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Bubastes
07-13-2011, 05:55 PM
In case anyone missed this, some real-world numbers from a midlist mystery author (via BookEnds Literary Agency blog).

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2011/06/ellery-adams-bares-all.html

Sevvy
07-13-2011, 06:29 PM
T_T

Good thing I plan on keeping a day job.

Jamesaritchie
07-13-2011, 06:51 PM
So don't be a midlist writer. The real world is whatever world a given writer makes it.

Buffysquirrel
07-13-2011, 07:27 PM
So don't be a midlist writer. The real world is whatever world a given writer makes it.

Some things however are beyond the writer's control.

willietheshakes
07-13-2011, 07:34 PM
In case anyone missed this, some real-world numbers from a midlist mystery author (via BookEnds Literary Agency blog).

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2011/06/ellery-adams-bares-all.html

That's one set of real world numbers. A scary set, I think, but only a single data point.

The Grump
07-13-2011, 07:47 PM
Glad I don't have any great ambitions as a writer.

While I've long known being on the best seller lists is statistically impossible for most writers, I found the statistics by a "successful" author rather dismal.

Thanks for sharing.

veinglory
07-13-2011, 07:53 PM
What seemed to be missing was 'number of books written per year'. Based on the general figures, less than two?

J.W.
07-13-2011, 08:10 PM
Those numbers are better than I expected.

Phaeal
07-13-2011, 09:03 PM
I think I could do two shortish books or one long one in a year, in addition to my day job, which makes $18,000 per annum sound all right.

Though another zero or two before the comma would be nice, too. ;)

Ryan David Jahn
07-13-2011, 09:22 PM
Honestly, I don't think it's very useful to draw conclusions from one writer's experiences. Or from averages, for that matter. I mean, I always find the information interesting; I just don't think it means anything. Each writer's career is so specific to that writer, and the numbers vary so greatly from writer to writer, that these things say not much at all about anybody else's prospects.

My own experience has been very different.

Xelebes
07-13-2011, 09:35 PM
Hey, that's more money than I make at present. :/

veinglory
07-13-2011, 10:07 PM
The numbers per book don't look too depressing to me.

Manuel Royal
07-13-2011, 10:38 PM
Average amount of advance spent on promotion 25% of advance

Average money my publishers give me for promotion 0So, that's the writer spending money to do promotion, on top of the promotion that the publisher is already doing?

AlwaysJuly
07-13-2011, 11:36 PM
I don't find it depressing, personally. Yes, it's one way a career can go. It's a lot less money than I make at my day job now. But when I do leave my day job, if I were to make $18k a year from writing in addition to being a TA and a military reservist, I'd be OK. I'd make a decent middle class salary altogether without seeing the inside of an office building, and I might be fine with giving up my current shoe-shopping and restaurant-hopping spendy lifestyle for an office-free my-own-schedule lifestyle.

No, it's not the same known salary and stability of a professional day job, but we all know that. The risks have their rewards, even if you never make the NYT best seller's list. Or at least, that's how I feel about it.

AlwaysJuly
07-13-2011, 11:41 PM
Just have to say, too - I love when published authors do posts like this. They're so helpful - especially when I've just seen another writer I know land a major (and I do mean MAJOR) deal, I like being reminded of the other possibilities (besides failing to ever publish anything, of course).

Wesley Kang
07-14-2011, 12:38 AM
It is nice to see a snapshot from writers out there, but of course, everyone's career is different.

veinglory
07-14-2011, 12:56 AM
Numbers are nice. It makes the whole thing that tiny bit less murky.

September
07-14-2011, 03:36 AM
I love stats like this. Cool of the author to share.

MartinD
07-14-2011, 04:01 AM
Maybe I'm alone with this but I think $18,000 is poor money indeed for a "national bestselling author".

And I very much appreciate her willingness to share.

Because.
07-14-2011, 05:37 AM
Why is this depressing? There are so many different ways an author's career can go. So many. In fact, no one's is the same. Yours could be worse or better. You never know unless you keep writing.

