I’ve said here more than once I don’t make much money off my writing. So far, on average, I’m pulling in a whopping $50-80 a month in royalties.
That’s one person’s cable bill. It’s another’s phone charge. It’s a nice dinner out for two people once a month.
In other words, I ain’t getting rich, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Other writers I know are making thousands off their books. I keep asking myself why they sell and I don’t, and I never come up with an answer that sounds right.
Tobias Buckell, a mid-list writer who sells nicely but isn’t rolling in money, had this to say about it (click on the link to see colorful charts and get more info):
If you’ve been successful, good on ya. I’m thrilled when any artist breaks out to making a living. But genuinely understand that survivorship bias means there are plenty of people plugging the same formulas and not getting results that look even similar.
This is not bitterness on my part. I’m actually thrilled with where I am, which is far ahead of many. Over half my income comes from writing fiction (and if I weren’t in debt from having a medical crisis in 2008 I’d likely be able to make a living just on my fiction). I’ve been slowly building my career since 1999, since my first tiny sale. Each year my readership grows, my blog audience grows, the money I make off my fiction grows. I use eBooks, traditional publishing and crowdsourcing all as tools to survive. I’m playing the long game. And maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty open to that, but I’m always happy to report on what’s going on. Each successful career I’ve seen, though, requires a ton of hard work, and many people I see trying any method with a focus on shiny and new and ‘beating’ some system often flame out and fall away. Lots of people who’re doing the right thing and working hard flame and fall away too.
Making a living off art is hard.
But that isn’t a sexy sell.
That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art.
And pay attention to those charts and adjust your expectations accordingly.
There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.
I kept thinking I was screwing up somewhere. I’m not. I kept thinking I needed to change what I wrote. I don’t. I’m just one of the many writers who haven’t risen above the bottom 1% yet.
I’ll keep plugging away, writing what I want to, self-publishing or trad publishing as I see fit (a lot of this depends on what I’m writing, because trad publishers are understandably more nervous around anything outside the “norm”), and see what happens. Right now, I don’t depend on my writing to eat. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to someday, but it ain’t happening now.
In the meantime, once a month I can go out to eat with AJ, my treat. Pay a phone bill. Pick up some groceries. That ain’t bad.