I’ve been very very very very lucky in that while I don’t live in a cardboard box, I am single and have no kiddies so I have been able to make the leap to writing full time but ONLY because I managed to get a fulltime freelance writing job (which I started while still at my day job) The freelancing allows me the freedom to do my real love, writing romance.
I think it’s important that writers stick to what they love to write rather than follow trends which is what I pretty much do as there are trends out there that are popular now that while I may like reading some of them, just aren’t my writing ‘thing’. So I write the stories I love to tell. I think genres are pretty cyclical anyway so by the time I write something catered to that particular genre, it’s hey day could be waning.
I’m with you on the whole advance issue too. While it would be nice initially to receive a big advance, I think I’d rather not cause I’m not a very calm person to begin with and the pressure of a big advance will just bring on the onset of early grey hair.
I know that for myself, the income from fiction can pretty much waver from month to month and there’s no way I could live soley on that money simply because, like you guys said, it’s not stable and unless you’ve got a lot of books out there or are with one of the bigger houses or…are La Nora, really. But I think the best course for people who want to reach the point where they could live off their income is to write prolifically and for different places because contracts and wait times are so different between houses and even between books that your not waiting for just ONE book to carry you through.
So that’s my plan anyway, write a lot, diversify with different publishers and learn to have that other icky p-word ‘patience’ hopefully I’ll get to the point where I can live on my fiction income. That’s the dream right now.
I see my problem, I need to live in a cardboard box!!! LOL
Honestly, Great discussion! Thanks for sharing.
My input would be… I’m single, and I have no kids (only 2 cats) and I can live off my writing IF I don’t promote.
The income is enough for me, however, in order to build a career and not just write, I feel promoting and going to confrences, and staying connected is needed, and this is where I run into having to keep the night job. Magazine ads, bookmarks, confrences, even giveaways on my blog – they all cost money.
I live in Canada, every time I give away a book, even if the book is one of my author copies and therefor cost me nothing, the shipping costs me $10 a book. It doesn’t sound like a lot until I do my taxes and see that I’ve spent over $1, 000 in postage.
There is so much more to “making a living” than just what we get paid. And I agree that the staggered way the checks come in makes a big difference about things too.
I think, to a certain extent, authors should discuss money. That’s why I think Karen Fox and Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me The Money is so valuable. At the same time, like you said, you can’t obsess…because then you’re not writing.
All that said, I wouldn’t discuss money with someone I barely know but if a (REALLY) good friend said, “I want to write for Aphrodisia. What can I expect?” I can at least give them my take.
Funny enough, my dad recently asked about writing money and I laughed, then told him that the taxes on the house were paid for and to date, the writing had paid for stuff like braces for the kids (which my ex will NEVER reimburse me for), taxes and homeowners insurance but that’s it. And it’s been a nice bonus because up until March 08(? or May?) I was getting a pittance in child support–and I do mean a pittance!
All that said, every writer walks a different path and we all have different shit to deal with and I’m not talking money but life, writing time, kids, dayjobs whatever…and Megan, like you that six figure deal just makes my butt clench
@Amie: I think discussing money is fine in the way anyone discusses it, but most people don’t say I make x. They say they make between x and y, or there’s a range, or whatever. I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met telling me straight out exactly what they earn and every detail of it, much less a stranger posting it on a board or blog.
I think it’s natural for people to be curious, and there are are a lot of misconceptions because the deals you do hear about are the BIG ones. But we’re not all making those deals, you know?
On the other hand, what it takes for me to live “comfortably” might be more or less than the same for someone else, and what it takes for me to consider I’m being paid fairly might be the same.
And unfortunately, it’s not like being say…an accountant, or a doctor, or even a gas station employee, where you’re paid based on experience, job skills, etc. In writing the only way to base your advances is on your sales, and even THEN you might not be paid appropriately, or you might be paid way more than you deserve for a certain book (and it might pay off for you, or you might find yourself screwed the next time around.)
I guess for me, and I totally agree with you that that was NOT the place for that particular comment of mine. Not that the comment in and of itself was “wrong” per se, but it wasn’t the point of the post and it was like hijacking a post. It wasn’t intentional, but it had gotten my mind off on a place I’d recently been really gung ho reading about so when I posted I wasn’t totally in that space of: “Hey this is a celebratory post, not a breakdown of someone else’s income or income potential” post.
The money has always been a big deal to me NOT because I write for “money.” I have been writing seriously (but not submitting most of it because frankly I knew it wasn’t ready and I wasn’t going to amass a hundred rejection slips just to “pay my writing dues” when I knew I was wasting their time and my own, which I think is different than the “fear of rejection.”)…since high school. I wrote my first novel in junior high.