I thank her for sharing that. :)

gothicangel
07-14-2011, 11:21 AM
Maybe I'm alone with this but I think $18,000 is poor money indeed for a "national bestselling author".

And I very much appreciate her willingness to share.

It's higher than the average. 5000 is the average, so $18,000 is about 10,000. The key word there may be 'national', rather than 'international.'

Anne Lyle
07-14-2011, 01:25 PM
So, that's the writer spending money to do promotion, on top of the promotion that the publisher is already doing?

That 25% probably includes convention attendances, etc. No publisher pays for every single writing-related expense an author has!

In any case, these things can be claimed back against taxes, hence it's not taking a loss of 25% overall. My day-job already puts me into a higher tax band, so unless I spend my advance on writing-related activities, the taxman just gets an even bigger chunk of it :(

veinglory
07-14-2011, 01:44 PM
I think $ per book means more than $ per year. Especially as books per year is unspecified/low.

MarkEsq
07-14-2011, 05:44 PM
This is both sobering and reassuring. I don't plan on giving up my day job, but an extra $18,000 a year would be nice. :)

Also, not to derail, but the first comment is from an Amish gentleman. How do they have the internet?!

Bubastes
07-14-2011, 05:56 PM
This is both sobering and reassuring. I don't plan on giving up my day job, but an extra $18,000 a year would be nice. :)


My thoughts as well.

ChaosTitan
07-14-2011, 06:13 PM
What seemed to be missing was 'number of books written per year'. Based on the general figures, less than two?

It's also missing a comment about how the author seems to write series of cozy mysteries, which sell well to a specific audience, but are not often any kind of runaway bestseller. It's a niche market, so the author isn't likely to make huge amounts of money at it.


Maybe I'm alone with this but I think $18,000 is poor money indeed for a "national bestselling author".

And I very much appreciate her willingness to share.

"National bestselling" doesn't mean what you think. It isn't the same as seeing someone is a "NY Times" or "USA Today" bestselling author. For the life of me, I can't remember what it means exactly, but you can be called a national bestselling author without ever actually hitting a major bestseller list.

DeadlyAccurate
07-14-2011, 06:31 PM
This is both sobering and reassuring. I don't plan on giving up my day job, but an extra $18,000 a year would be nice. :)

Also, not to derail, but the first comment is from an Amish gentleman. How do they have the internet?!

I read recently the Amish are joining the Internet in rather large numbers. Not sure how that fits with the "don't let technology impede community life" philosophy, though.

Edit: Also, it appears he's not Amish himself but interested in the Amish and Mennonite cultures.

muravyets
07-14-2011, 06:48 PM
Chalk me up as another who thinks an extra $18K a year is nothing to sneeze at. That's more than I'm making now on my 20 hours a week under-employment schedule. If I could manage a combined average annual income of $18k + my current hourly wage, I'd be sitting pretty.

And if I could do that while only having to work for other people part of the time and be self-employed the rest, I'd be purring pretty, too.

eward
07-15-2011, 08:33 AM
Wow, that's really interesting information. Part of me is thinking, 'Hey, $18,000 is more than what I make right now and I'd be doing what I love!' but when I think of the fact that she has 15 books published already, it seems pretty far away. Like people said, it's different for everyone, but it's enlightening to see the writers that aren't making millions ;)

Thanks for sharing!

Mutive
07-15-2011, 08:59 PM
I think I read somewhere that there are more major league baseball players currently earning enough to live off of than writers. *shrugs* This seems in tune with most of what I've read.

CaseyMack
10-31-2011, 07:50 PM
I wonder how the comparable numbers look for non-fiction writers?

Anyone have an idea?

blacbird
10-31-2011, 08:39 PM
This really is sobering. I need a drink.

caw

Filigree
10-31-2011, 09:39 PM
Yes, it's sobering, and even more so when you put it in context. Sales vary by genre, market trends, moon phase, whatever. Adams has put in a hell of a lot of work, has a decent agent, but has the misfortune of being in a genre that's losing market share. I won't say that cozy mysteries are out, but I'm seeing fewer and fewer agents looking for them.

