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4 Reasons Why Most Writers Don’t Make Much Money

January 25, 2014
(image via Wikimedia)

(image via Wikimedia)

Last year was a financial disaster if you look only at what I made from my writing.  I think my ebooks pulled in about $10.00 last year.  That’s okay because I hadn’t expected to make much, and evidently, I’m not alone.  An article in/at The Guardian shows that most writers (depending on how you define “most”) earned less than $1,000 from their writing last year, and you can’t really do much with that over the course of a year.  I don’t know what percentage earned $10.00 or less.  Maybe I don’t want to know.

Last year, famous rich author Elizabeth Gilbert said writing was “f*cking great.”  That was easy for her to say because she’s “f*cking rich” (I quoted myself there).  I make next to nothing from writing, and I still think writing is “f*cking great.”  I think I have more credibility on this issue than she does.  But even though writing is great, I know that I probably won’t make much money (I hope I’m wrong) for four basic reasons.

And if you include “I suck,” there would be five reasons.

TOO MANY WRITERS

It’s supply and demand.  With ebooks and blogs/websites, millions of regular people who otherwise wouldn’t write are writing.  I’m one of them.  I gave up my dreams of becoming an author in 1997 when I had been told several times that I was talented but my niche had limited appeal, so publishers would be reluctant to sign me a deal.  I put writing out of my mind for almost 15 years.

Yeah, there are a lot of other writers out there, but since I don’t like blaming myself (and other writers) for my low pay, I present…

NOT ENOUGH READERS

Technology has created millions of new writers, but that leaves fewer readers.  All those people writing used to be people reading, and they might still read, but they probably read less, and if people are reading less and writing more, than the writer-reader ratio (or reader-writer ratio) goes down (or up).  That means there are fewer readers to buy the books that that new writers are writing.  And my mom will only buy one copy of my ebooks.

WRITERS PUBLISH FREE STUFF

Not only are there a bunch of writers out there, most of their material is now free.  Blogs and websites (and even videos) are free.  Some ebooks are free, and the others are really cheap.  If so much reading material is free (and some of it is actually good), then readers will be attracted by that and avoid paying for anything.  As a reader, that’s great.  I love free stuff.  But as a writer?  I know that creating a reliable income from writing (at least the way I’m going about it now) is a long shot.

Despite the lack of income, writers probably shouldn’t start charging for the stuff that’s free.  If they do that, readers would stop reading, and most writers would rather get read for nothing than charge and not get read at all.  Feedback is a payment in its own way, so I figure any authors who get feedback from their writing are doing a good job.

FAMOUS AUTHORS WRITE TOO MANY BOOKS

Authors on The New York Times Bestsellers List from ten years ago looks a lot like the authors on the lists today.  And a bunch of those authors write more than one book a year.  I’ve scanned through these books.  A lot of them suck, but readers buy them anyway.

For example, rich famous writer James Patterson published 13 novels last year, most of which had a co-author. 13?  I’m not even gasping about the number “13.”  I get annoyed at authors who publish more than one book a year, but 13?  No, there shouldn’t be a law limiting the number of books that an author writes, but we readers should shame authors who do this.

Unfortunately, authors and publishers know this is a great way to make lots of money quickly.  I don’t blame them.  If I were in James Patterson’s position, I’d probably do the same thing.  If James Patterson contacted me and said he wanted to co-author and publish a hardcover version of The Literary Girlfriend (my blog serial) and give me a huge contract for it, I’d probably…. I’d… I’d…

I’d tell him to stick it (in a polite way).  The Literary Girlfriend is mine, and I’m not sharing, no matter what.

I know that if famous authors stopped writing multiple books a year, it wouldn’t change the writer-reader ratio enough to increase my chances of being successful.  I know that.  But every controversial issue needs a scapegoat.  And I have no problem scapegoating a rich, famous guy who is completely unaffected by my scapegoating.  Therefore, if I’m going to blame any one person for the lack of money being paid to writers, it’s James Patterson!!!

