Actually, being an author is a real job
If you're an author, published or unpublished, you've likely experienced the following exchange:
Someone: What do you do?
You: I'm an author.
Someone: Oh, cool! But what's your real job?
You: (internal screaming)
It's true that it's incredibly common for many authors to also hold down a separate, steady job -- because it's no secret that publishing does not pay well if you're not a high-earning heavyweight in the industry. And even if you do become a high-earning heavyweight one day, it'll likely take a long time to reach that point.
(Note: The publishing industry being a complete mess and relying too much on free or cheap labor is another topic for a different time.)
The issue I wanted to discuss today is the attitude many people have when you discuss being an author. They think it's *cute*. A fun little hobby. Something we do to relax in our free time, and by no means our real job. A real job is sitting in an office for eight hours answering emails, obviously.
I think these assumptions come from two lines of thought, primarily. One: If you can't earn a decent, regular salary and benefits from doing something, it's not a "real job." And two: Creating something, especially something made simply for enjoyment that doesn't have a real "use," isn't a job -- it's a hobby. Something just "for fun."
(Another note: This attitude also varies greatly depending on the author in question's genre of choice. For example, a man writing "serious literary fiction" is more likely to get respect for his work than a woman writing "silly romance novels." But, again, a different topic for a different time!)
This attitude is downright exhausting. Yes, writing a book is a passion project. It has to be. If an author didn't enjoy writing their book, they simply wouldn't do it. People don't get into writing books for the money, that's for sure.
But, and I'm not exaggerating here, I worked harder to get published than I ever worked at my regular 9-5 job that pays me a "real salary." (See previous blog posts about my querying and submission journeys.) Writing isn't a pursuit where, when the clock strikes five, you can close your laptop and forget about it for the day. When you're writing with a full-time job, 5:00 is when you open the laptop and start thinking all over again. Shift number two begins.
I'm lucky in the sense that I'm unmarried and have no children, allowing me to really focus on my writing after hours. Spouses and parents have the added challenge of more responsibility and less times for themselves (aka, writing time).
And while I truly enjoy writing, it's still work. There are so many nights where after I'm done with my day job, I have zero energy to do research or write a difficult scene or figure out a character's motivations for doing something. I just want to lay on the couch and watch some mindless tv. The danger in indulging in that too often, of course, is falling behind on your writing. So often, I push myself to keep writing when I'm tired -- all the while, still needing to get done my other chores and responsibilities on top of it, too.
Not to mention, FUN! I need to squeeze in socialization and visits with friends into that schedule, too. Balancing it all can be insanely overwhelming.
Writing is truly an all-consuming pursuit. It sucks up most of your free time because there are no specific hours set aside for it -- your free time IS your writing time. And once you start down the road to publication, you start getting real deadlines from agents, editors and publishers. (Tell me, how can writing not be a real job when you have very real deadlines???)
In case I haven't made it clear enough by now, writing is a real job! When it comes down to it, you are producing a product you intend to sell, whether that be to a publisher or directly to your readers. And once you sell your book, you are going to earn money from it, even if it's not enough to live off of. J-O-B!
The hustle can be exhausting. I'm pretty sure almost every author out there would write full-time if they were financially able to. But even if you need another job to support yourself, don't let anyone convince you that being an author isn't a valid career. It takes more hard work and dedication than most jobs, and we sacrifice so much of our free time and sanity just to get our stories into readers' hands.
(It's all worth it, though. I swear.)
Your books aren't a hobby -- they're work, they're a real job, and you can absolutely call them your main gig.