How do people react when you tell them you’re a writer? Do they seem surprised and ask a lot of questions? Or do they shrug it off?
Many people are not aware of what being a writer entails, much less being an independent (indie) author. Some might think you’re playing around, that this is a hobby or a phase. As best you can, ignore the comments, move on, and keep writing.
What follows are several common (and annoying) misperceptions that I’ve heard from people when I tell them I’m a writer. How many of these have you heard?
Misperception #1 – Writers must struggle or starve.
There’s a perception fueled by the media and Hollywood of a Hemingway-esque writer who is horribly depressed, writes in a shabby room, and is a starving artist.
Yes, writers are passionate about their art, but that doesn’t mean they are depressed. On the contrary, writers get to do what they love for a living.
Many writers, me included, quit nine-to-five jobs we hated to become writers. This is our dream job! And, this doesn’t mean we are starving.
There are many ways for writers to make a living with their writing. Many writers take freelance writing gigs to supplement their income as they write their own books. Many non-fiction authors I know have used their books as a launch pad to start their own consulting or coaching business (me included).
There are numerous examples of indie authors on the Amazon charts who are making a living with their writing. See my article, The Surprising Truth About Prosperous Authors, for a list of successful indie authors.
Misperception #2 – You must have an agent or publishing company.
Times have changed. 95% of people don’t realize that you absolutely do not need an agent or publishing company to publish your book. We live in the best time to be a writer, and I’m grateful that the publishing gatekeepers do not wield the control they once had.
In years past, a writer had to find an agent who would agree to represent him or her, and then hope the agent shopped the book idea around so that a publishing company would pay an advance for the book. This process can take years. And, what’s worse, there’s no guarantee the writer would ever get a publishing deal at all.
Times have changed; Amazon disrupted the publishing industry by allowing authors to self-publish to the Kindle Direct Publishing Platform. Indie authors publish books that look just as professional as books from traditional publishers.
The stigma around self-publishing is becoming nonexistent, and being able to distinguish self-published from traditionally-published books is getting harder.
Misperception #3 – Being a writer is not a real job.
I’m lucky I have a supportive spouse; many do not. It can be devastating to want to quit a job you hate and begin writing full-time when you don’t have the support of your family.
Unfortunately, many people do not consider writing to be a real job that can earn you a living. Thanks again to the media and movies, for reinforcing the stereotype of the starving writer.
An excellent book that describes the numerous ways you can make a living as a writer is Joanna Penn’s How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More.
Misperception #4 – Success is having your book in stores, hitting bestseller lists, etc.
The truth is that success is different for everyone!
Some authors want to win literary awards and receive praise from critics above all else. Others have financial goals in mind that include selling a certain number of books and reaching a high rank on the Amazon charts.
Maybe hitting the NY Times bestseller list is your dream.
My definition of success is to make enough money as a writer to live my life with freedom—the freedom to create what I want and to live anywhere I choose.
It’s important that you define your own success so that no one else defines it for you.
Misperception #5 – Getting an advance from a publishing company means you’ve made it.
There’s a myth that you are not a legitimate writer until a publishing company chooses you and gives you an advance. I often hear this question from aspiring authors: “How much should a publishing company pay you for your book?”
By the way, if a company is saying that you should pay them to publish your book, beware. You should never pay a publisher.
Here’s the thing, most author advances are less than $5,000. To earn a substantial advance, you need to be a celebrity or have built a huge online following. Publishers want to know that they will make money from your book and that there are people already willing to buy your book. You probably think that’s not fair. It’s not.
But the good news is that you can choose yourself. If you are passionate to tell your stories to the world, you are living in the best time for authors. You can publish your book to millions of people at the click of a button. Yes, you need to market yourself and work hard to get discovered by readers, but the ability to share your work with the world is in your hands.
Many people would be surprised to know that even when you have a publisher, you still have to do all the marketing work! Unless you are a household name (e.g., Stephen King, JK Rowling), you must promote your book and run your marketing plan. The big-name publishers don’t have the resources or staff to do this for you. I know this because I coach authors with traditional publishing deals through my book launch system.
Misperception #6 – There are many overnight success stories.
Do you ever get questions such as, “Why aren’t you as widely know as The Girl on the Train or the hot, bestselling book-of-the-week?” These types of comments can be annoying. Often, we don’t even write in the same genre as the book in question.
People think that it must be easy to suddenly break through the charts, get discovered by millions of readers, and be set for life.
Think again. Would it surprise you to know that Paula Hawkins wrote books for six years under a pen name before her breakout hit? She never had commercial success with her other novels.
So when people point to overnight successes, there’s generally a decade or more of hard work and dedication before the big hit.
Misperception #7 – Why don’t you write…[the genre I like to read]?
I find this to be another annoying question that is usually coming from someone who means well but nevertheless doesn’t understand the world of writing.
There are numerous genres in which you can write. Thank goodness we have so much choice! When your Aunt Hilda happens to read time-traveling romances, but you write urban fantasy, the easiest thing is to say that you write different types of books.
A family member once asked me half-jokingly when I was planning to write the next great American novel. I laughed and said that I prefer to write sci-fi and fantasy novels. She didn’t know what to say! Awkward:-)
Be gentle; try to educate the person asking the question that there is a world of fiction beyond what they know. Resist the urge to be snarky (I know it can be tough!).
Misperception #8 – It must be nice to live the writer life.
This falls into the category of those who think that writing is easy compared to other jobs. Many people mistakenly believe that creativity strikes like lightning and propels me to write. After all, they think it’s not a real job (see above).
On the contrary, you and I both know how challenging writing can be. It’s so much more than just sitting down and writing a rough draft. There’s the editing process and marketing your book.
There are many moving pieces to publishing just one book. And if you are a professional writer, you do it over and over again.
Easy right? We can write books from a laptop on the beach. Not quite, but we should rejoice in the fact that we get to do what we love. Many people don’t ever discover their passions. Far too many people let life happen to them instead of discovering their creativity.
Misperception #9 – When will I see your book at Barnes & Noble, Costco, etc.?
When you have a traditional publishing deal, the publisher will help you get your book into stores (although this is not always guaranteed). When you self-publish on Amazon, your books will not be in stores; they are sold through Amazon’s online store.
The good news is that you can create paperback books through CreateSpace.com or Amazon KDP. These books are print-on-demand meaning when someone orders, just enough books are printed and shipped to them.
This works incredibly well for most indie authors I know, me included. I don’t ever want to have to deal with an inventory of books at my house or be responsible for shipping books.
If you are a speaker who needs to have hundreds of copies on hand, or if you have a strong desire to get your books into stores, there are other options. A good option to consider is Ingram Spark, a company that helps authors distribute books to stores.
Misperception #10 – You must have free copies of your book sitting around.
Once or twice I’ve had friends and acquaintances ask for free books as if I have a stack of books lying around! This is tough because it devalues my work. It’s as if my low-cost books aren’t good enough for a friend to pay for.
My guess is that people think this is a harmless question. Often our friends and family mean well, but they are not our real readers. They are not the true fans that we should seek out and forge relationships.
When asked this question, I politely let them know that I don’t have any extra copies because I use print-on-demand instead of carrying inventory. I let them know how they can find my book and by purchasing, they are helping support an indie author.
Being an author is tough enough. Sometimes it hurts to hear annoying questions repeatedly. But this is a natural part of the author’s journey. Keep in mind that your friends and family are (usually) coming from a good place. Think of these challenging questions as opportunities to help educate and spread the knowledge about self-publishing as an indie author.
What do you think about these author misperceptions? Let me know in the comments below.