|Photo by Brenda VanCuick|
I was searching the web to see if Prometheus Books had posted any type of announcement about my forthcoming book, Convicting Avery: The Bizarre Laws and Broken System behind "Making a Murderer". But before I could find anything, I came across a website called Reddit. (At least I think it’s a website; it really just seemed to be a string of comments.) There was a discussion of my recent Wisconsin Law Journal article about how the Denny rule prevented Jerry Buting and Dean Strang from putting on a third-party defense at Steven Avery’s trial. Most people in the thread liked my article. And so did a guy or gal named “Account1117” who wrote “not a bad column.” (Given there is a lot of bad writing out there, I’ll take that as praise.) However, he or she also wrote “$$$” and indicated that the dollar signs “were a criticism over the fact that a random lawyer out of
no ties to the case is writing a book with ‘Making a Murderer’ in the title.” I tried to post a response, but couldn’t
figure out how. (The problem, I’m sure,
lies with my technological ineptitude; for example, I’ve never tweeted or snapchatted
or pintrested, I’m not even on facebook, and I don’t even know what
Reddit is.) So instead, I decided to write
this post to dispel some myths and offer some tips to would-be writers:
- Do not
become a writer for the “$$$”.
My forthcoming Avery book is my third book. On my first two, I earned less than
$3.00 per hour. It takes a very,
very long time to research, write, revise, and footnote a 60,000-70,000
word non-fiction book that is good enough to be sold to a publishing
company. On my Avery book, assuming
I don’t earn anything beyond my advance, I will likely earn about $8.00-9.00
per hour. Even if the book sells amazingly, incredibly well and I earn money
beyond my advance, I will likely never get to $40.00 per hour, which is
what criminal defense lawyers can earn on public defender appointments in
- A bonus tip: if you’re looking to make the big “$$$” you’d be wise to avoid criminal defense work, too.
- Write for the love of writing — or don’t even bother because you likely won’t be successful. Before I wrote my first book, I wrote many law review articles. And I just finished another law review article after writing the Avery book. I’ve written 16 such articles with one more outlined and another one brewing in my head. For lawyers, writing a law review article is a good test to see whether you really love writing. Why? Because they are dry, heavily footnoted, long (up to 25,000 words), and, unlike books, you get paid $0.00.
- Another bonus tip: avoid writing empirical-based articles. Those might even cost you money to collect the underlying data on which the article is based.
- If you are a lawyer and want to try your hand at writing to see if you love it, or if you’re a lawyer making so little money that $8.00-$9.00 would be a pay increase — don’t laugh; the job market is so bad that many new lawyers can’t find work at all and others are only making a few bucks per hour after paying their overhead — be careful what you write about. “Account1117” is critical because I had nothing to do with the underlying Avery and Dassey cases about which I wrote. However, Wisconsin SCR 1.9 would have prevented me from writing the book if I had anything to do with either of the cases. That’s right, had I been involved in one of the cases, the Wisconsin State Bar and the Office of Lawyer Regulation take the position that I would be prohibited from writing even about the public aspects of either case, as that would be “information relating to the representation.” I’ve written about the absurdity of this rule and how it violates lawyers’ free speech rights. I’ve also petitioned our state supreme court to change it.
- Final bonus tip: I suppose you don’t have to write for the love of writing; you can also write for an underlying cause, like free speech or criminal justice reform. But I still wouldn’t write with the goal of making money — unless you’re really good at writing about vampires or dragons or romance or something like that.
In the end, I suppose the best way to put it is this: I write because the alternative (not writing) is worse. As the late, great Christopher Hitchens once said: “There’s nothing like not writing for making you unhappy.”