Another question about writing…
From a reader:
“…you’ve worked in both industries. Which is better for writers: the movies, or book publishing?”
The publishing industry is far better for writers, if you can break in. The movie industry relegates screenwriters to the bottom of the food chain, and publishers treat authors like gold. Authors that earn, that is.
The life of a screenwriter can be one of abject misery, as recounted in William Goldman’s excellent book. It’s a bit dated, but still powerful testimony to the Hollywood pecking order.
On the other hand, some (very few, actually) writers hit the Hollywood lotto. One of my buddies from NYU is now lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. But this wasn’t an instant success; he struggled in the trenches for years, writing for peanuts in various training programs and carving out spec scripts with his partner. But that’s the TV game.
Feature films are a whole different animal. This ship is steered by producers, directors and talent (stars) and they all have agendas. The writer is at the bottom of the totem pole and often regarded with indifference and often times, contempt. It’s not unusual for a writer to struggle over a script for a few years, sell it to the man, and later find the entire piece hacked and chopped by the director or star and later made into an unwatchable trainwreck. When this happens, who do you think takes the blame? You betcha.
In the publishing world, the writer is treated well, because he/she is the reason for the industry’s existence. Calls are answered, lunches are ‘done’ and checks are written. And the money can be great, even for those writing genre’. Check out my buddy John Scalzi’s entry on ‘income’.
For those that reach the top of the publishing world, the money is insane. I’ve got three major bestselling authors in my orbit as I write this. One is a personal relationship, the other two are tangential business relationships. The guys have sold millions of books, and have made enough money to put their great, great grandchildren through college. Granted, not every writer will see this kind of success, but what if you could make $150K a year writing books? Would you enjoy that?
I sure as hell would. My dopey little dad book recently made a bestseller list in the parenting category. I’m still paying off my advance, but getting close to break-even. I may not get rich on this title, but I could eventually cover my kids’ annual clothing budget with the royalties. And I’ll gladly take it.
Finally, in regards to my writer friends mentioned above. They generally loathe the film industry, and have enough money to do anything they please within it. Pretty sad when the guys with the most toys hate a certain sandbox so badly that they’d rather not play at all.
[Postscript: A writer/director and famous producer/star fight over a movie’s final version.Â Guess who wins.]