I spent some time searching my own archives before titling this post "making a living" because I was sure I had used it before. Unless Google is wonky, I haven't, which strikes me as strange. I was thinking about the parallels of the writing and publishing career paths today while stuck on a long drive, and I'm not really sure which is the harder lane to hold.
Many concerned parents have given their scribbling children the sage advice "It isn't easy making a living as a writer. Why, I read in a magazine last week that only 100 people in the whole of these United States makes a living as an author." What's truly amazing is that somebody made a living writing that oft-quoted magazine article. But most writing jobs are 9 to 5 salary positions, writing technical manuals, churning out documentation and company newsletters, writing for grants or composing ad copy. That's not counting the whole of professional journalism, newspaper and magazine writers, columnists, some of whom earn a very good living. Overall, I'll bet that people who make a living writing have a higher median income than people who make a living other occupations, if you take the "other occupations" crowd as a whole.
On hand number two, I'd be pleasantly surprised if one out of a hundred authors who enters the field of self publishing ends up making a living at it, even in the short term. Of course, that's because most writers get involved in self publishing for the wrong reason. I wrote once that most self publishers shoot themselves in the foot before they even start by writing the wrong book, or they self publish because they can't get a trade contract. That's sort of like running for public office, losing the primary with zero percent of the vote because you didn't follow the instructions in the booth, then deciding to start your own party as the surest way to get elected. Self publishing isn't about a sudden promotion from Joe citizen to Joseph author, it's about kissing babies and selling books.
But let me throw you a curve ball. I think that most of those who make a living writing could transition to making a living self publishing if they have a head for business and two eyes for marketing. And, I think it's a lot less risky for writers to make the transition to publishers than for cooks to make the transition to restaurant owners, bartenders to club owners or teachers to private school moguls. There's a lot less paperwork involved, no need for employees, no special regulations to comply with, expensive licenses, etc.
Thanks to the Internet, I'm not sure there are many other occupations where it's so easy to make the transition from an employee to the being your own boss. It's the making a living at it part that's tough, because unlike house painters or landscapers, you usually can't rush out and undercut your old boss doing the same thing, often for the same customers. And unlike the restaurant and bar employees, you can't open a new place right across the street. Yet, once you have the system beat, it makes you wonder why everybody doesn't work for themselves.
Of course, there's always the problem with holding your own nose to the grindstone. If I could just figure out how to stop posting to the blog and get back to writing books, I'd have a future in self publishing myself:-)