To be honest, making money as an author couldn’t be easier.
Take the case of Anna Todd, the 25 year-old debut novelist from Texas featured today in the New York Times. The clock on Ms. Todd’s 15 Minutes of Fame began ticking when the prodigious piece of erotic fan fiction she began publishing last spring on Wattpad garnered an enormous worldwide audience. Entitled After, Ms. Todd’s book features Harry Styles, the real-life star of the British boy band One Direction–or, rather, a boy band heartthrob with the same name, band, and features as Harry Styles–in a “steamy” (quoth the Times) relationship with a college freshman. The results? A six-figure multi-book deal with Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books plus a tidy sale of the film rights to Paramount. The paperback version of the book appears in stores today as a 584-page epic with added and extended sex scenes.
So there you go. The recipe could not be more straightforward:
- Take aim at that healthy portion of the global populace which maintains a robust fantasy life
- Pander to that audience by concocting a romance plot in which romance is defined as “lots of sex”
- Include as one of the romantic partners a beloved celebrity (or a character with the same name and attributes as a beloved celebrity)
- Publish free daily installments to that purveyor of fine culture, Wattpad
- Sit back and wait for New York and Hollywood to call
You don’t even need a laptop or good grades in English. Ms. Todd wrote most of After on her smartphone without paying much attention to punctuation.
If you can’t follow these easy directions to success, then I have to say, Dear Author Hoping to Cash In on Literary Fame, there isn’t much hope for you.
Or maybe you’re finding yourself reluctant to copy the recipe of Chez Todd, though you’re not quite sure why. You got into the writing game to attract an audience, but you never thought you’d have to write erotica for teens, twentysomethings (and beyond) to get your mug in the Times. Something about all this just doesn’t sit well with you.
Perhaps Walker Percy put his finger on the problem when he wrote the following about the presence of erotica in contemporary fiction:
“The real pathology is not so much a moral decline, which is a symptom, not a primary phenomenon, but rather an ontological impoverishment; that is, a severe limitation or crippling of the very life of twentieth-century man [Ed. note--things are looking even more impoverished here in the twenty-first, Mr. Percy]. If this is the case and if this crippling and impoverishment manifests itself often in sexual behavior, the latter becomes the proper domain of the serious novelist” (“Diagnosing the Modern Malaise”).
For Percy, it’s one thing to write about sex as a form of ontological impoverishment, quite another as a way of amusing oneself in the midst of one’s poverty.
But it’s strange. As the Times reports, Ms. Todd has a loving military husband who supported her literary endeavors by encouraging her to quit her day job so that she could write full-time. So: loving husband, six-figure book contract, a film deal, fame. Why would Ms. Todd be experiencing any sort of impoverishment? What could possibly be missing from her life?
What’s missing, if Percy is right, is that she and others–perhaps including ourselves?–don’t have the foggiest notion of who we are and what we’re doing on this planet. Fantasy sex, money, a feature in the Times–such things can distract us from the questions about ourselves we find it impossible to answer. But soon enough the malaise will creep back in and that person looking back in the mirror will demand to know what it’s all about.
To tell the story of that person, we authors will need a very different kind of guide. Instead of How to Make Money as An Author, we’ll need a “how-to” book with a title such as, How to Make Money as An Author Writing Books Which Manifest the Truth of the Human Predicament to a World Which Has Forgotten What That Predicament Is.
Perhaps that is a book I will have to write.
The image above of Harry Styles is reproduced courtesy of Fiona McKinley via Wikimedia Commons under the following license.