[Real Talk] That Book Life

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I saw this article in my inbox today during tax season from GirlBoss which breathily talks about how if you have a special enough voice, some agent will find you special enough to manage and then you get to live happily ever after on the back of a Pegasus with Oprah, mentoring all the young and the trembling, fully successful in all your creative writing endeavors. My book has been out for eight months.

Let’s preface this with: if you can get an agent, you absolutely should. It is always really, really nice to have a bigger team to make your dream work.

Your would-be agent generally works at least in part if not completely off commission. Here’s a hint: commission comes from you actually selling things. You don’t sell anything, guess whose mortgage isn’t getting paid? That’s right.

I’m also . . . a bit flummoxed by the idea that many would-be authors have which is having an agent means never, ever having to do any non book writing related work. You are paying for your agent’s mortgage. If you think your editor/PR is on your ass about your social media/blog presence, I can’t see many agents being excited that you do not have one. Unless you wrote something truly amazing. Here’s a hint: you didn’t.

An agent isn’t going to shield you from having to do podcast interviews, from having to put together a marketing plan, from having to have a good social media trajectory. An agent does two things primarily: (a) gets you a good contract (b) gives you potential opportunities that unagented authors don’t have access to. These are obviously really valuable things, which is why if you have the means, you should totally get one.

I’m also not the girl who was ever asked to write a book and had to claw my way to getting one. No one read my blog and said, “That’s my girl!” I did a back breaking amount of work for very little money for a decade.

This isn’t meant to bring you to despair. But it *does* mean that:

(a) Before you even think about writing a book, how many Insta followers do you have? Where do you blog? How many readers do you have? Here’s another hint: You need more. Add another zero to that number.

(b) Okay, you have a book idea. Will a publisher that takes unagented writers be interested in it? Which publisher(s)? If none, what’s your plan to self pub? Here’s a hint: if you want it to be good at all, it’s going to cost at least a grand to hire a editor and illustrator. Are you confident you can make that back?

(c) Where have you been published before? You should ideally have a tidy stack of previous shorter publications to show that other editors have taken a chance on you and have not rued that day. It could mean you are worth a bigger gamble for a full book.

(d) If you write fiction, they will want to see the whole book in most cases even if they just thumb through it and pass. This is why I don’t write fiction.

(e) If you write non fiction, you will need to have at least 10,000 words, an outline and a marketing plan in most cases. You will also need to demonstrate that there is reason to believe that people will buy your book. Why? Because of your kick ass social media presence.

(f) Unless you have a spouse who makes good money, you will not be quitting your day job any time soon. An advance is generally enough for you to live off of for oh, one to three months. If you live like a church mouse. No one is giving you a high advance on a first time book unless you wrote something really amazing. Spoiler: you did not. I got my advance, have I gotten paid yet for my book that’s been out since August? No, and I don’t for another month. I won’t see the bulk of what I earned until October. Good luck making that work without a day job or workhorse spouse.

I think no one wants to look at the reality of: building a really good social media empire, getting published for smaller pieces, then pitching your book, then writing your book, then promoting your book and then not getting paid for your book for a ridiculously long amount of time because that’s the industry standard. It’s a crazy amount of work for very little ROI for at least five years after your first book, assuming they let you keep writing books (a big assumption).

When it’s written down so plainly like this, it looks batshit crazy. Here’s another spoiler: It is. But so is everything that’s creatively driven. So, unless you really, really want to do an insane amount of work for at least five years building up to writing your book, then doing a super insane amount of work writing your book and promoting it so you can get another book and then maybe in like five years if you’re really, really hustling you have a big enough catalog/enough gigs that you got because you wrote a book(s), you might be able to live very modestly off of it.

Like, who would do that? Only crazy people. So, if it’s not an all consuming desire like one feels for love and other drugs, save it for your dream journal. But if you do, don’t expect an agent to be a magical parental figure who is going to make it all better and all work out so all you have to do is write. That’s not the world we actually live in.

But this chick probably has some pretty good advice. And I’m going to keep writing because I’m that addled/addicted.


Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  


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