Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don't write for a living

I've pointed this out many times in the past, but this article on how writers earn less than you think should put it into perspective. I write solely as a hobby, I am persona non grata in most publishing circles, and even so my writing income puts me in the top 10 percent of traditionally published authors. That will go up in the coming year as I shift increasingly into Hybrid mode, but even so, I think I'd rather work a minimum wage job and spend all the money earned on lottery tickets than gamble on making $100,000 from writing for five consecutive years. Remember, unlike a salaried job, you are only as good as your last book, even if ebook sales extends the viability of your backlist.

This is not to discourage anyone from writing. To the contrary, I actively encourage anyone with an interest in writing to do so. Just don't do it as a career. You don't lift weights because you think you're going to be a professional powerlifter, you don't play softball because you think you're going to make the major leagues, and you shouldn't write because you think you're going to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling.



Anonymous Josh January 22, 2014 3:02 PM  

If you don't write unless you're being paid to write, you'll never be paid to write.

Anonymous JK Ferd January 22, 2014 3:18 PM  

I have a novel inside me somewhere. Now that i know i will never be rich then, i will just replay it, in my grey matter, for my own enjoyment.

Anonymous Josh January 22, 2014 3:19 PM  

Obviously someone needs to call for an end to income inequality among authors.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben January 22, 2014 3:28 PM  

What other things shouldn't you do? Let's see, don't major in a liberal arts degree. STEM workers haven't gotten real wage increases since 2000. MBAs are a joke. If you like ripping people off, finance and law is for you. What does that leave? Aspiring Rapper? Baby sitter, teacher?

Blogger IM2L844 January 22, 2014 3:46 PM  

No can do. If I were to think about writing, I would have to abandon my strident disregard, bordering on contempt, for grammatically correct sentence structure, punctuation' and spellin

Anonymous Krul January 22, 2014 3:49 PM  

Remember, unlike a salaried job, you are only as good as your last book, even if ebook sales extends the viability of your backlist.

So people only buy your latest book? I'd have thought they could buy all your published books.

It makes sense that unprofitable books would quickly go out of print and become unavailable, though.

Anonymous Will Best January 22, 2014 3:58 PM  

So people only buy your latest book? I'd have thought they could buy all your published books.

The bulk of readers take their orders from Oprah, NYT best seller, etc. Unless you show up on their radar a couple times I wouldn't think they would actively go looking for your other work unless it is part of a series.

Anonymous Stilicho January 22, 2014 4:02 PM  

Income inequality? The sfwa is on it! No more cis-paid authors!

Anonymous Scalzi January 22, 2014 4:09 PM  

Keep writing and someday maybe you can have a lawn almost as big as mine.

Anonymous Giraffe January 22, 2014 4:23 PM  

Fuck you. Pay me.

Anonymous WaterBoy January 22, 2014 4:27 PM  

Giraffe: "Fuck you. Pay me."

HA! I saw what you did there.

Anonymous FP January 22, 2014 5:02 PM  

"and you shouldn't write because you think you're going to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling."

Darth Vox, destroyer of dreams.

Anonymous Earl January 22, 2014 5:18 PM  

but mommy always said I could do anything

Anonymous Pseudo-Nate January 22, 2014 5:23 PM  

"I have a novel inside me somewhere."

So do I. Last time I get drunk next a library..

Anonymous pseudo-nate January 22, 2014 5:26 PM  

Next To rather.. aw hell wasn't that good a joke anyway.. good point though, doing something only because it may make you rich and famous is a poor motivation.

Anonymous Anonymous January 22, 2014 5:29 PM  

Vox, I am considering becoming a writer. I am just curious, on days you are working, how many words would you say you type in a given day?

Blogger Markku January 22, 2014 5:31 PM  

doing something only because it may make you rich and famous is a poor motivation.

And then NOT doing what would prevent you from being poor and desolate if that 0.001% probability doesn't come to pass, is just stupid.

Anonymous Harsh January 22, 2014 5:41 PM  

I lift weights thinking I'm going to be the next JK Rowling. No wonder my biceps suck.

Blogger dienw January 22, 2014 5:42 PM  

The same goes for being an artist. I have only been able to keep at it all these years because I made an oath to my mentor in 1969; that and understanding that I am responsible to God for the gifts He is has given me; else I would have done as 99% of those who start as artists: gone on to another career or job.

Anonymous Krul January 22, 2014 5:49 PM  

njartist, is any of your work displayed online?

Anonymous x January 22, 2014 5:54 PM  

advertising copywriters make six figures...

nonfiction authors sell speeches, columns, consulting, professional services...

fiction pays little, and genre fiction pays the worst

Blogger Baloo January 22, 2014 5:56 PM  

I've been a gagwriter/cartoonist for over 40 years, and I _could_ have made a living at it, if I'd remained a bachelor, but not as a husband and father, so I did the prudent thing, got a safe government job, and kept up with the creative work on the side, which is what I'd advise everybody else to do. Keep it as a profitable hobby, and if it develops into something bigger, all the better. My stuff is here:

Anonymous Pseudo-Nate January 22, 2014 5:58 PM  

"And then NOT doing what would prevent you from being poor and desolate if that 0.001% probability doesn't come to pass, is just stupid."