Now this wasn’t “great literature” by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t know that I will ever reach that peak with my writing, but…I will say that aside from fantasies in junior high and high school of being the next “whoever was famous at that time”, I have had a fairly realistic understanding of the money involved in writing fiction for the vast majority of people.
It’s like the quip about…you can make a living writing fiction if you have no kids and live in a cardboard box. To me this strikes at the point. Because I am someone who is willing to work, who writes not to “get rich,” but at the same time who isn’t willing to take on writing as a “job” in which I’m beholden to other people’s deadlines and decisions regarding my work, when the money just really isn’t there for most people to support themselves through writing fiction.
So I choose instead NOT to follow that commercial path, and to work to put my stuff out there on my own. I see a lot of a “bad attitude” toward people with goals such as mine, because it’s like they think I’m trying to take a “short cut” or that I think I’m “better” than them or “too good” for the vetting process, or that I think somehow I’m going to get “rich and famous” going it alone.
And I don’t think any of those things. In fact I believe I have very realistic goals for my writing. But that’s the point. It’s my writing, which I write for my own purposes that I wish to share with others but I do NOT wish to take on a “job” as a “professional writer” wherein, I’m not going to make the level of financial compensation for it to be worth that level of grief and aggravation…”for me personally.”
So I guess that is where my original ire/frustration/comments came from, is this complete lack of understanding of why someone is expected to take on a (in many cases for many writers) “second job” that just doesn’t pay the financial dividends to make it worth it to give up levels of creative control, the amount of time, energy, and angst, etc.
I’m no less serious about my writing or about the quality of it or about sharing it with readers than any “professional writer.” I just don’t see a strong enough financial compensation for the vast majority of fiction writers no matter how good they are. So I choose not to engage in that way.
I also, really did TRY to do it the “normal way.” I tried to get excited about the big agent hunt and the submission process. But I’m not. It took the joy of writing out for me.
And I feel that by being too vague about what writers make or can hope to make on average as a published fiction writer, it perpetuates this myth that it’s reasonable to think you can make a living writing fiction. And I don’t think it IS reasonable to think that. Not unless you’re part of a very slim minority.
MJ Rose stated that out of all the traditionally published books out there, only 15% of them get more than $2,000 in marketing push. Part of marketing push is getting a book on bookstore shelves. A lot of books are not available on most bookstore shelves, but mostly online. Those are not odds I want to play. But it has nothing to do with my commitment as a writer. Or my seriousness, or being unrealistic about anything.
So I guess it just came from a deep frustration over the state of things in general. And the fact that we automatically take seriously writers who seek to write professionally, and we don’t take seriously writers who don’t. When reasons for going the traditionally published route or not going that route can be equally valid.
If one doesn’t write for the money, why write professionally at all? I guess that’s always at the root of my question. Note I’m not asking why “write” at all? I still write. I’ll always write and try to get my work out there in front of an audience no matter how small.
But a “larger audience” is only empirically “better” if money is attached to it. So we’re running around chasing our tails again. The money really is the thing. If not for the dream of writing as one’s income, how many people would seek professional publication at all?
*Because I am someone who is willing to work, who writes not to “get rich,” but at the same time who isn’t willing to take on writing as a “job” in which I’m beholden to other people’s deadlines and decisions regarding my work, when the money just really isn’t there for most people to support themselves through writing fiction.*
It’s there for some people, though, absolutely. And for many of us the money is additional income the way any job in a two-person head of household would be additional, not sole income. Frankly, I’ve made more money with my writing than I ever did working in the jobs for which I went to college and got a degree. And I could support myself — if I lived a vastly less spendy lifestyle and had no kids and didn’t want all the fun new toys. I could support myself better than I ever did with a “real” job. And if I’d kept that “real” job I’d still need an additional income to make having kids work.
*It’s my writing, which I write for my own purposes that I wish to share with others but I do NOT wish to take on a “job” as a “professional writer” wherein, I’m not going to make the level of financial compensation for it to be worth that level of grief and aggravation…”for me personally.”*
I’m not exactly sure what you’re saying here — you’re writing and giving it away for free? Nothing wrong with that, if you’re writing for the sheer love of it and don’t expect to make money. It doesn’t make the writing bad just because you’re not paid to do it. If you’re talking about self-publishing or vanity press, well that’s something else entirely.