++

Even though my prospects of making money from writing are dim, I’m not filled with gloom and doom.  Ten years ago, I could have pounded the keyboards indefinitely and still nobody would have read my stories, except maybe for Mom.  Now, between blogs and ebooks and unlimited opportunities for shameless self-promotion, anybody can build an audience.  And that’s “f*cking… uh… that’s pretty great.”

*****

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30 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on D.E. Cantor.

  2. madimccarthy97 permalink

    My dreams of becoming an author are slowly disintegrating… sigh

    • I can’t tell if you’re serious or not. But from my perspective, a writer’s chances to make money are better now than they were 20 years ago (or even ten years ago), but it’s still going to be tough.

      And your dream probably shouldn’t disintegrate. At least it didn’t get shattered. I really hate it when my dreams get shattered. Disintegration… I can handle that a little better.

  3. Nina Kaytel permalink

    Hey, I’d be happy with ten dollars.

    • I’m almost happy with it. I figure if I can match James Patterson one dollar for each new book he writes in a given year, I’ll have it made. I was close last year. He wrote 13 books, and I made ten dollars. Maybe I can make 14 dollars in 2014. And then I can say, “In your face, James Patterson! In your face!”

  4. Very entertaining, and sadly true.

  5. Call Me Dani permalink

    Reblogged this on Just a Little Innocent.

  6. Very true. I second this. Personal experience as well.

  7. Reblogged this on Amaruvi's Aphorisms and commented:
    A very true analysis of why many writers make no money and some make too much money.

  8. While I agree with most of what you said I just want to point out a couple of things. When you’re a small time writer, not having those big publishing contracts, you’re not competing with those famous writers. You just can’t. And while in this new age it’s easier to get free stuff, I feel that if you put in a good, solid piece of work people will buy it so long as your charging price isn’t outrageous. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel that quality has something to do it, and of course your ability to market your product.

  9. With the current exchange rate $1000 is quite a large amount of South-African rands, in fact, it’s more than I made in a month as a high school principal. I’d settle for that 😉

  10. Trails and Ultras permalink

    This is such a shame and I know it’s true. Please don’t stop writing though!

  11. Testify, brother! No, seriously… Dire state of affairs, but excellent post.

  12. good points!

  13. Testify brother! Amen. Sadly apt, but you write for the sake of writing and if one other person likes it..it is a win. If it makes you happy, keep at it. I now step off my soapbox/pulpit. 🙂

  14. That ‘s two “testifies” by the way…can we get a HALLELUJAH for our friend:)

  15. I definitely know what you mean. Where would we all be if it wasn’t for Mom? haha

  16. Well, since I’ve made about $3 on my e-book Giselle, I would agree. Plus, 13 novels in one year? That seems rather cynical to me, since it’s clear he’s not doing a lot of the writing, or at least editing. I’ve only read one James Patterson book and what struck me most was that it had 115 chapters. Each one started with a half-page of blank paper, so that’s about 60 blank pages in a 250-page book.

  17. I think we can do it, Jimmy.

    Correction: I think I can do it.

    I KNOW you can.

  18. Good thing that I don’t aspire to be a professional writer, then. 🙂

  19. James Patterson IS the problem. Fuck that guy.

    I’ve had ten short stories published in the past three years and I’ve made, in total, $30. People used to make a living writing short fiction. We were just born too late in the century.

  20. I’ve been looking through your blog all day and you’ve quickly put yourself on my list of favorite bloggers. It’s a real shame someone put you off writing for over 15 years.

  21. Yep. I should have started writing for a living three decades ago. The problem is, my stuff would not have been as good as it is now because I’ve held on to it and worked it for close to thirty years. I will take good writing over profitable every dang time. That’s why I’m still a poor English teacher trying to put together enough greenola to scrape by on a pitifully diminishing teacher retirement.

  22. Tha’ts the best answer of all time! JMHO

  23. Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    I love your writing style. I laughed, I cried, while reading this, dearie. Thank you. And the opening photo … to die for, darling! Ha!

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