Yup. That's part 2. I knew a guy I went to his with (who was the perennial star of the plays) moved to NYC after graduation to try to be an actor. He spent all his money and limped back to work at his dad's dealership. Now I dont blame someone for taking a shot, but he repeated the process 3-4 freakin times. Moved home, made money, went to the city to try his luck and came back busted. Eventually one has to realize their odds of success aren't great and move on.

I notice BigYard crowing the results of the poll aren't accurate because they don't count non writing income. Of course Numbskull, they should definitely take the income of the corporate lawyer writing Mary Sue fiction into account, that would surely provide aspiring writers with a realistic view.

Blogger dienw January 22, 2014 6:01 PM  

@ Krul January 22, 2014 5:49 PM
1. On Facebook the art albums are public.
2. An archived site
3. My blog I use for posting my art thoughts

Blogger dienw January 22, 2014 6:05 PM  

@ Baloo January 22, 2014 5:56 PM
I like.

Anonymous Huckleberry - est. 1977 January 22, 2014 6:08 PM  

and genre fiction pays the worst

Yes, but I have it on good authority that it comes with 50K daily readers, a bitchin' lawn, a participation Hugo, and enough spare coin for all the Dress Barn moo-moos your heart desires, so long as you shop from the Bargain Barrel at the store's entrance.

Anonymous kh123, spiritual heir to Albrecht Dürer January 22, 2014 6:28 PM  

So much for magic putters.

Blogger Bob Loblaw January 22, 2014 6:33 PM  

Darth Vox, destroyer of dreams.

You say it like it's a bad thing. Southern California is full of young waitresses whose fathers should really have sat them down and destroyed their acting dreams.

Anonymous Pseudo-Nate January 22, 2014 6:37 PM  

Huckleberry- why must you make me covet that life so hard.

Eric I dunno, works fine for all the guys in LA who want to be waited on by a variety of movie attractive women

Anonymous JohnS January 22, 2014 7:17 PM  

OT but check it out:

Peter Schiff teaches Joe Rogan Austrian Economics

Blogger James Dixon January 22, 2014 7:19 PM  

> Southern California is full of young waitresses whose fathers should really have sat them down and destroyed their acting dreams.

But how would the pron industry make films without all that young talent?

Anonymous Josh January 22, 2014 7:35 PM  

But how would the pron industry make films without all that young talent?

Don't forget the strip clubs!

Anonymous RP-in-TX January 22, 2014 8:01 PM  

T.S. Eliot continued working as a bookkeeper for years after being published, and then worked as an editor for the rest of his life. He never made a living as a writer. Many famous authors had day jobs. Faulkner did also.

Anonymous Pseudo-Nate January 22, 2014 8:24 PM  

But how would the pron industry make films without all that young talent?"

Can I change my answer to this? How could I forget? Porn is built on the broken dreams and anuses of thousands of young aspiring artists.

Anonymous jack January 22, 2014 8:26 PM  

@Baloo: That was shameless personal advertising. I like it. You just went on my desktop icons to visit more often.

Anonymous CX January 22, 2014 8:47 PM  


I like your work, and I find your commitment inspiring.

Thanks for sharing.

Blogger Bernard Brandt January 22, 2014 8:49 PM  

Several thoughts:

--As Aristotle remarked, there are some things that you do for the sake of wealth, and there are some things that you do for their own sake. Writing, or at least the fruit of contemplation, is one of the latter. If you can get paid for it, so much the better. Just don't expect it.

--Most writers, from T.S. Eliot to Roger Zelazny, started out doing so as a refuge from a soul killing job. Eliot's was with the Bank of England, and later, Faber and Son. Zelazny's was with the Social Security Administration. In the main, the writing was and is its own reward.

--What I took away from the article Vox quoted was that self-publishing is starting to outpace traditional publishing as a means of making money from one's writing, and that hybrid publishing (or trad/self-publishing together) gives one even more means of making money from one's work. Oh, that and figuring out how to do marketing, PR, and shameless self promotion.

--The crucial takeaway, or the pony I found at the bottom of the box, was that hybrid publishing permits far more people to make money from their writing than did trad publishing. You may not make anything, but you can't win if you don't play.

Blogger tz January 22, 2014 9:11 PM  

I write for a living. But I write code, in the current case, a box to pretend to be a truck as far as CAN messages are concerned.

Blogger nik January 22, 2014 9:20 PM  

Hardly anything outside programming and medicine is a good career now if even that. What's the cause? Globalization? Automation? Seems like a glut of labor, we just have too damn many people.

Anonymous David of One January 22, 2014 9:55 PM  

Ah Ha!

Write for illiterate college students!

Anonymous abprosper January 22, 2014 10:12 PM  

To answer your question nik, its both and more.

