Making a Living at Art, and Other Fantasies

The good news is, thousands of writers report they’re making a pretty good living.

Unfortunately, that’s a proverbial iceberg tip, being held up by several hundred thousand writers deep underwater. Have you ever tried breathing while being held underwater by thousands of writers?

The median income for authors is less than the amount they spend on computer equipment, Starbucks membership cards, and books about how to write for a living.

Now, I’m not telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for me, a writer. No, I’m telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for me and buy my books. That’s the way it is, for a working writer: It’s not work if you don’t sell it. Until then it’s a hobby that saps your health and makes all your relatives question your sanity, but you still can’t stop

In other words, it’s an addiction.

There’s no Writer’s Anonymous meeting to go to, because a real writer is unwilling to quit. Oh, they’ll keep saying they will … but they can be found late at night, hiding in their home office also known as the basement, attic, or spare bedroom, working by the light of a computer screen. “I can quit anytime I want. Just … one more novel. And this one will sell for sure!”

So, if we write for the joy of it, why do we try to sell? It’s an art, right? We’re supposed to starve for our art. Somebody said it, so it must be true.

Yeah, you go ahead and starve.

Are there really that many artists who don’t care to make a living at their art? I’ll bet not. I’ll bet, deep down, that most artists dream of selling enough paintings, pottery, or macramé wall hangings to make a living. If it’s your joy, you want to do it all the time, right? With just enough break time for lunch?

So when I published my latest book, I decided to go on an all-out selling frenzy, to see if I could possibly push enough copies to encourage me toward that eventual goal of taking early retirement. The good news is, in eight years I can take full retirement, at which point I can expect a regular check of half what I’m currently making.

In other words, one way or another, in eight years I’m going to be taking another job—whether it’s writing or not.

The experiment started when my wife and I decided to drop the e-book price on my already-published book, The No-Campfire Girls. It wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves, partially because it can’t be found on a lot of shelves. We dropped the e-book price to 99 cents, which is less than you’d pay for a trip to most soda machines. We also increased how much of the profit goes to support my wife’s former Girl Scout camp, from a third to half.

Yeah, I know, that flies in the face of my earlier desire for a living wage, but sometimes it’s nice to do something nice.

I sent notice of this to all the local media, and to the local media down in Missouri, where the camp is. I also hit a heavy rotation on social media, blaring the word as far and hard as I could. I became so annoying that some of my internet friends flew in from other countries and knocked on my front door, just so they could slap me.

“We get it! You have a new book! But you’re interfering with our cute kitten videos!”

I sold four copies.

Not long after that my newest book, Slightly Off the Mark: The Unpublished Columns, came out. This was a book of my unpublished Slightly Off the Mark columns. You probably figured that out. I’m writing a column now for the Kendallville Mall, but I had a lot of material left over after being downsized from my old job.

I spent two weeks being as obnoxious as I possibly could about this book, which to be honest I’m pretty proud of. I blabbed about it on Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, and I’m pretty sure I got it up on a site that normally caters to people who dress in Wookie costumes to go swinging in Rio. I sent it to newspapers in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Well, the one newspaper. I sent it to CNN. I sent it to that guy who used to publish Penthouse magazine: “Dear Penthouse Letters, I never thought this would happen to me, but I published a book!”

I sent my grandkids out with sandwich boards. I decaled my website ( on the side of the car. I wrote the book title in white paint on several area streets, thus causing an incident I’d rather not talk about. (It did NOT look like a railroad crossing sign!)

The result? Mediocre. I have not turned in two weeks’ notice at my day job.

Now, we’ll see what happens when my next book comes out, on August 24th. But that’s another media blitz.

Oh, and dthe flyers. Don’t forget the flyers.
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4 thoughts on “Making a Living at Art, and Other Fantasies”

  1. I admire your tenacity. I don’t think I’ve ever written more than two sentences.

  2. Remember, our day jobs are what keeps us writing in the face of constant rejection from the uninformed and unwilling. But boy will that be a great day when we quit the day job!

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