Caitlin Kittredge is a novelist and former game designer. She lives in Seattle, WA with 3,000 comic books and two pushy cats. Her favorite word is ubiquitous.
I’d never try to discourage anyone from writing fiction, but if you want to succeed as an author just starting out, being prepared for the worst goes a long way. With that caveat in mind, here are all the reasons you should go get a real job like your mother wanted:
- The market is tough—and tiny.
It’s hard to get a fantasy, particularly urban fantasy, noticed by agents. The market isn’t saturated, but it’s reached a point where agents and editors can be pretty darn picky and still have a list overflowing with urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Yours must be a standout to get noticed. Also, ALL fantasy, from epic sprawling sagas to vampire bounty hunters, has something like an 8% market share. Your chances are slightly better if you’re going to be marketed as paranormal romance, but it’s still a niche, and it’s still full.
- Unless your name is Stephen King, your advance isn’t going to pay for that private island.
I know, you say it’s not about the money, but guess what? Most fantasy authors don’t live on their writing, and those that do aren’t usually holed up in Malibu sipping on mimosas. If you want to make a living as a professional writer and only a writer, expect to be dirt-poor for a two to five years, because the pay scale just isn’t there in our genre except for the big guns and the breakouts. And if you keep a day job, you’re going to be working two full time jobs when your novel sells. Stock up on No-Doz, or marry someone who will pay the bills while you’re getting your income up to speed.
- Genre writing is not for the faint of heart.
Remember the look your college English professor gave you when you turned in a fantasy short story rather than a piece about your mother’s music box? Yeah, you’re gonna get a lot of that if you do this for a living. People ask me, “What’s you’re book about?”. I say, “Werewolves,” and get an entire range of reactions from “Oh, cool,” to “I thought you said you wrote real books.” The good news is, fantasy is becoming a lot more accepted as other media like TV, comics and film mainstream the supernatural. Develop a thick skin—you’re going to need it to deal with snob critics who don’t accept that genre writing is valid expression anyway, and it helps when explaining to your great-aunt Mildred that yes, you write about elves having sex, and yes, you get paid for it.
- You won’t get the luxury of writing one novel every ten years.
Fantasy novelists are expected to produce more than literary writers. It’s a fact, and it’s both good and bad: good because our sales numbers tend to be a lot better, hence the demand, and bad, because of the implication that your demon-hunter novel required less effort than their middle-aged road trip novel. Well, get past that second one and get used to writing on deadline—usually every six months to a year. You think you can produce a novel in six months, no problem? What about your job, hobbies, family, pets? What if you only get one hour a day to write? You have to be able to make that hour count every single day whether you feel like it or not. And there will be days when you don’t, trust me.
- The work is hard, lonely, and largely without tangible result.
You work alone, probably thousands of miles from your agent or editor in New York City or London. You work when you’re sick, you don’t get government holidays and you work even when you feel wholly uninspired—because of the deadlines, remember? If you don’t produce, you don’t get paid, and if you’re a full-time writer…that’s all you have to live on. You only see the results of your labor about once a year, when the book goes to press, and the rest of the time is a slog of wordcounts, checking your Amazon rating and venturing out to bitch with other authors about the industry. But, I will say this: when you hold your book in your hands, every hour sacrificed to the writing of said book is worth it.
Made it this far? There’s hope for you yet. Here are two reasons why you should write fantasy anyway, even with everything I’ve said above.
1. You’ve got something to say.
Fantasy has traditionally been the genre used for social criticism of the particular writer’s world, and it continues to be one of the most fluid and versatile genres because literally anything goes. Fantasy lets you say what you need to say, artfully and imaginatively, and you can’t ask for more than that.
2. Fantasy needs new authors with new ideas.
Just because the market is full-ish now doesn’t mean there’s not room for you, if you write with passion, have a fresh take on the genre and police your commas. Chin up. Shoulders back. Type on.
Lucky readers, Caitlin’s giving away a signed copy of Night Life! You know you want it, so tell us, are you a night person or a day person, and why should the rest of the world be like you?