*And I feel that by being too vague about what writers make or can hope to make on average as a published fiction writer, it perpetuates this myth that it’s reasonable to think you can make a living writing fiction. And I don’t think it IS reasonable to think that. Not unless you’re part of a very slim minority.*
It depends on what you need to make your living. I’d say there are many many jobs out there that don’t pay enough to make “a living.” Many people rely on a two-income household to make ends meet, or have more than one job. But no, most people writing novels aren’t going to be able to live solely on that income. It’s scant, infrequent and random money, but oh, how much sweeter it feels spending it because I know I made it from doing something I love.
*And the fact that we automatically take seriously writers who seek to write professionally, and we don’t take seriously writers who don’t. When reasons for going the traditionally published route or not going that route can be equally valid.*
My taking someone’s writing seriously has nothing to do with if they’ve been paid for it because there are a lot of very professional writers I know who simply haven’t been able to get published. They are professional because of their commitment to their craft, their knowledge of the business and their determination to succeed. Many of them have day jobs and write when they can. Many of them don’t expect to quit their day jobs immediately upon publication, but hope to be able to (and really, we all hope to be able to, because making enough money to do so is certainly a valid goal.)
If a writer wants to give her work up for free, I see nothing wrong with that. If you’re truly just writing for the love of it, and you want to put it out there on the internet or whatever, just because you want feedback, well, more power to you. It’s not my path but that doesn’t make yours wrong.
Self publishing? Vanity press? Sorry, but I draw the line there in terms of what makes you professional/not professional, a “real” writer, etc. Not every person who self pubs is putting out schlock, but the majority of them are doing it because they have no other recourse. In my opinion it would be better to put it out there for free than to pay someone to publish you, except in a few rare occasions. There’s a reason it’s called vanity press — it’s to soothe your vanity. Not to make you a professionally published author.
So again, I’m not sure what your non-traditional path is, and I’m not trying to step on you. But I agree that not everyone needs to follow a traditional path — for a long time, and in fact to many people, e-publishing is not traditional, it’s one step up from self-pubbing, it’s not “real.” And I was happily e-published for years and I still am, so I’m not going to point fingers at anyone for not trying to get published with the New York houses.
*But a “larger audience” is only empirically “better” if money is attached to it.*
Well, I can state from personal experience that the money from that larger audience is a heckuva lot better than the money from the smaller audience. And I’d rather make more money and reach more people than make less or no money and reach fewer people.
Giving away your work for free = NO money and probably, though not necessarily, a tiny audience. (You could go viral on the ‘net or something, and score millions of hits.) Paying someone to publish your work = NEGATIVE money and also, except for a very few rare occasions, very tiny audience. E publishing = little to decent money, potentially good money and an audience in line with that. Traditional publishing = little to exorbitant amounts of money and an audience in the tens of thousands all the way up to millions.
I’m putting my time and effort into reaching for the spot where even the smallest amount of money and people reached is more than the most money/audience in elsewhere.
Because it’s not just about money, it’s about people reading what I write, and they can’t read it if they can’t find it. They can’t read it if they don’t know about it. The smallest efforts from my NY pub were a thousand times better than the most from my small press, and NOT because the small press is bad. They’re just small.
*The money really is the thing. If not for the dream of writing as one’s income, how many people would seek professional publication at all?*
How many people would do anything if it weren’t for the money?
I write because I love it, and I did it for a long time without financial compensation, then I did it for a bit longer without financial compensation equal to my efforts. Now I do it for fair money, and I get to do something I love and have people read it in greater numbers. I hope the money grows. I’ll do my best to make that happen by writing better books, doing promotion, reaching more people who are willing to pay to read me, and not being a pain in the ass to my editors. I can’t do more than that.
But at the end of the day, I do not write because I expect a big paycheck. It’s great to get one. It’s fabulous to earn money doing what I love. But I’m not writing because I expect, or ever expected, to rake in the cash. (though it’s possible it could happen.) I’m writing because I love to do it, and because there’s not other job I’d rather have.
There are people who do social work, or teach, or paint or spin wool — and they do it because they love it and not because of how much they get paid, which is all too often not enough.
Zoe, your path has to be your own, absolutely. And your writing has to bring you joy, not dollars, or else it’s not worth doing. But that’s true of many occupations, not just writing.
I write because I love it, but it is IS my job, and there are days I have to do it not because I’m burning with desire to get the story out, but because I am being paid for the work. And on those days, I remind myself how lucky I am to be paid (even if it’s not “enough”) to do something I love. It all comes around, in the end.
I could stop trying to be published and just write, and that might be more “fun” but it wouldn’t last very long. Then I’d have to get a job that did pay money, and I’d be earning more (maybe, or maybe not) and I’d be hating life.
