I hear this question at least once a week. Sometimes more. And it’s easier to answer than one might think.
And since with the advent of technology, literally anyone can write a book and see it “published” (99.9 % of the time which means self-published), I hear often from people wanting to quit their real-life jobs. Get out of the rat race. Become rich and famous and live that charmed author life.
I can hear the chuckles from any writer who’s been in the trenches very long.
And even though the answer directly affects my own business, I always give the truth as I know it—unvarnished, unadulterated, in all of its ugly glory.
Because the truth is that writing and publishing is a lucrative business for only a few. And when you get to its heart, writing (especially fiction) is truly a labor of love.
And sometimes, not much more. In September the Author’s Guild released a survey revealing that 56% of their surveyed writers made less than the poverty line, when only counting writing revenue.
Publisher’s Weekly reported the findings this way: “The survey, conducted this spring by the Codex Group, is based on responses from 1,674 Guild members, 1,406 of whom identified either as a full-time author, or a part-time one. The majority of respondents also lean older—89% are over the age of 50—and toward the traditionally published end (64%).”
So, what is that “Poverty Line”? The U.S. Federal government defines it as a single person making less than $11, 670 per year.
And what does the Federal Poverty Level statistic mean? Given that a single person earning less than $11,670 annually sits below the poverty line, 56% of respondents would qualify, if they relied solely on income from their writing.
The survey also indicated that not only are many authors earning little, they are, since 2009, also earning less. Overall, the median writing-related income among respondents dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 in 2014, a decline of 24%. The decline came for both full-time and part-time authors with full-time authors reporting a 30% drop in income to $17,500 and part-time authors seeing a 38% decrease, to $4,500.
Now, 2 key points need to not be glossed over here.
- First off, 64% of these are Traditionally published authors. Meaning they have grasped the brass ring—the highest level of publishing is from Traditional houses, which pay you for the rights to publish your book, rather than you paying them.
So of this relatively small group of Traditionally published authors, 56% made less than the poverty line.
- The second key is the age bracket—89% are over age 50. Which can mean many things, but the most important one for our purposes is that they’ve been at this a while. Writing well isn’t learned in a day. Or a week. Or a year . . . To truly hone this craft takes years and years and years and . . . .
So while I may indeed be cutting off income streams by being honest, it’s the only way for any aspiring writer to enter this industry—with her eyes wide open.
Writing—as you probably know, and anyone who’s been doing this for a while will confirm—is truly hard work.
I was talking the other day with a client of mine, who’s become a good friend, and writes Literary Fiction (the apex of the pyramid). She’s represented by one of the top agents in NY. The manuscript still needed revisions, and we’ve all been working to shape it into one that will fetch a nice (really nice—we’re looking in the mid-6-figure range) advance.
She’s now on her no-one-can-still-count revision. And in despair she said, “Now I know why writer’s quit.”
Yep. At some point, we all come to that proverbial crossroads.
I don’t know of mastering any task that will bring you to your knees more surely than writing.
But of course that despair is one of the things she has me for 🙂 Step by step, we crawled back out of that black hole—together. And now she’s neck deep in revisions again, with a smile in her step.
So, will you get rich if you become a published author? Why sure—it’s possible! I’ve seen folks do so.
But if riches is the goal . . . perhaps gambling in Vegas?
If, however, crafting that one true perfect sentence, writing a storyline that holds together, driven by characters who soar to life and cannot be forgotten, if those things are your focus, then you have absolutely come to the right place.
And we welcome you.