The Tough Financial Road For Writers

Types_of_Freelance_Writing_Services[1].jpgI learned a long time ago that when it came to writing and income, I’d be taking more risk than I wanted in trying to earn a living from writing and publishing fiction. When I started getting paid for my published short fiction, the average paycheck was about $100, which meant I’d have to write and publish far more stories than I could possible manage.

After sharing my paltry income experience with a writers’ group back in the early 90’s, one of them loudly announced that she didn’t want to hear it. I learned then that not all writers want the truth about writing income. Since that time, I’ve read of, or even met, writers who wrote fiction as a means of earning needed retirement income. I worried for them. In fact, I worry for anyone who is depending on writing income, especially given the latest stats to come from the Authors Guild 2018 Author Income Survey. In a nutshell, the survey shows that writers’ incomes are dropping significantly. Keep in mind that this is one survey, but I’ve read of similar results from UK, Australian, and the occasional Canadian survey as well.

If you don’t want to know what the Guild report says, then stop reading here. I don’t mind. If you want to read the entire report (it’s interesting), you can find it HERE.

I want to focus on three highlights: 1) the median income for American writers in 2017, was $6,080, down 42% from 2009. 2) book earning incomes fell by 21% to $3,100. 3) on average, self-published authors earned 58% less money than traditionally published authors. A number of reasons are cited for these circumstances. Like many of us, the authors who took part in this survey supplemented their income through teaching, speaking engagements, and writing reviews.

I can certainly attest to the significant decline in ebooks sales for indie authors. In 2008 when I published Fatal Encryption, readers were trying their new e-readers and Kindles, and authors were buying one another’s books and reviewing them regularly, which Amazon eventually frowned upon. I used to sell paper copies on Amazon too until they decided to allow secondhand booksellers to sell my books at a cheaper price. It was either learn from this and adapt, or quit. I’ve chosen to adapt.

After reading the Authors Guild Report, I want to mention two things. One is that most authors (of course there are obvious exceptions) haven’t made a decent living from their work for well over a century. You can find references to what your predecessors have endured going back to Charles Dickens’ time and earlier.

My second point is that the desire—if not urge— to create won’t stop writers from expressing themselves in whatever form they choose, despite low income potential, nor should it. Dream big. A decent income does happen for some authors. It might not be easy and could take years of work, but nothing worthwhile comes easily, but then you already knew that, right?

Author: debrapurdykong

I'm a British Columbia author who's been writing for over 30 years. My volunteer experiences, criminology diploma, and various jobs, inspired me to write mysteries set in BC’s Lower Mainland. Employment as a campus security patrol and communications officer provide the background for my my Casey Holland transit security novels. I'm also a part-time facilitator in Creative Writing Workshops through Port Moody's Recreation program. Feel free to contact me at dpurdykong@gmail.com

20 thoughts on “The Tough Financial Road For Writers”

  1. Yes, it’s a tough market to break into and even when you do, it’s so difficult to make sales. Fiction writers, for sure, aren’t in it for the money. Here’s an article by a colleague in California who is transparent about how much money she makes and how she does it. https://rachaelherron.com I’m thrilled every time someone wants to buy my book.

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  2. We all have had Stephen Kings, Danielle Steels, James Pattersons and J.K. Rowlings carefully placed in our heads… The randomness from which these writers rose to fame and have remained publisher favorites has given us pipedreams — like the actress who is certain working in a soda shop will get her discovered…But the reality is far harsher — especially in light of the rise of the OTHER nerds in the room — the techies, who have apparently forgotten who shared their Outcast Tables at lunch… What I have learned by researching and reading the biographies of the Classic and would-be Canon writers in my genre, is that times have always been hard. The writers who are now at the top of the genres often wrote in poverty and against severe and soul-crushing Criticism.

    What writers have to do is ask what their goal is: to be the next Classic author, valued as Literature… Or to get filthy rich no matter what. If it is the first, study your craft and keep writing and polishing and saving your work — even if you self-publish for the sake of exposure or having a hard copy that can be discovered in the future (no matter how FAR in the future). If it is the second, there are plenty of ways to prostitute your writing…have at it and Godspeed; but don’t complain that no one appreciates your literary abilities.

    And remember: Life is a pyramid. Most of the people at the top were lucky — they had the right idea ready to go or already done at the right time.

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    1. There are probably a number of reasons you have no control over, like the book buying habits of readers, and the growth in free books to attract readers. Some authors now keep the first in their series permanently free. I’m curious to know if that strategy works.

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  3. We don’t do it for the money that’s for sure. There are other ways though to make some money from writing. Paid speaking engagements, providing editing services and ghostwriting. Just knowing folks are reading my books makes me happy!

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    1. A wise strategy, and one I’ve used for years. It certainly takes the pressure off of finding markets for our work. For me the desire to write has always been out finding out where creativity takes me, not how much money I can make. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. There certainly are more writers writing and publishing these days. Attention spans are shorter and there are many other entertaining distractions around. And because so many of us write for the love of it, why should we expect to be paid (she said ironically).

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  5. I’m right at the beginning. I just set up my author site, marianwood… in the hope of developing a following. Lots of work and a very long journey. Traditional v self publishing.. scared of losing loads of money but hoping that people will read my book when it is finally written and published. I don’t expect to get rich but would be nice to break even.

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    1. I know the feeling, and it is scary. Be sure to figure out what your break even point will be before you order your print books, as it’ll have a big impact on the number of copies to print, and how long you think it will take to sell them all. It’s a tough market, so think long term, and best of luck, Marian!

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