The Skinny on Author Advances


Irene Watson’s (Reader Views) post on author advances is worthy of your study.
Irene lays it out in terms easy to comprehend, exactly what the definitions are of the traditional publishing writer’s advance model, giving a look into the real story of the “myth” of the wealthy fiction writer (unless, as she suggests, your last name is King. or Rowling. or Grisham, etc).
Traditional publishing houses have less and less to spend on marketing budgets, hence the author is expected to kick in their own bucks – whether from the advance itself or from elsewhere – to pay for publicity, tours and so forth.

So the takeaway is – you will do a large part of the marketing yourself, whether you are a self-published author or are published traditionally with an advance – and, so, of course, don’t quit that day job. At least not yet.

Oh, and speaking of day jobs, I’ve always loved this quote from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way:

“Practice too much solitude, we risk being flooded by stagnation and a moody narcissism as our life and our art become emptied of all but the big question “How am I doing?” What we are after is balance, enough containment and autonomy to make our art, enough involvement and immersion in community to have someone and something to make art for.

Raymond Chandler sold insurance. T.S.Eliot worked in a bank. Virginia Woolf ran a printing press with her husband, Leonard. What gives us the idea that people with “day jobs” can’t be real artists? Very often day jobs feed our consciousness. They bring us people and ideas, stories and subjects, opportunities as much as obstacles. A day job is not something to “outgrow”. It is something to consider, especially if your art feels stale. You may have cannibalized your own creative stores and need to restore them with contact from new sources. As artists we need life, or our art is lifeless.

Art thrives on life. Life feeds it, enriches it, enlarges it. Cloistering ourselves away from life in the name of being artists causes us to run the risk of producing art that is arid, artless, and yes, heartless.

For most artist there is something risky about too much unstructured time, too much freedom to make nothing but art. We talk about self-expression, but we must develop a self to express. A self is developed not only alone, but in community. Community functions like resistance in weight-training – the contact with others makes us stronger and more defined. Day jobs help not only to pay the rent but also to build stamina and structure…. Navigators need the stars to structure their voyages. We artists, too, need other points of reference to stay on course.

Chekhov advised young actors: “if you want to work on your art, work on yourself.” He did not mean “Contemplate yourself.” He meant we ought to do those things that develop in us creative sinew. A day job can do that. So can some commited community service. So can taking the time to practice the art of listening to something other than our own concerns. A day job requires that skill.

Although we like to think of ourselves as more rarified, artists are people, and people do need people. And things. And hobbies. If you strip down your life to get serious about your art, you will find that you get serious, period. If all you think about is your Art with a capital ‘A’, then it’s always there, twitching and heaving like a space alien… Your serious career begins to become your serious problem… which you can talk about, seriously, to other “serious” artists and, perhaps, to an endlessly empathetic therapist who understands how sensitive you are. None of this will get much art done…

In our cash-conscious culture, we have a mythology that says you must be a full-time artist to be a real artist. We hear this to mean “no day jobs”. The actual truth is we are all full-time artists. Art is a matter of consciousness.

A friend of mine gets cranky when he is separated too long from his piano. He also gets cranky when he is closeted too long with his piano. Our love affair with our art is like any other love affair – it needs separation as much as it needs togetherness.

Our life is supposed to be our life and our art is supposed to be something we do in it and with it. Our life must be larger than our art. It must be the container that holds it.

Life is not linear. Our Artist’s Way is a long and winding road, and we travel it best in the company of others, engaged not in the inner movie of the ego but in the outer-directed attention that fills the well with images and stocks the imagination with stories. Rather than yearning to be “full-time artists”, we might aspire to be full-time humans. When we do, art is the overflow of a heart filled with life.

That day job may not be a millstone after all. It might be a life-support system.”

Survey: Myth of the Starving Artist life