“Does It Pay to Be a Writer?” From the New York Times
“Crashing author earnings ‘threaten future of American literature'” From The Guardian
I saw the New York Times article yesterday and a similar one in today, both decrying the loss of author income and blaming Amazon. I have heard for years how Amazon is geared to choke out publishers and by extension writers. The article confirms that. These facts are depressing and, in many ways, mirrored my own situation as I strive to create or find a new job that also allows me enough time to write on the side.
Online magazine opportunities
I think part of what depressed me was that this lack of support for writers is not just in the book market. Many media sources, such as newspapers and magazines, are shutting down as their readership numbers decline. Of course, articles and short stories are still being written and published. Many magazines have some online presence, either solely or in conjunction with a print version. Unfortunately, often the fees paid by online zines are much smaller than the print versions. Thus, while article writing was a classic way of earning money, it seems to be morphing into a slower type of starvation.
Short story opportunities
Similarly, anthologies either pay very little for stories or only in contributor copies. Some don’t even provide lower-priced copies of the book back to the author, who could then promote the work as well. In addition, the publishers of anthologies often tie up the rights to stories for a year or more. Some even ask people to pay them for publication. Hopefully those are short lived as writers boycott them.
I understand the financial risk of putting such a book together, but I don’t believe that anthologies deserve quality short stories without the commitment to pay for them. New writers are told that short stories are a great way to break in and some writing for free gets your name out there. Yes, this is true, but it also devalues the writer’s work in particular and the field in general until everyone is expected to offer free or insanely cheap work. Creativity deserves a decent wage.
Working while writing- not a new concept
Remember the famous story of JK Rowling, who conceptualized and wrote parts of her Harry Potter tomes while on welfare? Many, if not all, writers worked at something else while trying to establish their writing career. In addition to paying the bills, it gave them the opportunity to learn about the law, politics, medicine or whatever they were doing. This knowledge in turn provided the detailed descriptions for their novels. Think about any of the areas I listed above and you can come up with some writer: John Grisham, Steve Berry, Michael Crichton, and so on who have succeeded because they wrote about their expertise. Writing while working another job is an old idea. Nothing has changed on that. The unfortunate aspect that these articles point out is that most of us will not become Steven Kings or Tom Clancys, living solely on our royalties.
However, I want to offer a beacon of hope. The articles above only included book sales. An evolutionary process of success exists in the publishing world where the writer creates multiple books. A few of these go on to bring in income in other ways through other rights. Remember that most writers often are considered successful because their books turned into a movie or a TV show. We would not have Rambo, True Blood, or Jack Reacher without the writers creating the book first.
In addition, although I have no direct experience with publishing in other countries, I’ve heard other authors discuss publication in other countries as a source of income too. Many books don’t go through this process but it is part of an author’s definition of ultimate success.
Why do you write?
Ask yourself why do you write. If it’s to become rich, then you’re in the wrong field. The Hollywood dream is a lie. If it’s to be read and loved by millions, you’re in the wrong field. Adoration is more for rock stars and actors. If it is because the story begs to come out, then you may be on to something.
A novelist should never write for money alone. That’s a flawed idea from the start. Many creative people are not driven by “will this sell?” ideology. When we write, we ask the question of “what if” and crave to see the answer. The characters are our best friends or our greatest fears. The settings appear as real to us as our living rooms. The stories itch and claw at our brains, wanting to see daylight. We want to see the final result as much as our readers. Plus, writing takes tremendous time between researching, crafting, editing and submitting work. It’s also expensive as we are encouraged to network, have websites, seek out help in the form of editors and attend conferences. None of these items are cheap.
Ultimately, however, if the world wants to continue receiving great fiction, then we writers must receive decent royalties for our work.