The Creative-Side Versus The Business-Side Of Being An Author

In a gem featured on Letters of Note, E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, told a “literary truth” to a young fan inquiring as to when he would publish his next book:

I would like to write another book for children but I spend all my spare time just answering the letters I get from children about the books I have already written. So it looks like a hopeless situation unless you can start a movement in America called ‘Don’t write to E. B. White until he produces another book.

This response dismayed the young girl’s librarian, who returned White’s letter to him and complained of White’s cruel tone.  I agree that it’s a bit surprising that a grown man would say such a thing to a child, essentially blaming his lack of productivity on his fans instead of on himself for failing to manage his time better, but I thought his response was funny.  I like the curmudgeon-humor, through which E. B. White raises an interesting question: When do writers find the time to write with all of the other demands on their time?

White’s lack of time for creative endeavors comes from his success and the resulting piles of fan mail.  For less established authors, it comes from not attaining such success (yet) and their need to hold other jobs while raising their profile and marketing their books.  All writers must contend with the business-side of being an author, in addition to other demands on their time, such as raising children or caretaking for adults.  White laments, “I don’t want being the author of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ to be a full-time job or even a part-time job. It seems to me that being an author is a silly way to spend one’s day.”

The business-side of being an author certainly detracts from the creative-side and may seem like a silly way to spend one’s day.  However, engaging with fans is an important way to market books.  I’m much more likely to buy multiple books from an author who writes a sweet note in response to my child’s fan mail than I am from a curmudgeon, no matter how funny, honest, or famous he is.


    1. True! It’s definitely too bad that spending time “being an author” reduces the time available for writing. Social media has made it easier (to reach people), but also more difficult (in that authors are expected to do much more to reach people).

  1. We often forget the business side of writing, blaming our failures because we are not paid to just write. The business of breaking into the profession is managing time to produce the work that forces a light to shine on… you! A simple fact we all forget. Great reminder. Thanks.

    1. Absolutely. Time management is key, whether you’re breaking into the profession or already established. In White’s case, he certainly spent A LOT of time writing detailed responses to his fans. While responding to letters is certainly time consuming, my guess is that he was hiding behind the piles of fan mail and not admitting some other problem, possibly writer’s block or a loss of motivation. If you want to write, you do.

  2. I actually love the marketing side of writing–maybe that’s because it’s my major and what I have a degree in (or shortly will). I think it’s good to be an author who is well rounded and understands all the aspects of publishing. I often say I love writing and marketing. I guess it’s a good thing I am, as it’s a huge part of being an indie writer.

    1. I can see how it would be a kind of fun to do the marketing side, but it looks very time consuming! It’s hard enough writing on top of working and raising kids. Congrats (in advance) on your marketing degree!

  3. Funny that we would both blog about the combo of the business and the creative side of writing on the same day. As a writer, I like White’s note, as a mom, I wouldn’t be so happy for my kiddo to receive it. 😉

    1. I would’ve been devastated if I had received such a response from an author when I was a kid! His second letter then goes on to blame librarians for encouraging kids to pester disagreeable authors.

        1. So true! He’s also lucky that the young girl (or her parents) and the librarian didn’t have the internet to let other readers know about his attitude!

  4. Thanks for posting this. I like White’s tone as well. It’s refreshing to know that reputable, established writers don’t find the “other” side of writing to be all that easy. When I’m actually composing a novel or short story, I feel like being a writer is a wonderful thing. It’s a blast letting my creativity loose, and I relish every possible little moment that I can spend adding a sentence or two or just re-reading what I’ve done so far. Even the revision process is fun, and so is talking with early readers. But at some point I have to say I’m done and start doing the work required to get someone who doesn’t know me to drop a buck or three on an e-book or to get an agent to look at the thing. It means writing synopses and researching the market. It means establishing an internet presence and–hey!–reading and writing blogs. All while commuting and teaching and grading papers and spending time with family and doing all the things every one of us has to do. Writing is definitely different from publishing, but still the marketing end of it isn’t so bad. I’m not having to dig ditches to get people to read my books. And I don’t think I’ve got it in me to stop writing, so the marketing thing is just going to keep happening. Best to just accept it.

    1. yes, writers will just have to accept that the business-side is a necessary part of publishing (if they want to get their works into as many hands as possible). I can see how it’s not so bad. It’s a game that might be fun to play at times.

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