…”Books that cost more to write than their sales ever could repay.”

 – Alan Paton


Lately I’ve had my nose in a couple of books. One is a history book on the JFK years, the other, Alan Paton’s most famous novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. 

I have a curious, even weird history with Paton. In high school, one of my English teachers assigned a lesser-known Paton novel called Too Late the Phalarope. A phalarope is a type of shorebird, and I feel confident stating that none of us kids had ever even heard of a phalarope before. Presumably, there were some jokes among us male students comparing the word to phallus.

In all the years since, I’d never read Paton’s masterpiece, though I bought a copy years ago at a used bookstore during a going-out-of-business sale. It remained in my TBR (to-be-read) pile until last week.


What Do Books Cost Authors?

The quote above about “books that cost more to write than their sales ever could repay” got me thinking. I’ve written about costs like cover design, interior design, and marketing. You can find links to some of my other posts on authorship here, here, and here.

But I don’t think these costs were what Paton was talking about. I think his words refer to what it costs the author in emotional, physical, and even spiritual terms to wring words out of painful experiences, and put into a novel all the heart, soul, and sweat a novelist can as he or she creates a work of art.

Of course, I’ve never suffered through anything like apartheid, slavery, anti-Semitism, or any of the hundreds of indignities visited upon fellow human beings in the ongoing tale of man’s inhumanity to man.

I’ve taken my share of hits, though. And in one of my posts, I wrote, “writing a novel is like scaling Mt. Everest alone with nothing but a spoon for climbing gear.” It’s true. Like boxing or any other sport where you leave a piece of yourself behind, it has a cost.

And it has its rewards, too. That’s why I’m still writing novels, and probably always will.


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