Luck? No It’s Hard Work
Yes it is possible to make 100% of your living as a creative-artist, writer, musician, actor, etc. You can do it.
Hey everyone so this is a carryover from a discussion on FB about working as a writer and artist or one or the other.
I write this blog today because it seems that people are misunderstanding some things that were said at the SCBWI winter conference in New York earlier this month. One of the editors made a comment that it always scares him when his first time authors say the words, “I quit my day job.” Now everyone is on social media freaking out saying that it was said at the conference NOT to quit your day job because you can’t survive as an artist or a writer. Funny, I was there and didn’t hear that at all.
What I heard was an editor being truthful about his part in the publication process and how much stress that puts on him when someone does that. The truth is, that editors work too, and if a book is successful or isn’t, it affects them as well. Telling your editor, especially on your first book, that you are now depending on your book to hit, and stay, on the New York Times Bestseller list, is a lot of pressure.
To be realistic. Authors don’t make a lot of money. That is the truth and it’s been the truth as long as writing books has been around. It surprises me that new writers are shocked to hear that they aren’t going to be rich when they get an agent and sell their book-the great American novel. Yes there are some that do. We can all name them off the top of our heads-even the people who don’t read that much know them. SOME AUTHORS ARE: Stephen King, John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, George R.R. Martin, Jennifer Weiner, Helen Fielding, and in children’s books- J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Philip Pullman, Stephenie Meyers, and recently, John Green, Jay Asher, James Dashner. To name a FEW. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all made money on our novels? And don’t forget Dan Brown and E.L. James. Not the best written books of all times, but they are laughing all the way to the bank.
It can be done, but it’s not the normal. I have plenty of author friends on the bestseller lists who work day jobs on the side. Most of them are well known in the writing community.
This doesn’t discourage me at all. Why? Because I know the truth about it and I don’t do it for the money. I have been published in the adult (just meaning non-children’s books) world. I jumped at the opportunity to get published with smaller publishers and was wildly unsuccessful because I knew NOTHING about editing, the process, or marketing. I am a published author and yet I still work, have a day job.
I also have been hired, work for hire as a picture book writer. People alway say, “but you wrote like 16 books for FarFaria, can’t you live on that?” hahaha, yeah, no. That was for a flat rate on each book, so I could gain experience in PBs etc.
I am now concentrating on my YA (teen fiction) books because I LOVE writing for teens, not to get rich. I wouldn’t mind it. I daydream about my book(s) as films, but I don’t do it for that reason.
Most of you know that my day job is as an artist-specifically a children’s book illustrator. Yes I am one of the ones who makes her living drawing. I have for the last 20 years. I started in animation and then I went to children’s books. But guess what? I also do TONS of other illustration and graphic design jobs from painting doggie portraits, to licensing my work, to logos, greeting cards, educational books, magazine illustrations, consumer products, storyboarding, character design, background design, being in art shows etc. See? I work all the time because I do a lot of different things.
One person said to me that I was lucky when I started. That may be true to a point in that I got my foot in the door by luck. The luck was that I was doodling at an audition for Disney when they saw my quick sketches and offered me a job in their animation internship. I turned it down, then a couple years later, sick of my mother telling me how I was going to be a waitress forever, I decided to call up Disney and work as an artist. That’s the short version. What people forget when telling that story is that I worked my arse off for almost two years in classes at the animation guild while working full time at the Cheesecake Factory to make that happen.
I drew 8-12 hours a day. I slept about 2-4 hours a night. I took classes 5 days a week, all day long ones on anatomy, life drawing, quick sketch, animals and animation. I busted my hump to make that happen. It wasn’t luck it was hard work. Then when I got into animation I worked on 7 films, back to back, to back.. etc.. for 3 years, 6-7 days a week, with an average work week being 70+ hours. I also continued to take art classes and animation classes on the side. Again sleep didn’t happen much.
I still take art classes. I still take writing classes. When I got my first novel published in 2003, I had been out of work, when animation crashed in 2001, for two years. I had only worked briefly on a couple films and commercials, but for the most part I wasn’t working, so I dove into writing. I took tons and tons of classes with Gotham’s online courses and the Children’s Institute of Literature. Then in 2007 I was offered a job on a TV show for ABC, it got cancelled the day I started-I know, what rotten luck. Well I dove into TV and film writing courses, workshops etc. I continued to take novel writing courses. Etc. Get it? I worked my butt off and I still do.
To work and make a living as a writer, you have to do more than just get an agent and sell your book. You have to do other things like; being a reader for the studios and publishing houses, be an editor, write copy, write shorts, write for magazines, work in tv and film, etc. Just like art, you have to do more.
So while there may be some element of luck to how I got into art in the first place. I continue to work because I work at it. I network all the time. I continue to take classes. I improve my skills. I used to split my income between writing and illustrating, but these days, I am focusing on my YA novels and so my art is my day job for the most part. I still read scripts, TV shows, specs, etc.. I still do consulting, but for the most part, my day job is illustration. I work on greeting cards and children’s books mostly right now, but also do other side jobs when they come in.
I think there is a huge misconception of the creative industries that we don’t work-I think that we work harder than most industries. That has been my experience. It’s the same for actors and musicians. The friends of mine who are making a living at it, work all the time. The aren’t relying on one thing to make them famous, they are working.
So my advice to anyone who is new, don’t give up, but know that you have to work at it, all the time. If you end up as the next J.K. Rowling, than great! (don’t forget me! Hehe)
Also to be a professional creative-you have to LOVE what you do. I always say that I don’t have a choice in the matter, this is why I was born.