Once in awhile, an article comes along that resonates so profoundly I have to share it and add my own thoughts. In this case, it's Merritt Tierce's September article for Marie Claire, "I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim--and Then I Promptly Went Broke."
Tierce is the author of Love Me Back, a novel that was well-received by critics and blurbed by the likes of Roxane Gay. According to Tierce, she sold around 12,000 copies in two years, which was not enough to earn back her advance. Now, she is struggling to pay her bills and is suffering from self-doubt and lack of writing time while "hustling" freelance pieces to the best of her ability. Tierce has no desire to work in academia, which she is qualified to do but might tear her even farther away from family and writing.
This is the stark, terrifying truth of life as a writer in this day and age. Even when the acceptance letters arrive and the publication contracts are signed and the galleys are approved, there is no guarantee that your book will find any sort of success. If you primarily write poetry, your audience is exponentially smaller and the chances of earning money from your work are so slim as to be nonexistent. To date, I have made somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 total across ten years of actively seeking out publication.
But those of us who are serious about it--that is, the craft of writing--have accepted these facts, as unsavory as they are. If you are very lucky, you will see a handful of novels or poetry collections published in your lifetime and perhaps win some awards. If you are less lucky but still diligent, stories, essays, and poems will appear in any number of print or online literary journals, and perhaps even be anthologized. Even if you take steps toward publication, you may be able to achieve little more than one or two placements.
Do I dream of winning a National Book Award, being touted as the next Sylvia Plath, or being legitimate enough to have someone like Nikky Finney blurb me? You bet your ass I do, and if any writer tells you they don't have similar (hopeless) aspirations, they are lying. But for the sake of my own sanity, I have to shelve those fantasies. If I didn't, I would descend into despair with each new rejection letter and give up hope altogether. And I've worked too long and too hard to abandon the written word.
I commend Merritt Tierce for telling the truth, and I wish her all the luck in the world. Her struggle is that of most writers, and I don't want that for any of us.