Thinking Out Loud About Money and Writing
Lately, I've been thinking about writing and money. Mostly that's because I would like to make my living from writing. My dream of writing full time seems only slightly more likely to come true than my other dream of winning the lottery. There certainly seems to be something of a myth that writing = money. People have this notion that writers get huge advances and then sit back and cash all those royalty checks that keep coming in the mail.
The truth is more like this: most writers have a day job. I suppose it stands to reason (doesn't it?) that there are more writers early in their careers than established in their careers, so of course more writers have day jobs than not. Of course, there are very few careers in which there isn't some dues-paying apprenticeship period. Entry-level jobs of any sort rarely pay very much money. In that respect, writing is no different. But, it seems to me, there is a glaring exception with the artistic career. Even a mail-room job gets you a steady, if small, income such that one can count on being able to pay bills. That mail-room job may mean roommates and lots of beans and rice, but you get to the bank on a regular basis. My entry-level-equivalent writing job doesn't get me to the bank very often.
Some Math (Ouch!)
Let's be kind and say that my 2002 release took me 15 months to write. (Actually, it was a lot longer, but I'm discounting the years where I wasn't fixing the right stuff and only counting from the time I figured out how to turn my doorstop into a story). I am fairly obsessive about my writing schedule and thus, I can represent that I am writing, on average, about 15 hours a week. (1.5 hours a day Monday through Friday and 8 hours on the weekend.) That's roughly 60 hours a month. Multiply that times 15 months and I see the book took me 900 hours to write. My advance was $2000 of which my agent took 15%, netting me $1700. After doing the math I made the equivalent of $1.89 per hour. Lord Ruin is about 96,000 words and that comes out to .017 cents per word. Ouch. To be perfectly clear, that's not 17 cents, that .017, not even a penny a word.
If that was a regular job at 40 hours per week: 40 x 52 = 2080 hours a year. 2080 x 1.89 = $3931.20. Ah, but a book takes me 900 hours to write. At 40 hours per week, I could turn out 2 books in a year, so I might expect to make $7,862.40 per year. I could, though, apply the excess 280 hours to vacations and holidays. 35 days days off! But still not even close to a living wage.
What About Those Royalties?
Oh. Right. My first royalty statement came one year plus 60 days after the book appeared. I got $789.00, bringing my net to $2489.00 and my hourly rate to $2.76 (or .025 cents per word).
Off the top of my head, paper, toner and pens account for the bulk of my writing expenses. There are also things like research books, postage, software, my website and dues (Author's Guild, RWA, magazine subscriptions, local RWA chapter memberships) to name only a few. I won't do the math because that's just too depressing. But within the last two years, both my laptop AND my printer gave up the ghost. I had to buy new ones. What about promotion? I can't afford much. Actually, the math tells me that with my print runs, I can't afford any. I do have lovely bookmarks, though.
According to my statement for Lord Ruin, my print run was 15,000. According to the math and my phone calls to the Ingram's hotline, Lord Ruin sold 1073 books in the first month of release. The formula indicates this should equate to sales of about 20,000 over a year. That's more books than were actually printed. Lost sales. Royalties that could have been and were not. At least 5,000 people were unable to buy my book.
The Problem With The Math
The math tells me my writing career is, at the moment, a financial disaster with no guarantee of future improvement. Why don't I quit? Well, that isn't the way art works, a fact of which the cynic in me says publishers are well aware. But, the math isn't everything. The math does not account for the joy of writing or the pride of accomplishment. Nor does the math account for artistic compulsion. I have a hard time believing there are successful writers who are in it for the money.
It would be nice if writing paid better from the get go. It would be really nice if publishers weren't under financial pressures, too. Only, hey, they need to make a buck, too. There's not much I can do about that except, in my capacity as a writer, to try to write stories people will want to pay money read.
Writers need readers, no doubt about it. Books, even paperbacks, are not exactly cheap. As a reader, I really dislike paying for a book that has me flipping pages and pages in order to find something, anything! that's interesting. I often hesitate to buy new authors because the really good ones are so rare. But readers, when you find an author you like, particularly a new author, if you can afford it, buy her books. I'd be thrilled to death if you bought mine.