I'm fairly certain that Sherrilyn Kenyon made more than 18K last year.

I'm not saying that paranormal romances are better than cozy mysteries, or that Ellery Adams is in any way lazier or unluckier than Kenyon. We've had discussions in other forums about the common misconception that hard work always equals success. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, the only genre that rocks your world is one that no agent or editor seems to want. And that's okay -- as long as you're not trying to make a living writing it.

But here's the silver lining: if you write the best odd-genre story you can, you'll have a better chance of selling it. Certainly a better chance than if you read this sobering batch of numbers and said 'I'm not going to write this, because I can't sell it.'

Monkey
10-31-2011, 10:14 PM
This author's next book could change everything.

It could be a run-away best seller, make it to the top of the charts, blow everyone's mind.

Just because it hasn't happened for her yet, doesn't mean it won't, despite her stats...and if her stats don't mean her next work won't make it big, why should anyone think her stats mean their next work won't make it big?

And from there...well, all you have to do is write another one just as good. Or a sequel. ;)

Libbie
10-31-2011, 10:30 PM
Most writers who can do it full-time (i.e., no longer have to maintain a "day job") are relying on royalties from their backlist. It takes many years of selling books that are fairly popular with readers to build up a profitable backlist. A tenacious, good writer can see $18K a year double after a couple years, and then triple after a few more, provided she keeps writing and stays realistic about her expectations. And of course a writer needs to keep writing all the time, because eventually older books will fall out of print or become less popular if the author is self-publishing backlisted stuff as ebooks. New material + large body of work + time and tenacity + realistic expectations = career in fiction writing...or so it seems to me.

Practically nobody gets a secure paycheck out of writing fiction right off the bat, with their first sale. Those who do probably feel some anxiety over it, because if you get a really big advance you've got to earn it out before you can rely on any royalties to see you through into retirement. Yikes.

I sure wouldn't turn away a big first sale, but I'd really rather take the slow-building, $18K-at-a-time path. It seems more sustainable and less fraught with anxiety to me.

Libbie
10-31-2011, 10:32 PM
I wonder how the comparable numbers look for non-fiction writers?

Anyone have an idea?

My understanding is that it really depends on the area of nonfiction. Some segments of NF are very profitable and others are really niche books that appeal to a small but enthusiastic audience...so...depends.

CrastersBabies
10-31-2011, 10:38 PM
This is why I continue to teach. :)

I'm a realist and my income for writing is paltry, but, I love it (and I love teaching).

Ken
11-01-2011, 02:03 AM
... and yet there are some people on these boards who make way more than 18G's as they've let out at one time and another. Talented lot. Neat to intermingle with the likes of them on occasion. Almost feel as if I should be paying for the privilege.

Libbie
11-01-2011, 04:27 AM
... and yet there are some people on these boards who make way more than 18G's as they've let out at one time and another. Talented lot. Neat to intermingle with the likes of them on occasion. Almost feel as if I should be paying for the privilege.

Yeah, exactly. There are quite a number of writers here who make their full living from writing or a very respectable supplement to their income (for example, they write full-time in a two-income household, so the writing makes a significant contribution to the budget.)

It is entirely possible to make a sound living off writing, but you've got to manage your expectations. If you're writing one literary novel every two years you can't realistically expect to quit your day job. If you're able to write rather prolifically in a popular genre, and you're actually a good writer, your chances are much better of going full-time sooner rather than later.

lvae
11-01-2011, 12:03 PM
I don't find these numbers sobering at all - then again, I was shocked the first time I read numbers like this from another author who chose to publish her figures. I think it was Lynn Viehl (but I could be wrong), several years ago.

I applaud the author for being candid about this. While it definitely is possible to make a living out of writing books, people have to be realistic about the variables. Most writers won't get published. Of those writers who do get published, most of them won't be bestselling authors. Of those who are best selling authors, most of those still won't be able to make a living out of their career. This shouldn't be seen as a negative thing.

