Friday, April 29, 2011

Let's talk about money...or let other people do it

Yesterday's post about doing things for love or money generated some fascinating discussion about finances, passion, prostitution, and the potential ogling of my new young tenant (for the record, he's a sweet, slightly naive young man to whom I could have easily given birth. Definitely NOT going there!)

A lot of authors shy away from talking about money in public forums. I'll admit it, I'm one of them.

I vowed at the start that I wouldn't discuss my advance, royalties, earn-out, or any other specific financial details. It's just not something I wish to share, but that doesn't mean I don't admire the hell out of authors who choose to. They're the ones who help keep the rest of us firmly grounded and remind us we probably shouldn't begin drafting a scathing resignation letter to the boss the day book deal comes through.

There's a statistic I've seen thrown around again and again that I'm too lazy to go out and confirm right now: Less than 10% of published authors are able to make a living solely on their careers as authors. The vast majority maintain a day job. I remember being stunned by that when I first read it. The more I learned the facts, the better I understood.

One of the best explanations I've seen on this subject was written by New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries. If you haven't read The Big Misunderstanding about Money and want to know more about the financial side of writing, I encourage you to check it out.

Another amazing (and more recent) article on the subject comes from author Lynn Viehl. She vowed several years ago that if she had a book hit the top 20 on the New York Times mass market bestseller list, she'd share every scrap of information including her advance and royalties. She made good on her promise with an article titled The Reality of a Times Bestseller. If you want the nitty-gritty details (including a look at her actual royalty statement) it's an incredibly enlightening article.

Finally, there was a post just last week from romantic comedy goddess Lani Diane Rich (writing as Lucy March). She's a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who's published nine delightful novels all with "big six" New York publishing houses, and I adore her so much I want to pick her up by the ears and squeeze her.

But I'm leery about the restraining order, so instead I'll share a link to her ballsy, beautiful blog post about how she recently took a part-time job working retail in a mall. It's not packed with numbers and specific financial details like the other two, but it's a fascinating glimpse into the realities of author ego and the fact that most of us are not rolling in piles of cash tossed at us by our nude cabana boys.

So there you have it. While I won't share my financial details, I'll happily share them for other authors. Nice of me, huh?

For those of you still in the early stages of your writing career, do you entertain the "quit your day job" fantasies of authordom? For those at a different stage in your careers (or those who aren't writers at all) have you stumbled upon anything that's shaken your preconceived ideas about authors' financial lives? Please share!

Oh, and if you do happen to have those nude cabana boys who throw money, please share them as well. It's only fair.


Sarah W said...

I never thought I'd quit my job to write full time -- that's a retirement dream, to be fulfilled once the mortgage is paid off, the kids are out of college, and Medicare (please, god) kicks in.

But I wouldn't mind earning enough through writing to go to part-time at the library so I can be at home with the kids after school.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I'm planning to just win the lottery. Or hurry my kids through college so they can become little Bill Gates or Donald Trumps and just support me.

Jason said...

Do I ever entertain the quit my day job fantasy?

How does "Oh hell yes" sound? :)

Gotta strive to be that top 10%. :)

Although, if I could earn enough writing where I didn't need the full-time job and I could take a part-time one doing something more enjoyable, even if it was a quarter or a third of my current salary, that would be nice too. Or...I could use the part time job to help facilitate character development, maybe even moving from part time job to part time job. Would make life interesting.

Darrell B. Nelson said...

I thought only I had the retirement dream, but Sarah beat me to it.
A quick breakdown of the numbers I plan to retire with. In 20 years I can put out 40 to 50 novels. With ebooks those can stay on sale forever.
If they sell an average of 300 books a year each that is a comfortable wage with SS and Medicaid on top and no mortgage it will be easy to survive on writing then.

Linda G. said...

I'm lucky enough not to have a day job, but my fantasies of turning over all family maintenance to paid hands will (sadly) not be occurring in the near future. Nor will travel to all those exotic places. Worst of all, hiring my personal masseuse and cabana boy will be on hold indefinitely.

But I have high hopes for the future. Writers are good at fantasizing. ;)

therese patrick, author said...

I just worked the holiday season in retail, at the mall, and totally loved it!

No matter how much money I make writing novels I know it would not be enough of a career for me. I've had the time to try out the career and it doesn't include daily interaction with a team and that's something I need for my well being.

Skye said...

I like being able to say I make my living writing. Then, sadly, I have to say that I write for other people as an employee or contractor, and I am not writing fiction.

Of course I have fantasies about living on my own fiction writing (which I'll start any day now). These fantasies also involve having a home in the south for warmth during most of the years and on the OR Coast for the summers so I don't die of hell in the Southern summers. I'll happily hire the cabana boy.

