for a shot. That’s what a writer faces, too. Then look at the final top 10. All of them have one thing in common: they busted their ass learning their art before they auditioned. There are no overnight success stories. Work hard. Overnight can take a decade or two.

    • Carol Kean  –  Thu 29th May 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Ohh, Ron, you and Russell are speaking for me today! Love it! First, anyone can write (just have to take the time to put words down on paper, and voila, there’s a book!). Second, if writing is harder than Just Anyone thought, well, go ask an author to give you a few pointers. Arrghhh. Thank you; I feel less alone now. And thx to John L Monk for bringing this blog to my attention.

  13. Thu 29th May 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Anyone who says they don’t have time to write simply doesn’t actually WANT to write. This is good. Encourage them NOT to. We don’t need any more wannabe amateurs clogging up the works for those of us who have been at this for years, decades, or a lifetime.

    Back when I had a 9-5, I would sit in my car during my lunch break, spending an hour with my laptop in my lap, dropping sandwich crumbs on my keyboard. I wrote every evening and every weekend. I wrote because I was PULLED to do so. Still do because I still am.

  14. Michael W Smart
    Thu 29th May 2014 at 8:38 pm

    So well said. And despite the seriousness of the topic, so funny I was laughing out loud. I don’t attempt to explain it anymore. I simply say, “did you go to work today?” He/she answers yes. “And how long did you spend at work?” For most people that’s eight hours. Then I say “I went to work today too, and I spent close to 12 hours working, because I have to run three companies. One company writes books, the other is a publishing company to publish the books, and the third is a marketing company to promote the books.”

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 29th May 2014 at 9:17 pm


      • Peter Spenser  –  Thu 29th May 2014 at 11:04 pm

        Now THAT was funny!

        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 29th May 2014 at 11:20 pm

          Even a broken clock…

  15. Thu 29th May 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Cheers my brother!

  16. Thu 29th May 2014 at 9:54 pm

    I just came for the book bundle.

  17. Fri 30th May 2014 at 5:48 am

    Well said, Russell. You hit the nail on the head… I just wish I cold hit people who say such things on the head, too!

  18. Fri 30th May 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Nice Blog RB. Great advice as usual. Advice -> drink the tequila after the 5K words.

  19. Sun 01st Jun 2014 at 12:29 am

    I let out a howl of laughter when you wrote the bit about arguing a case before the Supreme Court. You really pegged this syndrome. People talk, right? They open their mouths and words come out? So how hard could it be to orchestrate a complex plot with intriguing, well drawn characters? Huh? Maybe they could write it on post it notes during breaks.

  20. A K Morgan
    Sun 08th Jun 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Russell, I totally hear you and your thoughts resonate with me so much. Thank you for posting this post as it will help so many people out there reading it (newbie authors as well as seasoned, well-known ones too, who will remember what they went through and that it was all worth it).

    My partner isn’t really interested in what I do (whenever books sell and some kind reader leaves a nice review I’m over the moon, but my partner says ‘well done’ but I’m expecting them to dance around the room and whip out the champagne, but nope lol)and will never understand the hell I have gone through as an author (the depression, anguish, self-doubt, enless hours of learning/researching/editing/improving until 3a.m., days of feeling like giving up but cannot and never will, the frustration and a lot of other emotions in the beginning, but I don’t feel it so much nowadays now that I’m establishing myself after years), but we authors still get occasional days when a person seems to belittle the amount of hard work we devote to our craft as a writer, with their comments; very much underestimating what we do as a ‘hobby’ or as something trivial when in fact it’s our entire life and is something so very dear to us. Precious. Meaningful.

    Nowadays, I celebrate my own success and party, by myself, as my friends and family and partner just don’t ‘get’ how important and what a big deal it is to me by being an author. So, I’m indifferent to their comments now and one day, I’ll show them, and THAT’S the best part hehe…imagine handing them the keys to a Porsche or a mansion and calmly saying “You know this ‘hobby’ you think I’ve had, this writing lark, well, here’s a sports car or mansion (or both) for you, have a lovely day!” (then walking away grinning).

    Now that would be so amusing to me, to do.

    Russell, I’ve read your blogs/thoughts for ages and you really helped me in the beginning, and I still read your blogs/thoughts now and you still help me.

    I would like to thank you for this. You’re not just a great author, you come across as a nice person too; helpful and you provide sound advice.

    You’ve worked extremely hard to get to where you are, you still do work extremely hard and are an endless inspiration and source of strength and wisdom to many authors and I totally agree with you that non-writers haven’t a clue about the amount of work we slog through to produce a quality book (even though we enjoy it immensely).

    You have the eternal support of your fans and fellow authors who highly respect you.

    Keep up the good work. Think of gazing at a sunset on a Sunseeker Yacht, sipping a tequila, and smile.

    We write because we love to create characters, develop them into 3-dimensional ‘people’, breathing life into them and bringing a wonderful story alive to entertain the world, but also, any money we earn – pays bills (and those little luxuries we enjoy which we deserve for working so damn hard).

    We feel and sense your anguish in some of the posts you write here, and we are lifting your soaring wings up every step of the way.

    I for one respect you very very much and your books are fantastic.



  21. Fri 20th Jun 2014 at 1:43 pm

    I have been a stay-at-home-dad for 10 years and I would say that is the hardest, and most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. Hands down! Aside from that, writing is work, work, and more work. It’s more than just throwing a bunch of words together and hitting publish. Unfortunately, as you said it yourself, there are people out there who muddy the author’s waters.


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