This might be the wrong place to say this - but sometimes life and work outside of writing can be exciting and wonderful. :) Also, if runaway success was so easy to achieve in the pub biz, it would be so much less special and awesome.

bearilou
11-04-2011, 04:50 PM
It sometimes life and work outside of writing can be exciting and wonderful. :)

What...you mean that's not just a rumor?

:D

Chrissy
11-05-2011, 05:51 PM
I recall when I first learned (from a "mid-list" author who taught a 6-week writing course in my city) about the average payout for a book, especially a first book.

I was shocked. I was in denial. I got over it.

Also in this post, the author said her books didn't make the NYT list. If you do make NYT doesn't it increase $$$ ? (Or do I have to go through the shock and denial all over again)

Libbie
11-05-2011, 09:11 PM
I recall when I first learned (from a "mid-list" author who taught a 6-week writing course in my city) about the average payout for a book, especially a first book.

I was shocked. I was in denial. I got over it.

Also in this post, the author said her books didn't make the NYT list. If you do make NYT doesn't it increase $$$ ? (Or do I have to go through the shock and denial all over again)

If you've made the NYT list, then you've already sold enough books to increase your paycheck. The NYT isn't some kind of magical list that tells what the best books out there are. It's simply a list of which books have sold the most copies for that week, in given categories. If you're on the NYT, you've already sold a lot of copies.

However, only certain types of books make the NYT. Books that appeal to wider audiences rather than niche audiences or connoisseurs end up there. Books that get a lot of buzz and advance promotion end up there. Books that lived for a long time in relative obscurity, the work of mid-listers, end up there after they're optioned for movies, after movies are actually made, or after they otherwise make news outside of the book world. Suddenly way more people are aware of those books than were aware of them before, so more people buy copies than on average, and the book's sales rank shoots up enough to end up on the NYT.

The NYT is only a gauge of what's popular. It is not necessarily a gauge of what's good (although usually, popular stuff is also good in some way.) You shouldn't expect to judge your success as a writer based on whether you make the NYT. The type of writing I do rarely ends up on the NYT; it's just not the sort of thing that often finds its way into mass popularity with a very broad audience. So when my friends ask me if I'll end up on that list some day, I usually answer, "I hope not!"

There are other bestseller lists out there that may be a more accurate gauge of your particular niche in the writing world, and better than bestseller lists (in my opinion), there are awards to be won in all genres and categories of writing. I will always pick up a book that has won awards I respect before I'll pick up a book whose only feather in its cap is that it landed on the NYT. I've found that most stuff on the NYT is not the kind of writing I enjoy. (Though some of it is awesome!)

It's not the be-all and end-all, and it doesn't mean success to everybody.

IceCreamEmpress
11-06-2011, 03:56 AM
The magic of the New York Times list is both its name recognition and the fact that many publishing contracts have specific performance bonuses tied to being on that particular list.

Word Jedi
11-06-2011, 05:32 PM
There are torpedoes in the water and sharks will circle the survivors when it blows up something.

I plan to keep writing because I'm the type of person who reads information like this and quits, believing it all to be a waste of time and effort.

To those of you out there who share my flaw, DAMN THE TORPEDOES!

Libbie
11-06-2011, 09:04 PM
DAMN THE TORPEDOES!!!

(I don't share your flaw -- though I have plenty other flaws -- but I just wanted to add my support.)

Filigree
11-06-2011, 11:58 PM
In the interest of damning the torpedoes, let's look again at two key reasons why we should be aware of sober reality (but not let it hamstring us).

One, the books we don't write will never sell. There's your harshest reality.

Two, if we write the best book we can, one that breaks molds and changes tropes, we have a better chance of success than if we wrote yet another copycat of a bestseller. Those best-sellers, BTW, are often game-changing books, themselves.

We may not find our market. Our market may not exist, until we find an agent or editor willing to help midwife it. But at least we tried.

Word Jedi
11-07-2011, 03:16 PM
In the interest of damning the torpedoes, let's look again at two key reasons why we should be aware of sober reality (but not let it hamstring us).

