All Entries
Marching Bands
The Nutcracker Suite
Girl Scout Cookies
Apple Pie
Job Interviews
The Spacesuit Film
A Sense-of-Wonderful Century
Space Films Before 1950
What Is an Animated Movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey
St. Elsewhere
An Alien Abroad
The Sky Is Appalling
A Modem Utopia
Big Dumb Opticals
Surprising Sci-Fi Soul Brothers
A Day in a Working Life
William Gibson
William Gibson Bibliography
Arthur C. Clarke
Eaton Conference History
Inside the Eaton Collection
Eaton Links
Frank McConnell Book
Best of Eaton
George Slusser Conference
Science Fiction Quotations
Quoted Authors
Popular Topics
The Future
Unverified Quotations
Radio Interview
Greenwood Encyclopedia
Cosmic Engineers
The Mechanics of Wonder
Hugo Gernsback
Science Fiction, Children's Literature, and Popular Culture
Islands in the Sky
The Other Side of the Sky
The Endless Frontier
Arguing with Idiots
Superladies in Waiting: Part 1
Superladies in Waiting: Part 2
Superladies in Waiting: Part 3
Who Governs Science Fiction?
What SF Leaves Out of the Future (4 Parts)
Part 1: No News is Good News?
Part 2: The Day After Tomorrow
Part 3: All Work and No Play
Part 4: No Bark and No Bite
How to Make Big Money
Earth Abides
J.G. Ballard
Men into Space
Technocracy and Plutocracy
H.G. Wells
Chris Foss
Full Spectrum 4
Hugo Gernsback
The Norton Book of Science Fiction
Writings of Passage
Realm of the Enchanted Unicorn
Captain Marvel
Definitions of Science Fiction
Field of Dreams
The Incredible Hulk
Interactive Fantasy
Mario Brothers
Ali Mirdrekvandi
Ronald McDonald
Series Fiction
Wonder Woman
Radio Interview (Quotations)
Time Travel Inverview
Homo aspergerus Interview
Robots Interview
America's Second Marshall Plan
A Review of The Little Book of Coaching
My Life as a Court Jester
My Wedding Toast
Westfahl at Wikipedia
Westfahl in the SFE
Westfahl Entry
Westfahl Links
A Day in a Working Life: 300 Trades and Professions through History. Three volumes. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2015. 1373 pp.
A Day in a Working Life: 300 Trades and Professions through History


            Talented writers had always been able to earn a living from their work, but they typically did so by relying upon royal patrons to support them. By the time of Renaissance Europe, however, printed books were becoming common enough, and cheap enough, so large numbers of readers could purchase them, and writers might generate a significant income. While many sorts of books garnered large sales, the eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of a new form of book-length narrative that eventually became the specialty of many successful writers—the novel.

            Initially, people striving to support themselves by writing novels faced many challenges, as illustrated by the career of English writer Daniel Defoe (1659–1731), whose Robinson Crusoe (1719) is sometimes regarded as the first novel. After some failed business ventures, and political pamphlets that led to his arrest and imprisonment for libel, an aging Defoe turned to writing fiction, though the conventions of the day required him to present his works as the nonfictional autobiographies of their protagonists. With few mechanisms for publicizing works, books of the era featured lengthy titles that functioned as advertisements aimed at prospective customers; hence, the full title of Defoe's breakthrough novel was The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Un-Inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein All the Men Perished but Himself. With An Account How He Was at Last as Strangely Deliver'd by Pirates.