But I will happily work freelance because I usually do that for fun projects, while I work with my own writing.

Michelle Miles said...

I have the fantasies, sure. But I also know I probably won't even quit to write full time. Even though I'm in a place where I'm not sure I'll continue to write, I still can't help but have the fantasy. :)

Anonymous said...

If being a nude cabana boy who tosses cash at attractive female authors pays better than my current job, then point me to the application form, darlin'! But I guess that wasn't the point of your post, now was it?


Patrick Alan said...

Blogger just ate my really smart post.

My fantasies involve protective robots and hungry aliens, not money. Well, except for the money to build/buy the robots.

Steph Schmidt said...

I know I'll never be rolling in the dough and living a life of spending all day every day in my immagination. However, those big dream fantasies of being the next JK Rowling help me get through the hard parts of writing. The ones where you have to choose between writing and something fun because the day job sucked up the other parts of the day.

jill said...

I'm way too chicken to give up the security of my full time job with benefits. On the other hand, I'm not that far away from retirement age so my fantasy is to get some of these books whipped into shape and sold in time to suppliement my retirement.

Or there's always the lottery fantasy.

Mark Simpson said...

One of my biggest downfalls or assets, depending on how you look at it, is that I have many varied interests.

While writing is certainly one of them, I also do find my career in orthopedic bracing interesting---not to mention my alternate ego as a rock star. Then you stack fly fishing, mountain biking, skiing, hunting, kayaking etc. and my life gets pretty crowded.

But particularly with music, I am often asked about what it is like making a living that way and they are usually surprised to hear that I don't. Our band has been playing around Phoenix for a decade now, and are now what you might consider a top-tier band, playing the best venues in town. (such as they are) The only real way to get there part-time is a lot of hours invested early, a little money for pro gear (thanks day job)and other talented guys you can get along with for the long term.

While I truly enjoy the band as a great hobby/break that actually pays for itself, I do know guys who play full time--grinding out 4-5 acoustic gigs per week plus a band gig or two on the weekends. To each their own, but my impression of them is that they are aging at twice the normal rate in a "groundhog-day" life of bars, booze, and late nights.

I suspect that writing full time might be the same way, with different pitfalls. While it would be fun to be a superstar top one percent of one percenter (like in music) I think the stress of scraping by while praying the book sells better would wear on me--not to mention the day to day reality of being camped out in front of a computer with far less real world life to draw from for the writing.

If the conditions were right I wouldn't turn it down of course, but wouldn't be too surprised if the reality of it didn't quite match up with the ideal.

Stephanie said...

Of course I want to make money. I put a lot fo time and energy into what I do and i would liek to be rewarded for it financially. Love and adoration is great too...but money would help. I don't expect to make piles of it, but being able to help with our finances would be nice. I left my 9-5 when i had kids...for us it was just the best decision. Our budget has been tight and we've learned to live with it...but I would love a little more money so life wasn't quite as stressful come bill paying day.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Nah, I have no great illusions about making mountains of money, but if it were offered, I might consider deep sixing my whole I'm-doing-it-for-the-love-of-doing-it attitude and humbly accept. Purely out of the goodness of my heart.

Jen J. Danna said...

I guess I learned early in my research about professional writing that it is the rare and lucky few that can make a living from it. So I've always looked on writing as my way to take advantage of early retirement in about 10 years. It's doubtful it will be enough to live on by itself, but it might be a nice supplement.

LilySea said...

With two small children suddenly entering private school, I am pounding the pavement to GET a day job. And when I do, I promise not to quit it.
Selling a book would be nice, too, though.

Unknown said...

Personally, I don't think I'd be able to write without a dayjob. I need a steady stream of inspiration coming my way, and how would I get that from sitting at home? I want my stories to reek of real-life, and working like real people would help with that.

Not that I don't hope and pray to be a multi-millionaire and live on my dream farm with loads of horses, helping unprivileged children to ride, and all that. But I think it would make me a less productive writer.

Gemma Sidney said...

I quit my day job and finish working at the end of May. It's not so I can write full-time, but because later this year I'm moving countries. I will have to find a job at my next destination, but in the meantime I'll have a couple of months just for me, and I plan to make the most of it writing-wise.

I have always dreamed of quitting my day job to write, and I reserve the right to do again, once I start my next job.

Kim Mullican said...

If I could write for a living instead of selling bet your sweet ass I'd give my boss the middle finger (and a few choice words) and do a happy dance all the way out to my car.

Alas, my last royalty statement was for $1.50... so rude gestures must be kept to a minimum (or concealed behind his back,) as I continue to write.

I dream daily of being able to devote 6-8 hours a day to writing. That would be bliss!

Thanks for another great post and some awesome links!