One, the books we don't write will never sell. There's your harshest reality.

Two, if we write the best book we can, one that breaks molds and changes tropes, we have a better chance of success than if we wrote yet another copycat of a bestseller. Those best-sellers, BTW, are often game-changing books, themselves.

We may not find our market. Our market may not exist, until we find an agent or editor willing to help midwife it. But at least we tried.

Absolutely. Well said. Keep writing, keep trying.

Word Jedi
11-18-2011, 05:10 AM
Oh, and a writing teacher once told me there's always a market for story well written.

The Lonely One
11-18-2011, 05:25 AM
Looks up at numbers.

Looks back down at blank page.

rainsmom
11-18-2011, 06:22 AM
Oh, and a writing teacher once told me there's always a market for story well written.
Depends on your definition of market. If you mean there's always some individual somewhere who will pay to read a well-written story, I'll agree. There may not be very many of them, depending on the subject of the story, but yeah, there's someone.

If your definition of market is a publisher (or magazine) who will buy the well-written story, I mightily disagree. Amazing stories go unpublished all the time. There are a limited number of slots, and the competition is fierce. Having a well-written story is no guarantee of a sale, no matter how persistent you are when sending it out.

Uncarved
11-18-2011, 06:52 AM
I wonder how the comparable numbers look for non-fiction writers?

Anyone have an idea?


These are numbers that I'd like to see, but all I ever see posted are these "lifetime stats" for fiction.

Alwaysinspired
11-18-2011, 07:05 AM
Becoming "wealthy" from writing is akin to winning the lottery. The harsh reality is that most of us won't be able to survive on what we make through writing alone, but we continue to do it because it's a passion. I believe if you enter into this "career" with realistic expectations, then you won't be surprised in the least at the amount of money you will earn. The big money is in film adaptations anyway and how many of us will be fortunate to have a novel we've written turned into a film? Not many.

Wayne K
11-18-2011, 07:10 AM
Before scratch off lottery tickets there were pull off tickets. My father's bartender had a box of them. There were two grand prize tickets. I picked them both at the same time

I'm in

czig
11-18-2011, 07:50 AM
It is what you make of it. I don't have any other day job than this (20 years of self-employment, hurrah! No pension, though), so I have to make writing/copy editing/proofreading pay, one way or another.

Basically this means some of us who are counting on this as a career have to be creative in more ways than crafting a good story... we have to find ways to pay the bills by writing things that aren't as much fun or as interesting.

Gawd, now I sound like my parents. :e2paperba

Commercial writing helps. Would I rather be writing stories? Maybe someday when I have time to relax and actually think about them. Yeah, that might be good.

Dark River
11-18-2011, 08:06 AM
Number of years dinosaurs ruled the Earth?
240 million
Number of years humans will rule the Earth?
1 million
Unless the world ends on 12-12-12.

My point is that comparing writers and their experiences, their talent, their pay, etc., is just silly and not logical in this world or any other.

Alwaysinspired
11-18-2011, 09:18 PM
Before scratch off lottery tickets there were pull off tickets. My father's bartender had a box of them. There were two grand prize tickets. I picked them both at the same time

I'm in


If I thought I'd have a chance in hell in winning, I'd definitely play the lottery, but I don't have that kind of luck :)

Dave.C.Robinson
11-20-2011, 11:41 PM
Interesting numbers - but you can't ever expect your own path to follow anyone else's.

I sold a short story to an anthology that was being put together via a freelance marketplace. It turned into a developmental editing job that's generated about 25K for me so far.

No one could have predicted that.

Wordwrestler
11-22-2011, 09:47 AM
Depends on your definition of market. If you mean there's always some individual somewhere who will pay to read a well-written story, I'll agree. There may not be very many of them, depending on the subject of the story, but yeah, there's someone.

If your definition of market is a publisher (or magazine) who will buy the well-written story, I mightily disagree. Amazing stories go unpublished all the time. There are a limited number of slots, and the competition is fierce. Having a well-written story is no guarantee of a sale, no matter how persistent you are when sending it out.

