How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying
As a young writer, my naiveté about the publishing process nearly led me to financial ruin. Here’s how to avoid my mistakes.
The first thing I tell debut authors is this: Assume nothing.
If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works, how nothing is guaranteed, and how it often feels like playing Russian Roulette with words, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions. I would have set a foundation for a healthy life as an artist, laying the groundwork to thrive in uncertainty, to avoid desperation, panic, and bad decisions that would affect me for years to come.
How would my life be different if a fellow writer or someone in the industry had told me that the money I’d be receiving for my advances was absolutely no indication of what I could make on future book deals? What pain could I have avoided if they had advised me not to spend that money as though there would be more where that came from? I suspect I may have avoided a near nervous breakdown and not come so perilously close to financial ruin and creative burnout. But no one came forward.
Let me back up. One of the most respected publishing houses in the world gave me $100,000 to write two books, one of which was already finished, and I was feeling... well, fancy.
As a kid who’d once stood in line with her mother to get food stamps, I could not believe the figures in my bank account.
Now, I want to acknowledge the inherent privilege that I hold as a white, educated, middle-class American. The problems I write about here are “struggles” many people would love to have. They are good problems. Lucky, even. Growing up with a lack of financial literacy didn’t mean there weren’t opportunities for me out there because of my positioning in the world. I had a leg up, even when it felt like I was in the trenches. Access equals privilege, and I understand that. I try hard to acknowledge my privilege and not be part of the problem, but didn’t do so explicitly in the original version of this article. Revising is my favorite part of the writing process, and clearly a big part of my personal…