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ASK THE EDITOR What to Expect After You're Published

By Susan Malone

October, 1999

Writers often assume that once they’re published, all the trials and tribulations of learning the craft and the business and selling their books is then thank-God-and-greyhound over. The idea of quitting the day job is so universal that its corollary has become a cliche. Once that first book hits the shelves, one assumes, everyone will see what great talent and storytelling ability reside within the author’s breast, and therefore the whole world will clamor to scoop up not only that book, but all subsequent ones as well.

Be honest, you, too, have felt this way.

We all have. As discussed before, you have to have at least a smidgen of narcissistic grandiosity in order to summon the will and the courage to write a book in the first place. All psychological complexes serve some function, or they’d become obsolete as we evolve.

Unfortunately, this very neurosis that is in service of the ego to get you started can metamorphose into a beast itself once that first book does hit the shelf. Because it is the rare writer whose career actually follows the dreamed-of path. For 97% of published authors, that "day job" remains a vital part of their existence.

I don’t know how many authors I’ve spoken with and heard from who two years after publication of their first book, or even the second, sit frustrated, sometimes bitter, and often demoralized because the sale of that book didn’t change their lives. They’re often more frazzled and sometimes poorer if that day job did go by the wayside too soon.

Problems with publishers abound. I’ve yet to know anyone who had a perfectly pleasurable trip with his publisher. Some problems always arise. Often, these arise around the hidden numbers’ games that some publishers play, and of which you can’t know until you’re too far into said game to avoid the pitfalls.

I say this only to confirm that as one of the major reasons first-time, or even second-time writers don’t make millions and live out their days sitting on the beach at Cayman sipping pina coladas and pecking away at the laptop now and then. Lack of self-promotion is another, but that’s an entire year of columns in itself.

The truth of this business is that writing is very much like beginning a second career. How long did it take you to become successful in the first one? Did you start out making six figures? Don’t expect the rules to be different in publishing. Add to that the aspects of the entertainment business in general, and the idea of making one’s living through writing grows dimmer indeed. Not being a musician or a visual artist, I can’t tell you how hard it is to have a number-one record, or sell at Sotheby’s. But I’d lay odds it’s damn difficult.

The point is to get very clear on why you’re writing. If it’s to make a million, I’d suggest a lottery ticket. If it’s for reasons much more personal, that you have something to say and must say it, then revamp your delusions. Look at this realistically, and plan from there. Then, you can dream . . .

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. Her newest nonfiction, FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN, co-authored with Gary L. Malone, MD, os out now. Five books she’s edited have recently been published or sold. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, or you may email her at aaasuz@aol.com