How do writers deal with really big books

How do you get famous as a writer?

Authors and writers are asked this question very often. But the question of fame is not the one that is relevant to most writers. Of course, all literary creators want to be successful, but automatically becoming famous is neither easy nor absolutely desirable.

Not every writer, not every writer, can become famous

When one speaks of writers who are famous, most people immediately think of one name or another. Sure - many great writers have shaped literature over the centuries. Names like Shakespeare, Goethe and Schiller are of course something like the holy grail. Some people wonder how these great representatives of their guild would have fared in the modern book market, but this comparison makes no sense for several reasons. Nevertheless, such names mark the Olympus of fame, because they were not only known in their time, but have their place on bookshelves for centuries afterwards. Today's writers can only dream of such fame. Even the bestselling authors of our time will probably not all survive the centuries. But that's not bad either, because today a lot more people write books than back then. What distinguishes today's literary creators who manage to become famous? Very few have the classic tools of a literature or (in the case of German books) a German studies course. Much more important was and always is creativity and the ability to create worlds with words. In our fast-paced world, virtually anyone can become famous today, even if only for a short time. But YouTube stars or Instagram influencers show that ephemeral fame can come without great achievements. Conversely, there are innumerable very good writers who never become famous because hardly anyone knows their excellent works. Without a little luck, it rarely works - and that is a rule that runs through many biographies of famous writers. Even high-quality books that are engaging, exciting and easy to read sometimes fail to make the leap into the bestseller lists. Conversely, with some questionable works, one wonders how a writer could achieve the breakthrough and become famous with them. It's a bit like in music: not everything that pleases is of great quality and vice versa.

Even the most famous writers rarely break through right away

Anyone who contemplates becoming a writer must realistically ask themselves whether he or she will be able to make a living from the profession. In contrast to other business models, you can't just open a shop and produce your own books on an assembly line. This is meant quite literally: novels sometimes take years to develop before they are put on paper in their final form. There are of course the counterexamples of authors who spit out a lot of text in a short time, but only a few have this ability - and even then there is the problem of “quantity instead of class”. To become famous overnight and to be able to make a living from selling your own ideas in the form of books may be the dream of every writer - but the reality is different. In fact, after the first bestseller, even successful literary professionals cannot live off their vocation for a long time and have to pursue a completely normal job alongside. Most of the time, of course, it's the other way around and writing books is the actual sideline activity.

Up-and-coming writers are frustrated to find that their manuscripts are not eagerly awaited by publishers and accepted with a kiss. The editorial offices of the publishers are inundated with manuscripts in such a way that often only a superficial examination is possible - if it takes place at all. At best, in 99 percent of all cases, you get a rejection after a few months or you don't hear anything from the publisher. It is different if you are already famous as a writer and work with a literary agent - then the editors are usually a little more open, but this is not a guarantee of publication. In the meantime, through self-publishing, many literary creators have achieved a level of fame that does not always bring big money or the general public, but at least a certain amount of attention from those who ultimately matter: The Readers in the right target group. The catch: Even among the self-publishers, only very few manage to become famous. Of course, almost every author has the dream of being discovered overnight. Anyone who claims otherwise is not completely honest with themselves. Because whoever does not write for an audience (and no matter how small it is) would not write any books at all.

For writers, being famous does not automatically mean wealth

The leap to fame and success as a writer is not just a question of the financial aspect. This is usually a long time coming anyway. If one realizes that the literary creators who are under contract with a publisher usually receive a maximum of 10 percent of the retail price even for a bestseller, it becomes clear that one does not get rich as quickly as non-specialists assume. If you ask people, they believe that books are always sold in millions and thus one euro per book makes the writer a millionaire. Aside from the fact that these amounts are still pre-tax, it's just not true. Only in exceptional cases are there requirements that reach six-digit heights. A book is already considered a success when it has sold between five and ten thousand times in stores. If you then calculate what the writer earns and how much time is invested in writing a book, the net earnings are rather poor. After all, authors with such successes can build a name that hangs the publication hurdles lower for future works. But of course there is never a guarantee: there are many first works that sold as bestsellers, but later books by the same author were like lead on the shelves. It's similar to music again - everyone probably knows the term “One Hit Wonder”.

But what about J.K. Rowling?

Yes, the example of the mother living on welfare, who makes her life as a single parent and at some point made the big breakthrough with her story of the sorcerer's apprentice Harry Potter and built an empire worth billions, is certainly the ideal image of a successful and famous writer. But if you ask for more examples of this kind, the air quickly becomes thin. A “Rowling effect” can be found once in every generation - and even then not on the scale that occurred with Harry Potter. Of course, the story remains inspiring: How she hatched the story in her head during a train ride and wrote it down later.

Many publishers didn't want to hear from Ms. Rowling until a small publisher finally took pity on her and produced a small edition. The unbelievable stroke of luck then came: the discovery by a large American publisher with the following breakthrough for J. K. Rowling. But here, too, between the beginning and the fairytale end of the story, Mrs. Rowling had to cope with countless rejections from publishers before she became famous and successful. So far, so good, because that is what she has in common with almost every author who has ever wanted to sell a book to a publisher. This example is highly recommended as an inspiration. Unfortunately, many writers are increasingly disappointed when they find that the final (and most important) point of their own Harry Potter saga is missing - namely the breakthrough.

There are downsides to being famous

Not only writers know that being famous can have disadvantages. Actors and musicians know the problem of not being able to go to a restaurant without being recognized and spoken to. This is usually not a problem for writers, even if they have already achieved a certain degree of fame, because most of the time they are not as publicized as their books. Still, J.K. Rowling sure can sing a song about the disadvantages of celebrity. Not least because of this, many writers choose a pseudonym under which they write their books. However, anonymity often has other reasons as well. Not everyone wants the neighborhood, quorum, or family members to know that he or she is a writer. And from a technical point of view, pseudonyms can also make sense, because anyone who works in different genres is best able to come up with suitable author names. A Tom Clancy, for example, could sell his thrillers without any problems, but if he had started writing children's books or fantasy novels, he would almost certainly have given himself a pseudonym so as not to alienate his target groups from one another.

So you can't become famous as a writer?

Don't get discouraged. Those who approach things realistically and enjoy writing usually also write good stories and books. And that's what it's ultimately about. Anyone who steps into the matter with the aim of becoming famous and worth millions will be disappointed. But anyone who wants to write books to tell their stories and to delight readers can do so more freely and independently today than rarely before. Because, unlike Goethe and Schiller, we are no longer necessarily dependent on a publisher. Self-publishing enables everyone to realize their dream of their own book. To become famous with it is no easier than it used to be - on the contrary. The large number of authors who are entering the book market, be it in the form of e-books or printed editions, naturally makes the battle for market share even more difficult. The sure recipe for success to become famous as a writer does not exist. And if there was one, someone would certainly have written a book about it.