I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to London. Without my writing friends & Tom, it would have been a hectic, whirlwind, drab affair. I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of fellow writers and teachers. They are the best people I know. I have been given a lift from the airport by a colleague I met through an online writing class (via the The Writer’s Workshop), and was housed and fed by writers I have only met a few times. The connection to our art is deep and we know that without each other we are hiking a lonely road that requires support from fellow artisans to succeed.
Suze, one of my writing colleagues, bought me a copy of the latest edition of Writing Magazine. “The Burning Question” by Lorraine Mace illuminates an oft asked question of writers: “How much do you make?” She demonstrates that people rarely ask this of other professions they seek services from, so why are people so interested in how much (or little) writers make?
I was suprised that Mace didn’t answer any of her rude interrogators. Afterall, isn’t it a well-known fact that the average writer in the UK makes about 3,000p off their writing annually? Then it occured to me how poorly people are educated on the writing market and how little control writers have over what they sell.
Stay with me: this isn’t a rant.
The average published author makes $3.00 or 3.00p off each paperback book sold, sometimes less. Hardbacks can sometimes make more ($5.00 off of each copy). If you sell twenty of your hardbacked books in a month, you will have earned $100.00 that month. When you factor that sum into hundreds of hours of unpaid labour that went into making a book (for example, I have spent almost a full two years working on the manuscript of my first novel, The Curse of Beal Atha) it is a wonder Mace didn’t want to elaborate the economics of writing. I have logged over five hundred unpaid hours working and re-working my first novel. Those hours do not include researching for the book, travelling to locations to ensure continuity of historical details, or money paid to attend conferences and classes to assist me in the editing process. And I will never make a dime or recoup any of the output with my book unless it is published.
In an average week, I spend thirteen hours working on writing projects, on top of my full-time teaching job. I have 113 students, and they demand my full attention eight hours a day. I’m not complaining. Many writers work multiple jobs, are the sole breadwinners in their families, wake up at 4am before the kids, dog, cats get up, to log in an hour of writing before taking care of their family. I know writers who have worked for decades, writing multiple books and garnering prizes, but have never become best-sellers. One thing that Lorraine Mace didn’t capture were all of the above elements that I feel the public needs to be aware of so they will stop asking writers how much they make and equating writing success with income earned.
Because of the success, rightly so, of outliers such as JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Veronica Roth, etc… I receive a lot of comments from non-writers about how I’m going to be “the next…….” which is terribly nice. But, the reality for most authors is that we write because we love it, it is a passion, a calling. We never go into it for the money, because if we did, that motive wouldn’t sustain us for very long.
Writers are some of the most generous people I know, with their time, their resources, and their thoughtful critiques of fellow aspiring scribblers. It is my hope that with a little education this line of questioning might end and that several myths about the publishing trade will be dispelled. I can only hope.