a momentary reality check

the essential kit

We’re looking for somewhere new to rent, and I mumbled about a lovely place that costs an impractical, um, *checks conversion rate*, $2350 a month. This caused someone (that I have known since childhood, so while it was cheeky, well, actually, total strangers ask these questions too, so) to ask the following question, and since I wrote out the answer anyway, I thought I might as well post it.

“I thought successful authors like yourself made a lot of money? Am I way off base?”

Yes. :)

Here. I’ll talk some real numbers.

For example: my most recent 3 year average income is about $47K gross, which sounds pretty good. However, that’s with my best *ever* year of writing income as part of the average. If I take that year away and factor in something more normal, my 3 year average is more like $34K, which still isn’t half bad, but it’s not stupendous amounts of money.

But that’s gross. Before I ever even see that, 15% goes to my agent’s commission, which brings a more normal average year down to about $29K. Then you convert it to euros, which on average takes about 30% away from the take-home, which puts it at about €20K. It’s a living, but it’s not what most people would call a lot of money.

Furthermore, I write fast. Less fast now that I’ve had a kid, but I still write fast, around 300,000 words/3 books a year. So if you pretend the money you’re getting paid is for the book you’re working on right now (which is really not how it works, but that’s a different long story) that’s about $10K (or €6.7K) per book. And again, I write fast, so a 100K book (an average Walker Papers novel, for example) takes me 100 hours.

That makes my hourly rate look really good, even if you add another 50 hours on top of that for revision and editing and everything. But I rarely get to write a book in a straight shot, so it’s usually more like 6-12 weeks of work. I mean, I can and have and no doubt will again do 10-12 hour writing days for several days on end, but a more normal (pre-child) writing schedule was about 4-5 hours a day. Which is not, I realize, something to cry in one’s beer about. :) But the point is a great hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of cash, because of how the system works.

The people you hear about who make a lot of money? JK Rowling, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Michael Connolly? They’re the outliers. Writers’ lives and incomes are not like they’re portrayed in the media or movies. They’re the rock stars compared to the garage bands.

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3 thoughts on “a momentary reality check

  1. I’m a very much slower writer, but am now post-kids (I tend to work 10-16hours a day 300+ days a year, my hourly rate sucks, and I want a life one day) but also write roughly 3-400 thousand words a year, and also end up earning about the same 10k a book in a good year – only some of the books are 250K words long. It a great year (when it’s 100K word books) it goes up by 50% and in a bad one down by the same. It’s very hard to plan your life on an erratic and often late income! Here in Australia I get people approaching me with one of my books “I paid $23 for your book, you’re a bit of a rip-off artist aren’t you? I only bought it because it was your book…” and then I explain that I get 64 cents (8% of the US price) of that. ;-/ It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

  2. I so very much feel your pain. It’s a ridiculous process, and I’m really interested in watching how it evolves over the next few years, since we’re already in a very different place than we were just five years ago.

    Rip-off artist. Argh! :/

  3. It’s definitely very much in the flux part of evolution now. I am very worried about the future holding an even worse deal for writers, pushing it more and more into the province of the hobbyist or those with other means of financial support. As a rabid egalitarian, and a book addict, that’s just all bad. I really don’t trust Amazon not to do what big retailers always do to small suppliers, once the other retail outlets are crushed. But I don’t think the past was that rosy either, and besides I’m always inclined to oppose the old status quo, so I’m torn. The ‘rip-off artist’ is a verbatim quote. Honest, officer, I hardly even touched him. In fact, I wasn’t even the same room… Doing what you and Judith are doing – pulling back the blind on this set of misconceptions (which wise authors have always been obliged to shut up about, or never work in this town again) is very important to that future. Thank you.

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