Not For the Money

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Pablo Picasso

“So how much do you make?” I’m attending a book club meeting in Vancouver. I’d been invited here to discuss my novel. I don’t know anyone in the group. They found me through a friend of a friend of a friend.

I accept all invitations for presentations to book clubs or schools or festivals or anywhere really. You want me to come, I’m happy to oblige. I’m honoured by the interest people show in my work. And besides I have the gift of the gab (born with it) so any occasion to engage in discussion is good.

Despite this, I’m nervous. Yes, believe it. I hate to disappoint and each event is a performance. I prepare for hours: read and reread the piece I will deliver, think and rethink possible questions, imagine and reimagine where the discussion will go.

Still there is no amount of planning (this coming from an obsessive compulsive planner) that can anticipate where these sessions will go.

“So how much do you make on each book?”

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked. I’m not embarrassed by the question. In fact, it allows me to dispel any false impressions about writing being a money making endeavour. “Ten percent on print copies and 25% on electronic copies.”

“So you get $2.30 for each book sold. Is that right?”

“And $2.50 on each electronic copy. Yes.”

I’m sitting in a very cosy living room in Vancouver with ten engaged book loving women. I see behind their polite smiles, they are doing the math.

“You have to sell a lot of books to make a living,” one woman says. The others agree.

Another woman asks, “how many copies constitute a best seller in Canada.”

Again, I have the answer. “Three thousand copies.”

“But if an author gets ten percent and you’re lucky enough to sell three thousand copies, you make less than $9,000 dollars,” the woman who asked the original question says, incredulous. “You can’t live on that.”

I laugh. “That’s why I had another career before I started writing.”

“So why do you do it?”

Now that’s a good question. It’s painful work. When I start a new project, I never know where I’m going. I don’t know what I’m trying to say or how I’m going to say it and sometimes I don’t even know why I want to say it. But somehow as I stare, time and time again, at my blank screen, images form, words come, characters begin to talk to me and a story unfolds. The why behind the work comes much, much later. But in each case when I discover it, it’s a revelation, a dusting off of my experiences and how I view the world.

In the end, every presentation I’ve attended has been enlightening. The meeting this week in Vancouver was no exception. It reminded me why I write and nudged me back to my new project, which I’ve ignored of late.

But that wasn’t the only revelation. One of the women in the book club pointed out that the young boy in my novel, The Brink of Freedom was six years old. She noted that like my character, I was the same age when my family immigrated to Canada. I hadn’t noticed this detail before. Hmm.

My work, like the audiences I speak to, continue to reveal mysteries I had no idea were there.

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