            When the book proved enormously popular, leading to at least five additional editions in the year it was published, one might imagine that Defoe earned a fortune; in actuality, however, authors then only earned money when they first sold a book, so to capitalize on the book's success, Defoe needed to hastily write a sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), with unfortunate results. As his pen raced across the page, Defoe suddenly decided to kill off Crusoe's companion Friday, and while he soon realized he had made a mistake, he had no time to go back and revise his manuscript. Instead, he elevated a minor character, Friday's father, to serve as Friday's replacement, an awkward substitution that failed to satisfy readers who had bonded with Defoe's original duo. Then, unable to produce any further adventures of Crusoe and Friday, Defoe desperately sought additional income with a volume of moralizing essays purported written by Crusoe, Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720), that attracted few readers and brought an end to Defoe's efforts to further exploit his most famous creation. Instead, Defoe turned to writing the life stories of other fictional characters, including the popular Moll Flanders (1722), but he always felt obliged to write at a breakneck pace; one month after the highly publicized execution of criminal Jonathan Wild (ca. 1682–1725), for example, Defoe had already churned out and published a fictional autobiography, Jonathan Wild (1725), that few people other than literary scholars read today. Defoe ultimately returned to writing nonfiction before ongoing financial difficulties drove him into obscurity and poverty by the time of his death in 1731.

            If Defoe's sad life illustrated the pitfalls of being a full-time eighteenth-century novelist, another writer, Samuel Richardson (1689–1761), showed that it could be an attractive part-time profession. By the time he published his first novel, Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded (1740), Richardson was already a successful printer, so he was under no pressure to write hurriedly to pay his bills. His book was written as a series of letters from a maid who resists the amorous advances of her employer until he finally marries her, and while its success inspired Richardson to quickly offer readers a second volume of her letters, describing the events after her marriage, he then spent several years working on his second epistolary novel, Clarissa (1749), usually acknowledged as the longest novel in the English language. Less fortunate than Pamela, its title character refuses to marry a young aristocrat, is raped by the scorned suitor, and dies after succumbing to depression and disease, shocking and saddening the many readers who had eagerly followed her saga while it sequentially unfolded in seven volumes. As an established printer, Richardson also had the business savvy and clout to avoid the problems that afflicted Defoe; so, when he learned that Irish printers were preparing an illegal edition of his third novel The History of Charles Grandison (1753), he hastily contracted with other printers to get the authentic edition published first, so the pirates could not profit from his work. Responding to complaints that his previous books had focused only on virtuous women, the hero of this novel is a morally upright man, sometimes characterized as Richardson's response to the roguish protagonists of another rising novelist, Henry Fielding (1707–1754), best known for his The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749). At the age of sixty-four, Richardson then retired from writing.

            As other writers began to write novels, they generally emulated Richardson by working in other professions and writing in their spare time; thus, Fielding was a magistrate; Tobias Smollett (1721–1771), a physician; Laurence Sterne (1713–1968), a clergyman; Horace Walpole (1717–1797) and Matthew Lewis (1775–1818), members of Parliament; and Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), a lawyer. One of the first American novelists, Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810), had also begun his career as a lawyer, but later garnered supplemental income by editing two magazines while writing his novels. But there were also novelists like Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774), who unsuccessfully pursued several careers before resolving to emulate Defoe and support himself entirely as a writer. This meant that he was obliged to work rapidly on many undistinguished projects that are now forgotten, though he contrived to spend more time on the works he is now remembered for, such as the novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and the poem "The Deserted Village" (1770). Some suspect, though, that the stress of incessant writing may have contributed to Goldsmith's early death at the age of forty-four.

            These men were joined by a number of women, since writing novels then represented one of the few ways that a woman could earn a substantial income, though generally these female novelists were also supported by their families or spouses. The most successful of these was Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823), whose husband provided her with a comfortable life, though she used money from her novels to finance their extensive vacations; a later novelist, Jane Austen (1775–1817), lived with her family for her entire life. But other female novelists contrived to support themselves: Fanny Burney (1752–1840) initially spurned suitors and instead accepted a position at the court of King George III (1738–1820), whose wife admired her novels, though she later married and resigned her position; and although a young Mary Shelley (1797–1851) had no financial worries while she was married to aristocratic poet Percy Blythe Shelley (1792–1822), she was obliged after his death to write novels to make money.