Absolutely true.

Libbie
11-22-2011, 07:51 PM
Becoming "wealthy" from writing is akin to winning the lottery. The harsh reality is that most of us won't be able to survive on what we make through writing alone, but we continue to do it because it's a passion. I believe if you enter into this "career" with realistic expectations, then you won't be surprised in the least at the amount of money you will earn. The big money is in film adaptations anyway and how many of us will be fortunate to have a novel we've written turned into a film? Not many.

Well, true and not true. Most of us won't be able to write as our sole occupation, that's true. Like winning the lottery? Not as true, IMO. The people who strike it really big are writing commercial stuff that has the potential to reach a wide audience, and they've handled their fledgling careers wisely and professionally.

Also, while bigger money is in movie adaptations, there is some big, quit-your-job money in *just* books. Recently a friend of mine got a three-book, high-six-figure contract for just the domestic rights on her debut novel. But she spent a very long time trying to sell that book to the right publisher first, working and parting ways with multiple agents until she found the match that would do her book justice.

So rather than it being like winning the lottery, which implies so much randomness, I think it takes more careful planning and adherence to goals than most creative types are capable of.

Anyway, I don't expect to ever become wealthy off my writing, because I write literary fiction and that doesn't pay squat. I will be thrilled if I earn enough money annually, eventually, that I won't have to work at a job I hate. I'll be equally thrilled if I can work at a job I enjoy (but that doesn't pay much) and write on the side. If I stay in a dual-income household I only need about $40K a year to live very comfortably off my writing. That seems like a reasonable enough goal. (I live in Seattle, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the USA, if that helps put that in perspective. $40K isn't much in Seattle.)

But that's what it's all about, people. Understanding the likelihoods, understanding how people achieve job-quitting incomes, and managing your expectations so you know how to gauge success and how to figure out your own path.

Chasing the Horizon
11-25-2011, 01:44 AM
$18k a year for doing something you love sounds pretty damn awesome to me...

Hiroko
11-25-2011, 03:50 AM
I suppose I shouldn't focus much on how much I make and just on what I love doing, eh?

AlwaysJuly
11-25-2011, 07:36 AM
I'm with Libbie. I love writing, yes, but I have a family to take care of and minimal free time. I don't mind doing something else to support myself -- in fact, I'm planning on grad school in a few years because there are other things I'm passionate about besides writing -- but I'm not pouring my time and energy into writing just for the love of it. I also don't expect to 'hit it rich'. There's a big middle ground, IMO, between writing just because and writing thinking you'll get rich.

What I'm trying to say is this: I look at my writing as not just art, but also my small business. If I did it purely for the love, then to me, it would be a hobby, like snowboarding or making cupcakes. I expect it to likely take time to become profitable in any respect, but that's true of most small businesses. And if it fails entirely -- well, have you seen the failure rate of entrepreneurs? Our writing gig doesn't look that bad, in comparison -- at least we have low start-up costs!

mscelina
11-25-2011, 07:46 AM
So don't be a midlist writer. The real world is whatever world a given writer makes it.

Right, because any given writer can control their sales number. We can all just kick back in our offices and psychically force people to make a detour into the local bookstore and buy our books--in hardback.


The numbers per book don't look too depressing to me.

Me either.


That 25% probably includes convention attendances, etc. No publisher pays for every single writing-related expense an author has!

In any case, these things can be claimed back against taxes, hence it's not taking a loss of 25% overall. My day-job already puts me into a higher tax band, so unless I spend my advance on writing-related activities, the taxman just gets an even bigger chunk of it :(

Here again--also true. It's essential for a writer who's making this kind of money to keep meticulous records and to have an outstanding accountant.


This is both sobering and reassuring. I don't plan on giving up my day job, but an extra $18,000 a year would be nice. :)


I'm with you. If you're a writer who can turn out more than a couple of titles a year, this money starts to escalate--you know, as long as the psychic powers hold out.

:crazy: