When I was 15, I was convinced that my future was fixed, and was going to be a successful writer.
I read voraciously, put out two children’s novels, a myriad of stories and poetry I’m embarrassed to share, and brainstormed enough epics to retire on.
And the more I learned, the more I understood how hard it is to make a living off of writing – especially in fiction. Unless you’re a runaway New York Times bestseller, and can write a book a month.
There are three reasons for writing:
- Some writers write for themselves, in love with an idea, and in love with simply telling a story. They aren’t animated by the book signings or the publishing deals. If other people read it and enjoy it, well, then the world is a better place.
- Some writers write explicitly for an audience. They know who their readership are, and so they are bound to tell a story that they know will be read and liked. They may or may not be as personally inspired by their story.
- Some writers write for the money. It’s a book deal, a royalty check, the fame. Frequently these authors will do anything to get the wordcount, and tell any story. They know their readership, but they are bound to their need for finance or fame.
The best and most enduring is #1. They will invariably write the best and most inspirational literature.
#1 and #2 are a good combo. #3 rarely produces anything meaningful.
“It is the authors of what publishers call “middle-market fiction” who struggle to make a living. With so many means of distraction and entertainment today—film, television, social media, etc.—the young writer of good novels is unlikely to make a living from his craft.” Piers Paul Read, “Dangers to the Soul”
So be animated by a love for the thing you’re doing, getting excited about the process and the project, and then working hard to bring it to life.
If you believe you have an important message, money will be the first thing that punts your commitment to that message out the door.
Its like serving two masters. Pick one.
I recommend you do it because you love it. Nothing else will sustain you in the long weary watches of the night.
But, if you’re in it for the money, you won’t ever make much. Especially if you are promoting yourself to a Catholic publisher.
Royalty checks will be few and far between, largely because we have a problem with our audience.
Catholic publishers aren’t always a first choice for mass entertainment.
We turn to vetted and veteran storytellers, like Netflix and Disney.
Should we actually expect to live on a diet of only ‘Catholic’ entertainment?
Or should we be able to appreciate good material, however it’s produced?
Being a runaway success as a Catholic author is rare. You need all kinds of stars to align. So don’t start there. Don’t start with success as a motivator.
It doesn’t last.
If you are convinced that you can do it, fire away. Some people thrive under deadlines, or financial pressure.
Its more important to start with the message, and with your readership. If your publisher can help with that, even better.
Develop a good relationship with your publishers. They know the interests of their readership, and will provide prompts or guidance for a novel they will want to publish.
But ask yourself if those conditions will create real fiction you can be proud of. Or if you’ll only profit from.
Tell the story you want to read, and write the story that inspires you. Often, those are the stories that matter – because you’re free to tell them.
“One of the most disheartening circumstances that the Catholic novelist has to contend with is that he has no large audience he can count on to understand his work. The general intelligent reader today is not a believer. He likes to read novels about priests and nuns because these persons are a curiosity to him, but he does not really understand the character motivated by faith. The Catholic reader, on the other hand, is so busy looking for something that fits his needs, and shows him in the best possible light, that he will find suspect anything that doesn’t serve such purposes.” Flannery O’Connor ‘Confessions of a Catholic Novelist”
So be honest with yourself for a moment, and get comfortable being aware of your motivations.
“The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them…” J. R. R. Tolkien ‘On Fairy Stories’
“The arts can come to our rescue, if they are true and beautiful and faithful to the moral order of the universe. In presenting human dramas in all their variety, a novelist, for example, can help reveal the actions of divine providence (very present but usually mysterious and hidden from our eyes). In this way a reader or a person listening to a symphony or gazing at a good painting can come to know that he is more than he thinks he is, more than the definitions of man given by ideologues and theorists. A true work of art helps him apprehend, by some interior sense, that while Man is damaged he is not destroyed; he is beautiful and beloved by his Father Creator.” Michael O’Brien, “Catholic Writing Today”