But everyone’s situation is different. What it takes to sustain me comfortably isn’t what you need, or that person over there needs, or what I needed when I was 20, or what I’ll need when I’m 60.
I do think it’s fair to discuss ranges of advances in writing, and there are many places to do it. Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money was mentioned, and PW has the ranges (which might be a bit too broad, but they work.) Talking about what you can expect isn’t wrong and sure, of course we have the right to know. But there’s so much more to the money than just: a first time author can expect to get 5,000 advance. You might get more, or less. You might take a month to write a book and get three contracts in one year, or you might take six months to write a book and be late on your next deadline and only sell one book every nine months.
At the end of the day, writing is one of those careers that’s more than just a job, it’s personal and so people react personally to it. I don’t know if doctors who work in hospitals look down their noses at doctors who work in free clinics, or if hairdressers who work in fancy spas look down on the ones who work at Walmart, but the fact is there are levels in any profession, and some are going to be at a higher level and get more money and more prestige than others, and that’s the way it works.
Wow, I wrote a whole book too! And I hope you don’t feel I was stepping on you, that’s not my intent. I don’t disagree with what you said, not entirely. It is about money.
But if it’s ONLY about money, then you’re probably better off finding something else to do.
hahaha Holy Crap Megan! Thank you for this very well thought out reply. Now I feel much less guilty about writing novel length.
Good points about the financial issues. And varying financial needs. I guess that’s the thing, when I don’t have info on actual solid figures of what the average fiction writer makes a year, then I have no way of knowing if “I” could live on that.
I also think, upon further reflection that this is about two things that have nothing to do with money for me. 1. is validation. Writers are rarely “validated” by society unless they are published by a “real” publisher. So I think this is an insecurity issue I have to deal with on my own because of number 2. I’m not personally READY to publish in that way.
And it’s not that I don’t think my writing is ready. I actually think my writing is ready. But I’m not at an emotional place where I feel this is the right thing for me to be doing. So I do the whole go out on my own, do my own thing, thing. (Gah, that wasn’t repetitive or anything.)
If at some point in the future, my goals, needs, emotional landscape changes, then I may see it differently. In boiling it all down to money I’m shifting the focus perhaps from what my real personal issue is here. And I realize other people’s mileage may vary, but it’s hard enough to figure out my own motivations for things!
Hmmm, I have decided to publish my own work, and to put out a print edition of some of it, which would require the input of my own resources with an expectation of sales creating some level of profit margin if I reached a certain number of sales. Though I am creating my own imprint and not going through a vanity press. I’m using the exact same PRINTER (not publisher) that Samhain and Ellora’s Cave use for their print editions.
Will I “make money” doing it? I honestly don’t know. I do fully expect to break even at the very least and be able to fund my next book that way. Would I like to “eventually” make money with my fiction? Yes. But I’d really prefer to make that money on my own terms if at all possible, rather than working for someone else.
And I do consider writing for a publisher working for someone else. But that’s just me. It’s how my brain functions. I don’t cope well with working for others. I was raised by entrepreneurs. We see everything in entrepreneurial DIY terms. My grandfather ran a printing company for decades before he died. My dad just incorporated his handyman business. I can’t really grok any other way of doing things.
Though I DO recognize I do this particular thing for the passion, I’ve got other stuff going for the money. If I was doing financial risk assessment here, JUST for the money side of things, I would not go into publishing under any guise.
I don’t think it’s “ONLY” about money. I wouldn’t have written as long as I have without submitting most of it if that were the case. I have six novels under my bed which will never be published, by myself or anyone else because they were practice novels.
But I guess it’s hard for me to understand “professional commercial publishing” if money isn’t a major motivating factor. (But having received a bit of money for a nonfiction article I wrote under a different name, I totally get the “this is better money cause i made it from my passion” concept.)
By the same token, it’s hard to understand starting a publishing imprint if money isn’t the goal. So yeah, guilty. But I guess from my perspective I’m not really “expecting” to make a living doing this. (Which I guess a lot of other writers who go through traditional publishing channels don’t either. BUT they aren’t as control freaky as me either. )
My immediate goals are to break even to continue funding a “serious hobby.” And eventually to start turning a profit with it. If I AM able to build any kind of audience and turn a profit, the rewards will be worth the investment, because I’ll be making four times the money per book on the back end. It also means I have to have 1/4th the level of sales for any level of income. For $4,000 I have to sell 1/4th the number of books as most people who get $4,000. (Unless we get into the people who don’t earn out their advance.)
BUT… if it should be a complete and utter failure, that’s okay too because I’ve had an experience I wanted to have.
