Monday, December 10, 2012
Why writing is like farming.
Recently, I've heard writers lamenting about their sales and royalty checks. Some of them have gone as far as saying that the cost of writing a story so outweighed the financial benefit that they have received from that story that they will no longer write.
When I was talking to my husband about this, he said that it seemed to him that "writing was like farming." I asked him to explain what he meant. It struck me that his analogy was a lot like Kevin J. Anderson's popcorn theory, and like Kevin's also particularly apt. The analogy that follows is Matt's:
Writing is like farming. First, when you start you have to work very hard to clear the land, prepare the soil, and plant the seeds. You work to weed and fertilize the crops. The first harvest is never what you want it to be. But it's a start. Once you've harvested that first crop, you have to work the land and reseed it for your next one. Then the weeding and fertilizing starts again. You have to move sites every once and a while so you don't use up the land and make it useless. And you have to do it year after year never knowing what the sun, rain and pests will do to your harvest.
When you have your very first harvest and take it to market, no one knows you or what you're selling. They don't come and buy that harvest in droves. If your lucky you have a few brave souls willing to take a risk on you. And you spend hours at farmers' markets and other venues trying to get those few precious sales.
After a couple of years, people begin to learn about you and come by to see if they like what you are growing. And if you have a bad year, some of your customers will go away and not come back. But you have to keep putting your harvest out there for sale, and tell people about it at the grocery store, gas station and every other place and time you can.
Then, years and years after you start, people will be coming by regularly for your crops. You will know them, and want to grow better crops for them.
And then a bunny will come and eat your lettuce, but you won't mind so much.
Nancy again -
Our neighbors across the street are farmers. They grow hay, corn and about half a dozen other crops, as well as, hogs, goats, chickens and cows. He and his family perform massive and exhausting labor every day. After Leighton's heart attack, his first question wasn't "should I give up farming" but "how long before I can get on a tractor again?" If I suggested he should stop farming just because his hogs aren't selling well this year, he'd look at me like I was insane. And he'd be right. You don't give up when one crop fails. You have other crops in the works because at some point every crop will perform poorly.
It seems to me that you can substitute the word "book" for harvest, and crops, and the word "writing" for growing fairly easily. Breaking out in the writing industry is hard work. First, when you start you have to work very hard to come up with the idea and write the first draft. Then, you have to work at editing (weeding and fertilizing) the story. When you have your very first novel and take it to market, no one knows you or what you're selling. They don't come and buy that book in droves. You spend hours in promotions, blog hops and doing everything you can think of to sell that book. The first book is never what you want it to be. But, you keep writing.
Most writers who have "broken out" didn't do it with their first book, or the second. If I recall right, Kevin J. Anderson quit his day job after his tenth published book, and with a year of savings in the bank. A recent Daily Kick from David Wolverton advocated having no back-up plan for writing. If writing is what you want to do, you need to sink your heart and soul into it.
Leighton, Dave and my husband are all right. (Yes, Matt, I said that on the Internet so now you have proof). If a story isn't performing as well as you'd like, and all your marketing isn't helping, work on your next one. Get more product to the market. Eventually, all your time, effort and energy will pay off.