In the last couple of years, I’ve moved from “Learn to Say ‘No’” (journalism) to “Learn to Monetize” (writing novels)—which is problematic, because you can’t really learn to monetize in this field. Being a novelist is not like any other profession, and even publishers will tell you that they don’t really know what makes a book tick. You could write kickass books year after year and not have anyone notice; or you could be in the right time, at the right place, and be an overnight success. Unlike other professions, there’s no road map to success.
I made the choice that I did knowing the tradeoffs involved—I wouldn’t make anywhere near the kind of moolah I’d make if I stayed in journalism or went back to television; but I’d wake up every morning looking forward to getting down to work. I think that’s worth it—until my savings run out and I can’t meet the rent. Thankfully, MFS has sold well enough to ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. (15,000 copies so far, my publisher tells me, which makes it a huge bestseller by Indian standards—the benchmark for being a bestseller in India is 5000 copies.) My earnings from this don’t cover opportunity cost, of course, but they keep me afloat while I write the next one, and that gives me more joy than all the journalism I ever did.
While on success, Udhay also points me to a lovely essay by Po Bronson on the subject. Here’s an excerpt that sums up my feelings on the subject quite exactly:
There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.
So do you love what you do?