Many years ago, someone made a comment to me something to the effect of, “Writing sure is an expensive hobby.” Back then, I thought this person meant that with as little as most writers made (money-wise) that most of them ended up spending more money on marketing and promoting themselves than they made on royalties from selling their work. That is still the sad fact for a large percentage of writers.
But then recently I heard it again. “Writing is an expensive hobby,” said a publisher friend of mine, lifting an eyebrow as he said it. Then added, “The poor often can’t afford to engage in it.”
“Yeah, especially if you only have one book and you’ve spent thousands to produce and market it, and it’s not selling,” I said.
“That’s not entirely what I mean, though you certainly have a point. For most writers, it’s a social clique. It’s about keeping up with the Jones’.” He gave me another knowing look.
“Surely not all of them.” I shrugged, because my writer friends, those in my clique, were dead serious about their careers and many of them had at least one bestseller under their belts.
He shrugged back. “I’m just saying that you don’t often find poorer people getting involved in their local writing groups. Making sure they have the latest Apple computer, even though Macs haven’t had a legitimate reason to be the standard in publishing since the 1990’s. It’s all about the image. Designer electronics. Attending conferences. Doing everything but writing and using writer’s block as a scapegoat. Ever notice how most “writers” who aren’t making money writing are retired, independently wealthy, have good paying jobs, or have a spouse who supports them? At that point, you can afford to have an expensive hobby.”
I was stunned to silence. How many writers had I known like this? Certainly not all of them, but enough to know he could be right about some people. Back when I started out I wrote when I wasn’t working. On a PC because I couldn’t afford a Mac. A solid one was over $2K. I bought my first MacBook back in 2011 after one of my steamy romances went bestseller. That mac was a major purchase. But I needed it because back then, the iBookstore wouldn’t let you sell books on their platform without it. Bought my second Mac in late 2019 because I wanted Vellum, and Vellum only runs on Mac. But then I make 6 figures writing these days and can afford a $1000+ backup, throwaway Mac that won’t last beyond the final OS it will upgrade to (about 2 years per Mac is what you’ll get out of them these days). That said, it took me over 20 years of hard work and dedication to finally start making a living from writing.
“But not all writers,” I started.
“Oh, certainly not all writers. The indie set is certainly more publishing and business minded than a lot of them, but it still takes money to get started.” He nodded as if he were agreeing with himself.
“True, but that’s why so many indies also have day jobs,” I countered. “I mean, not all writers are sitting in cafe’s bragging about being writers. Some of them are on their cheap PCs, typing away at three in the morning while also holding down a regular day job to pay the bills, and saving up for an editor or a cover.”
“And a lot of them aren’t.” He took a sip of his coffee and let out a sigh. “I’m just saying that for a lot of people, writing is an expensive hobby. I realize it’s not all writers. I’ll be generous, maybe about half.”
We exchanged a look then, something unspoken between us, and he changed the subject to the state of the traditional publishing industry.
I thought I would write about our conversation because it has been stuck in my mind for a week now, like an annoying song, and makes me wonder how many poor, but talented, writers aren’t writing or publishing, or even attending a writer’s group, because it sometimes is about keeping up with the Jones’ and it can be such an expensive hobby mostly engaged in by retirees, housewives, and the independently wealthy. But #notallwriters, James. Even retirees, housewives, and the independently wealthy have a right to write. So, who cares if they don’t want to make a living doing it? They have something they enjoy and that’s okay. The part of the conversation that stunned me was the idea that there may be some aspiring writers out there not writing due to their economic circumstances, and that should make those of us who are fortunate, and financially stable enough to be able to write, whether hobbyist or professional, grateful for our circumstances.