by Laura Crum
Someone asked me the other day if I was happy with my writing career. I have to admit that I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to say. I ended up babbling something inane, like, “Well, sure. Sort of. There are worse things.” And then I spent some time thinking about it. So now I am going to answer the question.
It’s true that I have had a good long run as a published author. My first novel, Cutter, was released by St Martin’s Press in 1994. Since then, I’ve had eleven other books published. I was paid (perhaps not a vast amount of money, but I got a check) for all of them. In these past twenty yeas, writing novels has been my “job.” So I guess you could call it a career. The thing is, I never really thought about it that way.
I certainly have not become a “best-selling” author. My books have brought in the grocery money, maybe. I am very lucky that my husband has a job that keeps us solvent. My career as a mid-list author would certainly not have supported me. Does this make me a failure?
I think it depends on how you look at it. Best-selling authors who make good money would probably say I was a failure. People who have always wanted to have a book published by a “real” publisher, but failed to attain that goal would probably say I was a success (twelve published novels and a good many readers over the years looks like success to the unpublished or self-published, I find). From my own point of view, I am content with the way the author gig worked out for me. I wouldn’t mind a few more readers and a few more book sales. I do believe there are horse people out there who haven’t yet read my books who would enjoy my novels, and I’d like to reach those people. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if my books paid for the groceries AND the whisky.
The main thing in my mind is that I enjoyed writing those novels. I wove a lot of my own life into them and I was really happy to have a career that allowed me to stay home with my beloved animals and garden, and later, with my son. I was fortunate in that I didn’t need to make a lot of money, so the fact that I never did make a lot of money didn’t trouble me. I was just tickled to be paid for doing something that I genuinely enjoyed doing.
And yes, there is the ego gratification factor. When I first started writing mystery novels (before I was published) I used to think that my life would be complete if I walked into a book store and saw my name on the spine of a book for sale on the shelves (this was before Amazon, too). And you know, it happened. Twenty years ago I walked into my local bookstore and there was a book with my name on it. Yes, it was very gratifying. But in the end, I realized that nothing had really changed. I was still the same person, with the same problems and the same strengths.
Before I was published I would go to talks given by authors and think that if I were the one giving the talk, if the people were there to see me, my life would somehow be a different life. And now that I have many times been the one giving the talk, I can tell you that my life is not vastly different. Yes, I can say that I am a published author and that does impress people (at least a little), but nothing of real importance in my life has changed. I have good days and bad days, happy times and sad times, just as I did before I was published.
The lesson here for me is that “fame” (and in my case it was a VERY small amount of fame) doesn’t do the things for you that you might imagine that it will. The admiration of strangers just isn’t as fulfilling as you somehow believe that it will be. That’s been my experience, anyway.
In the end, writing the novels and having people read them and (sometimes) enjoy them and tell me so has been a very happy experience for me. Being paid (even a small amount) for doing this has been rewarding. It has been satisfying to express my insights about the world and describe the things that I’ve loved in words—words that are read by others. Being able to stay home with my family and critters and garden has been vastly rewarding. So I would have to say that I am happy with my “career.”
I probably could have made almost as much money working an eight hour day five days a week for minimum wage for the last twenty years, just to be realistic. But you know, I do believe I’ll take being an author. Even a lowly, mid-list author. It suits me.
(Oh and Happy St Patrick’s Day–just realized it was today. This is how it is when you are a hermit who spends her time with garden and critters.)
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