The Reality of Starving for your Art #writing #survivablewage


You want to be a writer, and you want to earn a living, so you’re going to spend the next year or so creating your pièce de résistance and set it loose on the world. After many hues and cries at the marvelous beauty of your work, you shall then move to Paris (or insert your country of choice) to a lovely little artist studio and begin your life as an Artiste. For this is your dream.

Ready for a reality check? If not, stop reading now, because this is going to hurt.

First, huge congrats on getting a single book completed and out, regardless of publishing route you’ve chosen. Not everyone can claim such accomplishments.

Second, before you dash off on your trans-continental journey, you may want to start the second book, and perhaps make plans for your third title as well.

Third, whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP YOUR DAY JOB. Not yet, and (brace yourself) probably not for many, many years to come.

Short of being a miraculous outlier, your first, and most likely, fifth and maybe sixth book are NOT going to earn you enough to keep both a roof over your head and food on the table. They might keep you in coffee, though.

Yes, there are those who’ve managed to snag their brilliant star and be dragged in the glorious trail of rocketing to the top from the get-go, but they are very, very, very, very few and far between.

Let me share a couple of statistics, because as much as my relationship with numbers is “complicated”, those digits are hard to argue with…

There’s an article by Author Earnings that did an in-depth study from Feb. 2014 – Sept. 2015 regarding author earnings (CLICK HERE) that provides some interesting insight. They started their study with 200,000 authors and close to a million different titles and their data collection program was only able to capture between 35% – 50% of all ebook sales at the time of the snapshot. (Bare with me, I just want to put this perspective.) In order to maintain an accurate study on long-term sales, they pulled out what they called “one-hit wonders” or “i.e. authors whose author earnings from Amazon-bestseller-listed Kindle ebooks were not above a $10,000/year run rate in at least 2 different quarterly snapshots out of our 7.” Do you know what that 200,000 author number dropped to?

Any guesses?

Yep, 5,643 authors were left, a bare 2.8% of the original pool of candidates. These are the success stories because they earn at least $10,000 per year. No, I didn’t leave out any zeros. That’s $833.33 per month, $192.30 per week, $27.40 per day.

Granted, this is barely scratching the surface of author earnings, because this just looked at Kindle and Amazon, not across the board (iBooks, Smashwords, etc.), but if you’re hoping to make writing commercial fiction your “day job” or what most of my writer friends call, “the job that pays the bills”, you’re in for a challenging journey. I wish you all the luck.

And that’s not the only challenge you’ll face. A recent article (The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead) from The New York Times, tried to paint an even more grim picture on ebooks. Let me tell you a secret, they’re a bit lost, since they’re looking at traditionally published authors who are charging $14 for an ebook. (I know, stop laughing so hard, no one can hear over your guffaws.) What this article can provide, is insight into the highly competitive world you’re about to dive into, and maybe serve as a warning to figure out how you’ll rise above the tide of incoming writers. You need to set yourself apart–have a unique, strong voice, compelling characters, and create a compelling world readers crave to visit.

Even more of an eye-opener, I can think of at least five NY Times best-selling writers that still have a day-job because (gasp) their fabulous books don’t make enough to keep their families. Advances or royalties, it will take a lot of shiny to keep you in the life you’d like to be accustomed to.

For those who follow my posts, you know earlier this year I was laid-off my 18 year “job that pays the bills”. For the last eight months, I’ve focused (when not submitting resumes for “day jobs”) on my writing. It has been both rewarding and discouraging, and I can attest the journey is daunting. There is no doubt, if you decide to publish any piece by yourself, your job just gained teeth. After putting out my collection of short stories independently, I’ve got the bite marks to prove it.

Thankfully, I recently accepted a new “job that pays the bills”, so my writing can continue to be a way to feed my artistic soul, and not carry the extra burden of supplying shelter and nourishment. Still, I wouldn’t change the past months for anything. While it allowed me a chance to see if I could make my writing take the place of my “day job”, it also taught me that yes, with a lot (we’re talking a couple of years) of dedicated work, it probably could. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of years, months was pushing it. It did cement my leaning to stay a hybrid author, to split my writings between small publishers, myself, and eventually larger publishers. Whatever avenue works, I’ll be trudging alongside my project.

I haven’t shared this information to discourage you, but to help shine the light of reality on your dream. That glitter you see on the edges, those are yours to gain, but it’s going to take, and work. LOTS and LOTS of work. If you’re in this for cash, babe, you’re in the wrong art. If you’re in it to share those voice in your head, welcome to the word-filled battlefield, we can always use another warrior.

Fight on!

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