A day-job colleague asked me yesterday whether I made much money from my writing. When I explained that I don’t earn enough to justify giving up the afore-mentioned day job, he was surprised. After all, I’d just told him about being shortlisted for Children’s Book of the Year, and told him about my other books, and the various successes I’ve had with them. I explained that the day job is what pays my bills and my writing income is just not enough to live on.
I didn’t spell it out any further. I didn’t explain to him that my earnings are between 5 and 10 percent of the price of a book – meaning that when one of my hardcover picture books sells, I MIGHT eventually get $1.25 in a royalty payment, and for paperbacks, of course, less than that. And I didn’t explain about royalty payments only coming twice a year, or about the struggles to even get my books into bookshops so they can sell enough copies just to earn that money. I didn’t tell him about the hours that go into manuscripts which are never published, or the hours on research, or learning the craft, or studying the market, or the myriad other things a writer does which produce no income.
No, I didn’t tell him any of this, because I was filled with the glow of the news of my shortlisting. And I still am. But of course, when the glow fades (which eventually it will), I will find myself remembering the look on my friend’s face when I told him why I work a day job. And I’ll also remind myself that I don’t write for the money – though I’d sure like there to be more. And I don’t write for the accolades – though I love them.
No, I write because there are stories I need to tell. The stories that come to me, sometimes in the dead of night, sometimes when I’m busy with my family, sometimes at really inconvenient times, those stories are insistent. They don’t leave me alone until they’re written – and sometimes they won’t leave me alone even after they’re written. And those stories need to be told for lots of reasons – but mainly because stories matter. Kids need stories. Lots of stories. And some of those kids need MY stories – a story about a kid with cancer, or a kid with a dying grandmother, or even a story about a singing teddybear . And I need to tell those stories, even if it’s just so those voices in my head will let me be for while – until the next story comes along.
Does that mean I don’t appreciate the recognition? Not on your nelly! Of course it doesn’t. I love that a group of judges, people passionate about children’s books, chose my book to sit on that shortlist alongside some pretty brilliant offerings from other authors. And I love that the shortlisting means my book will be read by even more young readers across the country. And knowing both of these things does help to keep me motivated at times when it’s hard to find time to write because of that day job.
But the reason I’ll keep snatching time to write is simple: I write because I can’t not write.
What about you?