After reading a very excited post by a new author on a group, about quitting her day job (she carried insurance) to write full time, and her first book had JUST been acquired (with no advance), I really, really felt like I needed to get the below off. My. Chest.
I don’t know many authors who write simply for the pure joy and torture of writing, but a few do. The rest of us expect, at some point, to make a little money. And perhaps a smaller demographic, like me, absolutely has to either profit from writing, or give it less effort. (That’s a sad truth, but there it is).
I decided to pursue my writing passion after someone challenged me to finish a book I’d been working on for 7 long years. So I did. In the process, I joined an awesome and inspiring group of women writers, one of whom who had just signed a huge (think movie huge) deal with lots of $$$ attached to it. It was her debut, and it pulled her out of poverty. As a young mother with 3 kids who was often taking a negative paycheck because childcare cost more than I was making, her story was inspiring. And hope-giving. And, OMG, that could be me!
Less than a year later, another writer friend self-published an erotica series and, within a few short months, had earned a shit-ton of cash and pulled her family out of poverty, as well. She was working 3-4 jobs at the time to support her kids. Inspiring stuff.
We live in a relatively poor community. There are no really good jobs here (trust me; I’ve been looking for nearly 3 years). My husband has always worked 2-3 jobs at a time, and I have a day job, but we’re still bottom-of-the-barrel, struggling for every penny, living paycheck-to-paycheck lucky people. So when I signed my first book deal, I thought, “Yay! Residual income!” I knew it wouldn’t make much (it’s made about $225 in 2 ½ years), but I figured it was a start.
A few months later, I found a lovely agent and sold a series. Things were looking up! “Hey,” I said to the husband. “My publisher just put out this email with the average earnings for each book in the line I’m signed to.” We looked at the numbers. Our eyes went O_O because, money! Then I counted how many books I had coming out in that line and I really went O_O!!! The potential was more in a year than I’ve ever made annually in my professional life.
The husband was happy! The kids were excited! I felt like I was FINALLY helping my family financially (wow, I could help the teen pay for college in a couple years!) Yeah, you see where this is going. The hype was all in my head. Of course, I knew *average earnings* were a crap shoot, but I wanted to really believe I would break through and hit some of those numbers on that email.
Not even close. In the past 18 months, I’ve made in the very low 4-figures OVERALL, from 2 titles, which includes an advance for an un-released title. A far, huge, continent-sized cry from the numbers I’d initially printed out and hung by my desk for inspiration (I’ve since burned that email). I recently passed the two year mark from the date my first book came out. The husband and I had agreed on two years as a relatively good assessment of whether or not this endeavor would be profitable.
We underestimated that timeframe, too. At this rate, which is a realistic one, I’m convinced it will be 5-6 years before any real profit begins to show.
Perhaps, if your publisher is confident enough in your book to put a ton of backing behind it, or you get a nice, large advance, or you have enough cash to hire a professional publicity and marketing team--or, you just have REALLY GREAT LUCK with a BREAKOUT book, your experience may be different. However, if you're an everyday, new author, with a family, a job, bills and limited cash to spend on your own promo, I think you'll see a similar path.
The Lesson: Don’t count on the money. Don’t listen to anyone else’s story and think for a single minute that you can achieve the same thing. Should you be competitive? Yes! Should you have goals and dreams for your writing career? YES! Just remember, the money is slow to come in. Very, very slow. Your writing buddy with the six-figure deal is NOT YOU. Someday, it could be you, but it’s not today.
I still have my day job, and though I am actively looking for another job, I plan to continue writing. And I really think this is the way of most new authors like me. Recently there was a really smarmy article by some dude who accused romance writers of sucking off their spouses. As much as I hated that article (enough, actually, to not even waste time looking up the linky), the douchebag author had a small point: If you don’t have a spouse to help support you, or some other way of providing for yourself or your family, shiny new authorship probably isn’t going to do that for you. At least, not right away.
Keep your day job (s). Keep writing. Keep dreaming, and maybe, if the stars align, the next 6-figure $$$ deal will have your name and bank account on it.
Money isn’t everything. But when you spend countless hours on your craft, it sure does help. :)