Guest Blogger: Chuck Sambuchino
You ever see Superman IV? You may have blocked it from your memory because the whole movie is just a drive down Awful Street. But as awful as it is, I think it has a connection to the world of writing. One fascinating thing about the movie is that Christopher Reeve wasn’t interested in making another Superman film (because knew it would suck—and suck it did). So if he knew Superman IV would suck and didn’t want to do it in the first place, how on Earth did that movie ever get made? Two words: Street Smart.
Street Smart was a tight little drama script that Reeve had been trying to get off the ground for years. Some Hollywood producers told Reeve they would bankroll any picture of his choosing in exchange for doing Superman IV. He couldn’t resist, and he signed the papers. Street Smart was released in 1987 and Morgan Freeman got his first Oscar nomination for the film.
The point is: Like Christopher Reeve in the mid-80s, we writers will sometimes do things for love and we will sometimes we do things for money.This is normal; it’s perfectly healthy. Think like an actor. You do the safe picture, then you can do the arthouse picture.
See, most of things we write for love—i.e., usually our fiction—doesn’t have a guaranteed financial payoff, and even if it does, it’s minimal. From my experience writing fiction (in my case, mostly scripts), I can tell you that even with having several stage plays produced and commissioned, there is very little money to be made in playwriting. (Also, I have yet to see dollar one for the screenplays I have composed—but here’s to hoping.)
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
David Morrell, the thriller writer who brought John Rambo to life, once told me that only 250 people in the country make their living soling writing fiction. All the other writers must do other writerly tasks to bring in money. They teach online courses; they draft up press releases for local businesses; they freelance edit manuscripts; they pen magazine articles. In other words, they do a variety of tasks to make a decent income.
One of my common pieces of advice that I give writers is this: Do not put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, diversify yourself. If you are just writing one picture book or one novel or one memoir, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The truth is: A lot of first books don’t sell.
You have to keep writing. Give yourself the best chance for success by having multiple projects to sell over time. If the wonderful day ever comes when a literary agent calls you on the phone to discuss representation, the first two questions out of their mouth, guaranteed, will be: 1) “How’s your day?” and 2) “What else are you writing?” They want to make sure you’re a career client, not some one-book wonder—so for that reason alone you have to write multiple things to be an attractive client to an agent.
Find a Healthy Balance
So don’t just write one thing; write lots of things. My advice is to take this “Diversify yourself” advice a step further. I say write long, write short, write fiction, write nonfiction. Stick your toe in different waters. And as you seek to diversify yourself and tackle different projects, you will take on some projects for love and passion—projects that might fail. And you’ll also find yourself taking on assignments just to pay the bills. And this is okay. Just find a healthy balance.
Chuck Sambuchino is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits Guide to Literary Agents. His humor book, How To Survive a Garden Gnome Attack , was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post and AOL News.
See Gnome Attack on Amazon
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