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5 Reasons Why Writers Don’t Make Much Money

November 14, 2016
This independent author just looked at his monthly writing income. (image via Wikimedia)

The independent author just looked at his monthly writing income. (image via Wikimedia)

It’s not whining for a writer to say that most writers don’t make much money.  It’s simply the truth.  The last time I wrote about writers not making money (this was a couple years ago), some commenters accused me of being a whiner.  I didn’t mean to come across that way (if I even did).  I was just preparing myself and other and prospective authors for what lies ahead if they decide to try to make money from writing.

I don’t make much money from my writing right now.  If you look only at what I made from my writing, the last few years have been financial disasters.  I write my blog for free, and my ebooks are doing okay for somebody in my situation (a blogger who can’t tell anybody in his personal life that he’s blogging), but the books don’t bring in much money.  I haven’t quit my day job.

A few years ago, 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 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 five basic reasons.

      1.  THERE ARE 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 after 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…

    2.   THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH READERS

Technology has created millions of new writers, but that leaves fewer readers.  All those people writing used to be 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 each ebook.

     3.   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 already 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.

    4.  MOST WRITERS AREN’T GOOD SELF-PROMOTERS

It’s tough to pitch a book without turning people off.  If you want friends to buy your books, they might feel they’re being used just so that you can make money.  If you have a blog that only promotes your book, then readers might get tired of seeing your books over and over again.  If you don’t use your blog to promote our book, then nobody will see your books.  If you spend a bunch of time on social media, then you’re taking valuable time and effort on something that is NOT your writing.

Some writers aren’t good self-promoters.  Some writers have abrasive personalities and need to be kept away from the public.  This is why most famous authors have publicists.  If an independent writer wants to sell books, then that writer has to become good at self-promotion, and that’s a different skill from writing.

   5.  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 more than ten novels last year, most of which had a co-author.  Tom Clancy is still publishing books and he died a few years ago.  I think even Ron L. Hubbard still comes out with a new book every once in a while.    It’s bad enough we independent writers have to compete with authors who use co-authors, but now we have to compete with dead authors too?  That’s downright demoralizing.

I know that if famous authors (and dead 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!!!

*****

My prospects of making money from writing might be dim, but 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 gr… uh… that’s pretty great.

*****

If you appreciate authors who write only one book a year, then you’ll probably like my ebook.

10 Comments
  1. My prospects, then, of becoming a decently earning writer are still dimmer. But keep writing, I say, if you have a passion for it, surely that means something, EVEN if one is not getting paid as much as one wants to be. It’s hard though, when you have to go to work and then come home and have to carry on working, because the work you are passionate about won’t support you. I wish you all the best.

  2. I’d love to read more of your stuff. I think you’re one in a million. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re less than a brilliant writer with a bright future. You have a gift, it’s your responsibility to share it. 🌟

  3. another category for this one: most writers don’t think commercially. i think the majority are following a passion and writing about what interests them.

  4. To your points (1) and (3), I have to add that all of today’s writers have to compete for readers not just with each other, but with thousands of famous dead writers whose books are available for free in libraries. Writing is probably the only field where someone who has died hundreds or even thousands years ago can still successfully compete against someone who is very much alive.

  5. I love your blog and I follow only a couple. I am a reader and I buy books. I do not collect free books because I am not an indiscriminate reader and I am also not young so I worry about not getting to all the books I want to read and all those I want to reread from my personal library of thousands and thousands of books. I love fan fiction and read it for years…all free. At the same time I kept buying every new book my favourite authors put out…knowing I would sooner or later start reading them from book number one. I am someone who buys book rather than food or clothes or make up or shoes 🙂 I am someone who buys books and finds herself rereading something from my shelves for the fifth time. I am someone who has reread a book 31 times because the author put out 32 books in the series. I do not read best sellers. I don’t allow people to buy me books because I can’t read them. I am still buying books written decades ago and few written in the last twenty years simply because I am playing catch up on my wish list. I confess I am bothered by the number of typos in books published these days. I am bothered by people who use the word ‘amount’ for people. I understand language changes but some changes ring my bells out of tune. I have several author friends who are really struggling to survive because they never could make a living wage writing and now ill health keeps them from earning a living. I also confess I have never read any James Patterson, only a few of the earlier Clancy and Grisham. I am currently reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and then Esther Friesner and maybe then Anne Rice, I want to get to all my Conan books by Robert E. Howard. I want to read my Retief series. All Poul Anderson’s books. Piers Anthony’s Immortality series. Alexander Kent’s Bolitho, Dudley Pope – Ramage. I just finished e.c.tubb – Dumarest. I also finished blog books Tardis Eruditorum 4&5. Janet Morris’ Heros in Hell series. I want to get back to the 400 zines I have in The Professionals fandom. I do not have enough years for new writing but I wish I did..I remember the years of my youth when I could go to the library and take out a stack of new, to me, authors. I am one of those who is faithful to the authors whose books I like from the first one. I wish my family were readers so I could buy them books by new writers. I love writers. I am in awe of writers. I wish I was a writer. I have many fan fiction writer friends who express the same sentiments about feedback. Unfortunately, people send less and less feedback these days. I am a lousy reviewer…I can say I enjoyed your book and I bought it. Enough said?

  6. This brought J.K Rowling in mind. And the author of Hunger games, Twilight saga and Fifty Shades of Gray. Books that how much I try to read and like I seem unable to do so. How about Dan Brown? His books according to my taste are glorified travel guides. But then again it all comes down to a matter of perception and personal taste.

  7. The primarily problem with writing as a profession, it is not based upon merit. One would expect the best sellers for the last five years to hold their value. NOPE. Go to a bag sale on the last day of a library sale. One can buy as many best sellers as one can fit into a grocery bag, 4 or 5 cents a piece. The best thing to do with best sellers is to pulp them.
    Famous writers purportedly write too many books. There are a lot of ghost writers, writings adding chapters to books, writers who outline in detail a little known novel and write it for the Famous Writer.
    Next, look what they’s doing to Famous Writers who die. Tom Clancey, and others, just put the name on the front of the book, and hope the second name catches on.
    Do writers today work in a meritorious world where excellence is rewarded? NO.
    Do I read stuff by Famous Writers? NO because a lot of it is canned crap.

  8. that is a bitter truth of being a writer….. at some points at some ways,,, it holds true…. however, if one is passionate on doing something he/she won’t think of money as just the only reward in writing….. there are other sides of the coin that writing gives to writers….. self-expression and catharsis as well as enlightening people…..

  9. Karo Oforofuo permalink

    Reblogged this on Nigerian Writers Hub.

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