Thursday, May 7, 2015


Pearls from my Oyster
As I was leaving a local home improvement store yesterday, I was approached in the parking lot by a smiling man. Not creepy smiling. Pleasantly smiling.

Here's our memorable exchange:

Man: Hey, you're Debora Coty, aren't you? [He eyes the bag in my hand] So authors actually do their own shopping?

Me: Authors not only do their own shopping, they scrub their own toilets. And then they scrub other people's toilets too.

If you're an author, you're nodding your head and chortling right now. Because you probably clean houses to support your writing habit.

The public perception of the lucrative and lavish life enjoyed by published authors always cracks me up. As if being published is the genie in the lamp. If I had a quarter for every person whose eyebrows plowed into their hairline while their pupils disturbingly dilated when they learn I write books, I might be able to have my roots touched up more often so I don't have to wear so many hats.

(Oops - now you know my secret; and you thought I just liked hats!)

The next sentence out of the cheeky conversant's mouth is usually, "You're an AUTHOR? Wow - you must be really pulling in the dough, right?"

After squelching the impulse to respond with, "And that's business of yours, how?" I ever-so-patiently explain that, well, no, only 2% of all authors (counting the high end J.K. Rowlings and Jerry Jenkinses) make enough to quit their day jobs. I can tell by their dubious expression that they're not buying.

At this point I usually remember that I left the stove on and flee to head off the fire department. But sometimes, if I sense this is a sincerely-inquisitive-but-obviously-ignorant person, I'll explain further that the publishing industry has drastically changed in the past twenty years and although some big mainstream authors still get six-figure advances and royalty checks fat enough to insulate an attic, the vast majority of authors these days - especially authors writing for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) - um, don't.

I've had my share of royalty checks for $2.56 and I know plenty others who have too.

Most folks, even aspiring authors at writer's conferences, seem surprised when I mention that it took ten years for me to make it into the black. Long-suffering Spouse, who prepares our taxes, kept telling me every April for an entire decade that the IRS was eventually going to wonder why this crazy person (me) didn't switch hobbies (because it certainly couldn't be a profession when you lose money every single year).

This from the guy who once asked me why I was staring at a red-headed woodpecker hammering away at our backyard oak. When I wondered aloud, "Why would anyone repeatedly bash their head against a tree?" he answered, "For the same reason some people become writers."

I love that man.

Okay, so back to the point. Don't write to get rich. It won't happen.

Write because you can't not write. And then maybe one day, if you scrub enough toilets, your unsightly roots will be a thing of the past and you can wear hats simply because you want to.


cherylbethjohnston said...

I enjoyed this post, Deb, and especially the way you wrapped story around the "write because you can't not write" truth. When I think of the Gospel writers and realize their writing didn't earn them a livelihood, it puts the whole matter into perspective.