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The Making of a Novel: Is This a Business?

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A reader made a comment a few days ago about the business of being a writer, and it got me thinking about how unusual it is for most writers -- myself included -- to think about what we're doing in terms of money. We have a vague sense of the money part of things (a sense that this isn't the best way to amass a fortune) but few of us actually sit down and think about how much we make at what we do, or if it really matters. We just write, and accept the consequences of selling our work or not selling our work.

I believe that the reason for this "head in the sand" approach to writing as a business is that we know that it won't add up. I mean, if I added up what I actually make per hour on my writing? It would probably be shocking enough to deeply rattle me. The fact is that I work really hard, and I spend a lot of time on it, and while I do get checks in the mail -- sometimes rather large checks -- it's not necessarily "worth it" from a purely economic standpoint.

Writers often say, "But I don't write to make money." And it's true with me, too. That's not my primary motivator. I write because I'm a storyteller and because I love the way words work on the page and because it brings me a deep and abiding satisfaction. But wouldn't a teacher say something similar, or a sports coach, or a fashion director, or a shopkeeper? Aren't there a lot of people who would say they enjoy their work? I'm sure they pay attention to how much they make.

I recently met a writer who ditched the traditional publishing route, rejected the self-publishing options and formed a company to develop and sell his work. He's got a team of employees working for him, and knows exactly what they are each being paid. And he is paying them. "It's a good business," he said.

A business!

I think, at heart, that's why I'm casting about for a new, more commercial story to write for my seventh book. I think that's why I was so quick to jump ship on my music critic and his violin-playing daughter. I think that's why I was so quick to believe that another story could be, perhaps, better for me right now. I love what I do. And in order to keep doing it, the business of it all needs to add up.