            Indeed, by the time Shelley emerged in the early nineteenth century, writing novels was finally becoming a reliable full-time profession: thanks to increasing demand, more regular business practices, growing numbers of public libraries, and connections to international markets, the money to be earned from popular books was greater than ever. Furthermore, novels were now openly presented as works of fiction, with authors' names prominently displayed on their covers, and popular novelists could earn additional income by going on lecture tours, reading excerpts from their novels and offering their thoughts on the issues of the day. The British Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was the first of these celebrity novelists, emulated most notably by a later American, Mark Twain (1835–1910). Major novelists were also prospering in France, Germany, Russia, and other nations. Yet writing novels as a career had downsides as well as rewards, as described in one novel, New Grub Street (1891), by professional novelist George Gissing (1857–1903). While a cynical writer named Jasper Milvain achieves success by pursuing and marrying a wealthy widow, a more idealistic novelist, Edwin Reardon, has a sadder life; unable to earn enough money from his craft, he loses his wife, his health, and ultimately his life. Certainly, with hordes of people now competing to become popular novelists, and with the chances of enormous profits smaller than ever, this is not a career choice that wise counselors can recommend; however, for a lucky few with talent and determination, being a novelist has indeed brought fame and fortune, and despite the odds, many others will continue seeking to follow in their distinguished footsteps.

Further Reading

Armstrong, Nancy. 1987. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press.

Deane, Bradley. 2003. The Making of the Victorian Novelist: Anxieties of Authorship in the Mass Marketplace. New York: Routledge.

Richetti, John J. 1999. The English Novel in History, 1700–1780. London and New York: Routledge.

Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers: Toward a Phenomenological Sociology of Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Sutherland, John. 2011. Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives. London: Profile.

Watt, Ian. 2001. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Second American edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.


Electronic Epistles
      Because people in the eighteenth century regularly communicating their thoughts and experiences to distant friends and colleagues by writing lengthy letters, it was natural for many early novels, like Samuel Richardson's Pamela, to take the form of a series of lengthy letters. Since that time, there have been many other epistolary novels, but some recent novelists have adopted the form to changing habits in correspondence by writing novels that consist entirely of email messages; two recent examples are Meg Cabot's The Boy Next Door (2002) and Lynn Coady's The Antagonist (2011). There have also been experiments with novels forged out of postings on Facebook and Twitter.

Sequels, Not Equals
      The two eighteenth-century authors who are regarded as the first novelists, Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson, also pioneering by writing sequels to their most popular works: Defoe published two additional books featuring his hero Robinson Crusoe, while Richardson produced a second volume of letters purportedly written by his Pamela. However, foreshadowing the fate of many later sequels, these successor volumes proved far less successful than the original novels, and while Robinson Crusoe and Pamela are still read by many readers today, only eighteenth-century literary scholars ever bother to examine their sequels.


From Sterne, Laurence. 1859. Letter to Robert Dodsley. In The Life and Letters of Laurence Sterne. By Lewis Samuel Benjamin (as Lewis Melville).1911. London: S. Paul & Company.

            In this letter to a publisher, novelist Laurence Sterne proposes to subsidize the publication of the first two volumes of his novel Tristam Shandy(1759-1767), displaying a good awareness of the realities of the book  publishing business, and he concludes with some comments about some changes he made to the book to make it more "saleable."

To Robert (?)Dodsley, Bookseller, London

York, October, 1859 [exact day unknown]


            What you wrote to me in June last, in answer to my demand of 50 [pounds] for the "Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy"—"That it was too much to risk on a single volume, which, if it happened not to sell, would be hard upon your brother"—I think a most reasonable objection in him against giving me the price I thought my work deserved. You need not be told how much authors are inclined to over-rate their productions: for my own part, I hope I am an exception; for if I could find out by any arcanum, the precise value of mine, I declare Mr. Dodsley should have it 20 per cent, below its value.

