Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Original Book Tour

Before I published May Day in March 2006, when I thought of authors, I thought of people who had it made, writing away in their sun rooms, a cup of tea by their side, shielded from the messy world as they created literary art and cashed royalty checks.

I had it partly right. I do often have tea while writing.

Otherwise, the money for beginning authors is not great. I've heard that publishers are happy to sell 5,000 copies of a debut novel, and the author makes about 50 cents a copy. My experience supports that.

As for time, a lot of it is taken in promoting the book. With 100s of thousands of books out there, it takes a lot of leg work to separate yours from the pack. This involves book signings, media interviews, blogging, submitting shorter works to magazines and anthologies, and sending out review copies of your novel. I do it, but it's not writing, which is what I thought I'd signed up for.

That's why I thought the following information was so interesting. It seems writers have NEVER been in their ivory tower, creating literature, and that writing has always been a cutthroat business. Not as romantic as the vision most of us have of authors, but interesting nonetheless. (The information below was posted on a writing listserv, but I'm afraid I can't find the name of the original poster.):

"There has never been an ivory tower for writers. Dickens went on long book tours, reading extracts of his books to audiences. George Eliot, Thackeray and others also did public readings, and went to the various social events arranged by their publishers. Defoe, Swift and company contributed to magazines and satirical publications and also went to social gatherings, like the literary salons arranged by the likes of Elizabeth Montagu.

Childrens' writers contributed to comics and magazines, went to schools and libraries to do readings. Shakespeare appeared in his own plays. Marlowe worked for the government on the side, to make a few pennies. Or were the plays his sideline? The ones who did no promotion of any kind are as rare as hen's teeth. Chaucer worked for the Crown and no doubt pushed his books at his work colleagues and at Court. So I can't think of a time when writers haven't promoted. More's the pity. The ivory tower looks beautiful from here."

It's work, but it's great work. :)


Keith Raffel said...

Dickens charged for his American appearances. If memory serves, his English works were not protected by American copyright so it was about the only way he could make money in this market.

Jess Lourey said...

Any idea how much he charged, and how many people showed? And did they ask him where they could find the latest Stephanie Meyers' book?

Lisa Bork said...

It seems like authors were once a phenomenon, and reading aloud to groups was an accepted way to pass the time hundreds of years ago. Now we have to compete with television and movies and much more written material, both online and hardcopy.

G.M. Malliet said...

Welcome back from your travels, Jess!

I have to agree with Lisa. Author readings are a difficult sell in this day and age...too many other diversions are available, many of them free. I wonder how many people would show up even to see a modern-day Dickens?

Jess Lourey said...

Good point, Lisa and Gin (and thanks for the welcome back, Gin!). There's a lot of competition. We'd need to have holograms of ourselves, or read while battling it out with light sabers. I'm in. Anyone else?