Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

On Full Disclosure

This posting on Friday night thing, it’s got to stop. Which means I need to be prepared ahead of time, because the Catbird’s “be in school at 7 on Fridays” isn’t stopping anytime soon (and I know, as much as I grumble, I’ll miss it next year when she’s in college). I just don’t like posting on Friday nights, but it beats Saturday morning anyway, so I’ll just have to deal.

So. Imagine you’re at an event. An author stands before an enraptured audience, having read from her brilliant debut novel. During the Q&A, a starving wannabe asks her how she managed to get by while spending the two years it took to writer her novel, since she had no other job. Imagine if her answer was, “I’m filthy rich. I lived off the earnings of my accounts while I wrote this, but things did get tight: I had to sell off a few shares of Berkshire Hathaway (currently trading at $220,000, yes you read that correctly) to pay the taxes on my mansion and vacation in Zurich.”

Or, second scenario: Another reading, another debut writer, this one with a gushing review on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. The book is being hyped by his publisher, he’s being touted as the next Big Thing, he’s getting on Oprah and Fresh Air and morning shows all across the land. A jealous wannabe stands up and asks what has made him so successful. What’s the magic bullet? The author says, “Connections. My mother is a Pulitzer Prize winner. My father is the head of the most prestigious literary agency in New York. My Godmother is my publisher. Let’s face it, my book is middling at best. It’s all in who you know.”

What would you think if you were in the audience at either event? Would you applaud either writer for their honesty, or would you frisbee their books at them in hopes of putting out an eye or knocking out a few teeth?

I ask because of this article that appeared in Salon earlier this past Sunday. The writer is very upfront about her own situation: she’s “sponsored” by her husband, whose well-paying job provides her with financial security and benefits that allows her to write pretty much full-time. Further, she feels we’re not doing anyone any favors if the circumstances that might give a writer a leg up–filthy rich, say, or well-connected (sadly, I am neither of those things)–are not disclosed. People should know these things; it might make them more realistic about their own chances.

Issues of privacy notwithstanding, I’m not sure I entirely agree. In the end, I don’t think any of us who are trying to make it in the writing game want to hear that you have to be rich (you don’t), or you have to have friends or family on the inside (you don’t). In cases like this, honesty may not be the best policy. What say you?

7 Responses

  1. This was discussed this week over on the YA Writers Reddit forum. That article sure made me mad. One writer is not a spokesperson for everyone. The vast majority of writers juggle writing with full time employment and family.

  2. I'm a big fan of truth, as long as it isn't construed as going on FB to rant about your ex, your politics, religion, or bra size. I loved Ender's Game more before I became aware of OSC's religious beliefs… There's such a thing as TMI, and it'll just lose you friends, fans, and potential buyers. But admitting being well off, connected, or just plain lucky is honest and they shouldn't lose the regard of others for that. Now, If they said that was the only way to succeed in publishing and the rest of us should just give up now, that's another matter — it's untrue. Thanks for the link to the Salon article. I enjoyed it. Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  3. Oh, and thanks for commenting on my blog. For 10 yrs I lived and worked in NYC. I miss it… Best food in the world and always something fun to do.

  4. I say… I didn't tell people how much I made BEFORE I became an author, so why should I start now?

    What business is it of ANYONE's how you earn your living? Even while writing? It isn't. And for people to ask, it's just plain rude.

  5. As I'm neither rich nor connected, I'm always glad to hear others aren't either 🙂
    And it'll be very satisfying when we 'make it' to those shelves!

  6. Some interesting–and strong!–reactions here. Just a couple of points:
    1. I agree, nobody needs to know what I make (or what I will make when I'm a bestseller, hah ha) or who I know, for that matter.
    2. That said, it can't hurt to be honest. "I admit I am in a financial situation where I can afford to devote myself to writing full-time." This can then be turned around to talk about what people might want to do if they don't have that luxury. Connections might be a little harder to work on. "However, every year, new writers are published and have bestsellers without having any contacts at all."
    3. If you're trying to encourage new writers, then you would certainly downplay those things. Again, I think there's a way to be honest about your situation without either rubbing the collective noses of the audience in it or discouraging people. That would be the thing to aim for, I think.
    4. Thinking about the original article again, I don't know if the author really brought her point home. It felt kind of …incomplete.
    Thanks as always, everyone.

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