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Rick Treon says it takes a village to finance a writer

Rick Treon

Rick Treon is the author of four novels, including the award-winning thriller Deep Background and Let the Guilty Pay, which was nominated for the 2021 Silver Falchion Award for Best Suspense Novel. He lives and writes in Texas. To learn more, visit ricktreon.com


My name is Rick, and I’m 35. My third and fourth novels were released earlier this year by small, traditional presses. My second novel, released during the hellscape that was 2020, was named a finalist for the highly regarded Silver Falchion Award last month. And all of this comes after my debut thriller won a small-press award back in 2019.

By almost anyone’s metric, these facts translate to success in publishing.

And yet, as I type this, I have no fixed address.

That’s not to say I’m homeless. I am, however, writing under a roof for which I pay neither a mortgage nor rent. The internet I used to upload this post is financed not by my own labor, and the phone I’ll use to respond to the social media comments about this post was supplied by one of the many people in my life who support me. I have small mail sent to my parents’ house an hour away and larger parcels shipped to my sister across town.

Before I go any further, let me be unequivocal: This is not a woe-is-me post.

If anything, I’m writing from a position of extreme privilege. The aforementioned roof and internet? Provided gratis by my employer as part of a “house-sitting” gig because my position doesn’t currently pay enough to cover my monthly expenses and rent (I did just pay off my car note, which helps, but not enough). The cellphone comes courtesy of my parents, who encouraged me when I decided to leave a career in newspapers after achieving the highest-possible position in two newsrooms, then housed and fed me during the pandemic.

Before 2020, I was making enough money to service my debt by helping my friend at his job. My position was called welder’s helper — no joke — and I was literally helping my friend out on oil pipeline jobs in Oklahoma and West Texas. I then worked for the Census (possibly the subject of my next post), perhaps one of two or three jobs I’ve ever gotten without knowing a manager with hiring authority.

industrial containers and warehouse premises of plant
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And when this house-sitting job is up? I have a sister, a friend, and a mentor who’ve all offered up rooms or full condos for me to annex until my minimum payments are low enough to afford rent and still pay down my debt, most of which is rolled up in student loans and long-ago medical bills — plus the credit cards I used to buy groceries between jobs.

Now, I could have stayed out on the pipeline (though at 35 I’m already a little long in the tooth for the non-skilled labor jobs on those sites) or found a job at Whataburger that could land me financial independence. But I’d rather write and edit all day, and I have loved ones who allowed me to make that a life choice.

But my various benefactors — including my boss at the day job — believe in me and my writing, and they want me to go as far as I can in this industry. Some think I’ll be the next Grisham. Those in the industry have more achievable, low-six-figure goals.

And they’re willing to compensate for the low four-figures I currently generate while I ride book publishing until it bucks me.

My story is far from unique. Nearly every author whose novels you’ve consumed have had people come to their aid and allow them the time and financial freedom to write fiction (non-fiction is a whole different financial game). We often read about the notable exceptions, such as S.A. Cosby or Georgina Cross (if you don’t know her, you will soon). Those authors worked hard and wrote on the side until they caught their breaks.

More exemplary of the book publishing industry is Adrian McKinty, the award-winning novelist who’d left the business to support his family until fellow author Don Winslow and his agent teamed up as White Knight investors in McKinty’s dream to write the book of his dreams, The Chain.

Still, even that is on the extremes of the author bell curve. Most are like me, with family or spouses who are willing to defray the cost of living while they chase their literary version of Alan Jackson’s honky tonk dream. Or they’ve retired from jobs that provided adequate 401(k) plans.

Most of my friends romanticize this journey I’m on. To them, I’m either famous (I’m not) or I’m a starving artist. Also not true. I could either be starving or an artist, but certainly not both at the same time.

They have these images because popular media never spotlights us. They also see me this way because authors rarely talk about the gifts we receive in pursuit of our version of the American Dream, which doesn’t remotely resemble those of my parents or most of my friends.

Some will call me a mooch, while others may choose deadbeat or societal leech.

I call it achieving my goals by any means necessary.

And I’m finally OK with that.

Rick Treon

Rick Treon is the author of four novels, including the award-winning thriller Deep Background and Let the Guilty Pay, which was nominated for the 2021 Silver Falchion Award for Best Suspense Novel. He lives and writes in Texas. To learn more, visit ricktreon.comwww.ricktreon.com, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Sherrill Joseph

    Rick, your post hit home, though I’m lucky to be retired with a decent pension from decades of teaching. It allows me to pursue my literary dreams. That being said, a big eye opener for me when I first published (during the pandemic) was how we writers have to put up a small fortune to see our work in print. I learned the hard way to pull way back now, giving much more thought where my dwindling funds go, especially since I’m writing a series. No frills; just necessities.

    I’m glad you have caring benefactors who respect you and your talent. I hope you’ll keep writing as you make your way through the “authors’ maze.”

    1. Rick Treon

      I’ll always keep writing. We’ll just see how long I can let it take up so much of my days, haha.

  2. Laurie Buchanan

    Rick — I retired from my private practice in holistic health a few years ago. The savings from that is what allows me to pursue my writing dreams—that and the fact that I’m Scottish and can squeeze a buffalo nickel ’til it poops!

    1. Rick Treon

      I’ve never heard the last bit of that phrase, haha. I’ll have to use it soon!

  3. Tracey Phillips

    Rick, You and I are both hungry for what’s at the end of the Writing Rainbow. I’m honored to hear your story and blessed to be on the journey with you.

  4. saralynrichard

    It’s an act of bravery to throw your energy and effort into the single commitment that makes your heart sing. I applaud you for taking that risk. You can count me as one of those fans who believes in your talent and success.

  5. Christine DeSmet

    You’re a success. Finishing one book is huge, and selling to one reader at a time is huge. I hope you’re appreciating every single day of this because you’re building the stories you’ll tell at the big conferences after your books hit it big. Louise Penny, after all, tells stories about hardly anybody showing up at her first book events and selling few books or none. Anything can happen for all of us. I’ve always had a job while writing my variety of books, including one bestseller. I’ve loved my job as a writing coach and instructor, too, so I feel very fortunate that two big things in my life have worked out. (But I worked my tail off at both and still do!) I wish you the best in your writing, Rick. It’ll be fun to see where you are a year from now and how you’ll update this post.

  6. It’s hard for anyone to finish one book, much less two! And being short listed and winning awards to boot! You’re well on your way. Here’s wishing you the very best on your journey, and how wonderful to have such a fabulous support system!

  7. jvickwriter

    With the acknowledgements your books are receiving, it sounds as if you are on your way!

  8. Sheila Lowe

    In 1989 I got fired, my car died, I had a bunch of debt and 3 young teens to support. I decided it was time to go full time in handwriting analysis. It worked. However, now I want to retire from that practice and just write books, it’s a tough slog, even after 20 years of publishing. I admire your grit and determination and am so glad you’ve got all that excellent support. Never, ever give up.

  9. authorleannedyck

    Thank you for writing this article, Rick. It helped me a lot–I’m living my dream but also (too) worried about what others think.

    1. Rick Treon

      You’re very welcome! It would be very nice if we could normalize this conversation.

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