As technology improves the intellectual capital required to make decent money goes up every year but baring genetic engineering the number of people possessing will not. Now true lower barriers to entry for trades like writing help allow more people to compete but but those same lowered barriers mean a lot more competitors. On some levels all of your market is competing with you. That is why despite PDF books it will still be hard to make any kind of living,

For the demand for low skilled labor there are billions of people in this world and many, most jobs can be outsourced if they can't be automated , Since most governments have embraced economic liberalism or globalism instead of economic nationalism, few workers save for well placed cronies get any protection. In essence trends mean levelling to the mean which suggests the very bottom will be better off and the top [ (which means the entire West BTW) save for a few rich families will get much poorer.

I don't have any solutions though I suppose we could try distributism (which is roughly changing the incentives to only favor creating middle class wealth) alternately we might try John Robb's Resilient Communities, whole interconnected communities going Galt basically

What I suspect will happen though is that the establishment will keep up with crackdowns, control and surveillance while the Right unwittingly does their bidding by pushing for Economic Liberalism and more religion as a social control . I make no predictions but anything from Moonraker, the Hunger games, The Running Man, economic implosion or various French Revolution meets Rwandan Genocide scenarios are all on the table IMO.

Blogger Desert Cat January 22, 2014 11:12 PM  

Baloo, you are published though, are you not? I swear I have seen your cartoons from time to time...

Anonymous Eric Ashley January 22, 2014 11:32 PM  

The 'people without superskills' are useless meme is a lack of vision and courage in the elite.

Vox's tude on writing is helpful to me. One side benefit of it is a more alpha, less supplicating attitude toward your readers. Instead of asking for patrons, which tends to bring out the 'I'll support you when you're as famous as Rush' tude from conservatives, which is stupid and shortsighted, a more sneering tude might actually appeal more.

Blogger Baloo January 22, 2014 11:46 PM  

@Jack, exactly. Shameless personal advertising is an absolute necessity for a writer or any other creative type :) Happy to be among your icons! @Desert Cat, sure. I've been at it since 1974. Currently I'm in Wall St Journal and National Review a lot, but over the years, I've been practically everywhere, from Sat Ev Post to Hustler.

Blogger Doom January 23, 2014 12:19 AM  

Not much of a writer, but... I actively seek to not make money through it. Not even adverts. I suppose that isn't the way, either. But I know that chase can lead some to very bad places, should they come to depend on the pen, a fickle readership, and get their ego connected with that game. I am such a one. Then again, I have the luxury of an independent income, as do you. Different games.

You know though, I have to wonder how someone like, say, Clemens... would have turned out, without an in-house editor. A woman's touch truly changed his stuff. I would, if I had it, pay good money to have seen some of his work without her meddling. I have heard he was far more doomesque, in the raw. Sure, it was probably more salable to the gentile typical populace edited, and men don't read as much in any case so that's why not much is aimed at us... still...

Anonymous automatthew January 23, 2014 12:47 AM  

Sort of on topic: I haven't seen any comments from Daniel in a while. I hope he's OK, and just busy writing some more Arclight Adams novels.

Anonymous Daniel January 23, 2014 1:09 AM  

automatthew, that's awfully nice of you to notice a potential disturbance in the force. I'm definitely about: have been off-grid recently, and am indeed sort of in the thick of a number of writing projects. There will be another Arclight this year, hopefully by summer or sooner.

As to the subject of this post, my problem with these numbers is that they include pretty much anyone with one book. No one calls themselves a programmer just because once they completed "Hello World!"

But any jerk with an Underwood can call himself an author. Getting accurate figures on writers to self-report...when there is no incentive for successful ones to do so, and plenty of it for those who aren't good at it (yet or ever) is dicey. What this should be good for is dissuading people who are in it for the a) money or b) recognition. If something else isn't motivating you at the core...then, absolutely, do something else, and easier with your time. But as business guidance for those who are in (either dabbling or full-time) really doesn't say much of anything.

For example, I can't use a single figure from this report to plan for 2014. I target in units (produced and sold), not income. Income at this stage is irrelevant.

Anonymous Dan Maguire January 23, 2014 8:00 AM  

You better be in it for love of the game if you're going to write. I've known a few talented writers who tried to go the traditional route with predictably less-than-stellar results, and subsequently gave up writing, as though they were denied their rightful place on the best-seller list. Boo F'ing hoo. Cry me a damn river.

Got to go to work.

Blogger dienw January 23, 2014 9:18 AM  

@ CX January 22, 2014 8:47 PM
Thank you.

Anonymous E. PERLINE January 23, 2014 10:58 AM  

The increase in college students, and the internet, and the ability to self-publish has encouraged more people to write.

Teachers want that kind of writing to be an emotional roller coaster. This is not what we need today. We need instructions on subjects without teachers in person. We need need crystal clear tutorials on using equipment .

This is a different kind of writing. It must be simple and direct. It might contain not just one example, but two or three examples, yet it must not be too long. To accomplish all that It must be must be edited and rewritten dozens of times. Only then will our bored and distracted brain allow new ideas to penetrate.

Blogger Brad Andrews January 23, 2014 12:54 PM  

This chart does push against the argument that we need "strong copyright law" to protect the living of writers. We have very strong copyright law now and most writers are not making good money.

I wonder if it will ever dawn on those arguing that position that the writers are not the ones benefiting from the copyright law?

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