I don’t want to JUST be a writer, I want to be a small publisher. And eventually that may branch out into publishing someone besides myself. I know I want to do a collection of essays under a different imprint, that would include work from several other writers. It gets really tempting when you find really good writers to want to bring their work to print too.
Ack, and sorry for the double post. I guess what is difficult for me is…in many ways I feel like an “outsider” from the writers who do things as you do, and as Lauren does, and as many of my writer friends do. But at the same time, I can’t betray how I know that *I* am wired. Succeed or fail.
*I don’t want to JUST be a writer, I want to be a small publisher. *
Well, see, right there, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame, entirely. Absolutely. I want to be a writer and NEVER be a publisher! Never ever! LOL!!! A lot of small presses started because the owner was a writer who wanted to publish his/her own work — branching out followed.
But then you’re talking about something else, not just vanity publishing, and that’s an entirely different ball of wax and expectations.
Good luck with it! And you’re right — even if you fail, you failed at something you felt worth trying. So, is that failure? I don’t think so.
And you know…it would really be great if I could work out all this stuff on my own without spewing it on other people’s blogs. Because it starts to sound like “she doth protest too much” or sour grapes. (Which is untrue, I didn’t have the heart to give it a genuine try the traditional way.)
But this is how I learn and uncover what makes me tick, by interacting with others on it. I’d figured out all this stuff, and part of it was I wanted to have this “Ramen Noodles” experience, you know? Just this completely crazy wild independent thing that I did. And this was the form I wanted that experience to take, but I was still feeling “defensive” about it and I couldn’t figure out why.
And it’s that “validation” thing. Indie Filmmakers and musicians have much less of this. It’s perfectly valid to “go indie” with your work, but there isn’t that respect in writing yet. And it leaves some of us having to figure out validation for ourselves, lol. And I’m far from there!
And yep, that happened with Connie Shelton, and the founder of Ellora’s cave on starting a micropress that later expanded.
Thanks Megan, that’s what I’m thinking. Even if it failed, I still had this cool creative experience and adventure.
Thanks to you and Lauren for helping to facilitate the thought process to help me figure a little more of this out.
@Zoe Winters: LOL, you know what always sounds like sour grapes to me is the tired “NEW YORK JUST ISN’T READY FOR MEEEEEEE!” line. But like I said, your path doesn’t have to be mine, and that doesn’t make it wrong.
And it is a validation thing. There are levels. There are people who are going to be at a higher level, and get more respect, and more money and more fame and more blah blah blah. That’s the way it works. That doesn’t mean taking another path is wrong, it’s just different. It does mean, though, that sometimes that path being different is going to mean that people will judge you or your work for taking it.
Writing is a personal thing. Reasons for writing are personal. Benefits and joys and despairs are personal. There’s no way around it, just like there’s no way to really figure out if you’re being adequately compensated for hours of time put into it. It’s not like a job where you punch a clock or work an assembly line.
You want to know what the best part of writing is, to me? It’s not something that anyone ever *HAS* to do. I mean, you might HAVE to work at McDonald’s because you need money and it’s the only job you can get. You might HAVE to work in an office or cleaning floors or building cars or teaching kids, because you need a job and those are the jobs you’re qualified for. You might HAVE to dig ditches because you want to eat and have clothes (or because you went to prison and they’re making you!)
But nobody ever, anywhere, HAS to write to support themselves. I mean, you might feel like you could never do anything else, and in order to support yourself you need to keep writing and publishing, but the fact is, you could still go and dig ditches if you really HAD to do something.
So I figure, writers, whether they’re making a lot of money or next to none, are doing it for the love of it, at heart.
hahahaha Megan, OMG does anyone actually say that? That NY isn’t ready for them? Holy crap, the hubris.
I figured out something that has me smacking my head now. Writer validation comes through writers, and publishing validation will come through other independent publishers, because I diverge at one point of the path where I’m speaking Greek to most people, lol. At best they’ll find it mildly interesting, at worst they’ll consider me “not a real writer.” But…it’s a whole different ball game as you said.
At that point I’m talking publishing, not writing, and talking it in a language that only makes sense if I have the discussion with other independent publishers. And thankfully those groups are out there.
And hahahaha, very good point on no one HAS to write to support themselves. That’s kind of funny. Well really funny. I have this image of this person chained to a desk crying because someone is making them write fiction for a living. Of course this is an alternate reality like the world without shrimp.
I guess this just got silly for me because of wanting to do things a certain way. It’s like dentistry. There is no amount of money that’s going to make me want to get into that. And that attitude carried over into publishing methods, and I completely lose the perspective that the concept is not drudgery to anyone who doesn’t want to be a publisher.