            I propose, therefore, to print a lean edition, in two small volumes, of the size of [Samuel Johnson's] "Rasselas," and on the same paper and type, at my own expense, merely to feel the pulse of the world, and that I may know what price to set upon the remaining volumes, from the reception of these. If my book sells, and has the run our critics expect, I propose to free myself of all future troubles of this kind, and bargain with you, if possible, for the rest as they come out, which will be every six months. If my book fails of success, the loss falls where it ought to do. The same motives which inclined me first to offer you this trifle, incline me to give you the whole profits of the sale (except what Mr. Hinxman sells here, which will be a great many), and to have them sold only at your shop, upon the usual terms in these cases. The book shall be printed here, and the impression sent up to you; for as I live at York, and shall correct every proof myself, it shall go perfect into the world, and be printed in so creditable a way as to paper, type, etc., as to do no dishonour to you, who, I know, never chuse to print a book meanly. Will you patronise my book upon these terms, and be as kind a friend to it as if you had bought the copyright?

            Be so good as to favour me with a line by the return, and believe me,


Your obliged and most humble servant,

Laurence Sterne

P.S. All locality is taken out of the book—the satire general; notes are added where wanted, and the whole made more saleable about a hundred and fifty pages added and to conclude, a strong interest formed and forming in its behalf, which I hope will soon take off the few I shall print on this coup d'essai [experiment]. I had desired Mr. Hinxman to write the purport of this to you by this post, but lest he should omit it, or not sufficiently explain my intention, I thought it best to trouble you with a letter myself.


From Gissing, George. 1891. New Grub Street. Volume II. London: Smith, Elder, & Company

In this excerpt from his novel, author George Gissing describes the agony experienced by one of his characters, a novelist, as he struggles to complete another novel.

            The past twelve months had added several years to Edwin Reardon's seeming age; at thirty-three he would generally have been taken for forty. His bearing, his personal habits, were no longer those of a young man; he walked with a stoop and pressed noticeably on the stick he carried; it was rare for him to show the countenance which tells of present cheerfulness or glad onward-looking; there was no spring in his step; his voice had fallen to a lower key, and often he spoke with that hesitation in choice of words which may be noticed in persons whom defeat has made self-distrustful. Ceaseless perplexity and dread gave a wandering, sometimes a wild, expression to his eyes.

            He seldom slept, in the proper sense of the word; as a rule, he was conscious all through the night of "a kind of fighting" between physical weariness and wakeful toil of the mind. It often happened that some wholly imaginary obstacle in the story he was writing kept him under a sense of effort throughout the dark hours; now and again he woke, reasoned with himself, and remembered clearly that the torment was without cause, but the short relief thus afforded soon passed in the recollection of real distress. In his unsoothing slumber he talked aloud, frequently wakening [his wife] Amy; generally he seemed to be holding a dialogue with someone who had imposed an intolerable task upon him; he protested passionately, appealed, argued in the strangest way about the injustice of what was demanded. Once Amy heard him begging for money—positively begging, like some poor wretch in the street; it was horrible, and made her shed tears; when he asked what he had been saying, she could not bring herself to tell him.

            When the striking clocks summoned him remorselessly to rise and work he often reeled with dizziness. It seemed to him that the greatest happiness attainable would be to creep into some dark, warm corner, out of the sight and memory of men, and lie there torpid, with a blessed half-consciousness that death was slowly overcoming him. Of all the sufferings collected into each four-and-twenty hours this of rising to a new day was the worst.

            The one-volume story which he had calculated would take him four or five weeks was with difficulty finished in two months. March winds made an invalid of him; at one time he was threatened with bronchitis, and for several days had to abandon even the effort to work. In previous winters he had been wont to undergo a good deal of martyrdom from the London climate, but never in such a degree as now; mental illness seemed to have enfeebled his body.

It was strange that he succeeded in doing work of any kind, for he had no hope from the result. This one last effort he would make, just to complete the undeniableness of his failure, and then literature should be thrown behind him; what other pursuit was possible to him he knew not, but perhaps he might discover some mode of earning a livelihood. . . .

To contact us about encyclopedia matters, send an email to Gary Westfahl.
If you find any Web site errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to our Webmaster.
Copyright © 1999–2018 Gary Westfahl All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted & Designed By:
SF Site spot art