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Author earnings down?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Sep 16, 2015.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    An interesting set of results, though it should have been obvious to them that including self-published authors would skew the numbers downward. I don't think it is a surprise to anyone that even most traditionally-published authors don't make enough through writing to support themselves. The figures here are lower than I thought in that regard, though.

    Also, I think we have to acknowledge that a lot of the people on the lower end of this are probably good writers, though I'm sure some aren't.

    So if you want to write as your only income, do these numbers change how you plan to approach writing as a career?

    Income for US authors falls below federal poverty line – survey | Books | The Guardian
     
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Disclaimer for Russ: I'm speaking only about self publishing here. I know nothing about traditional publishing.

    I think that it is not easy to make money writing, but based on all the stories I'm reading elsewhere, it absolutely can be done if you work both hard and smart. You must:

    1. Write what readers want to read.
    2. Write a lot.
    3. Promote and market effectively.

    Regardless of what that article says, there are people out there making real money. $2000-$3000 a month isn't pie in the sky at all.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think that's true, though I think it is important to understand that those numbers do not appear to represent the majority. You can write great stories and still never make enough to live on. That's true for traditionally-published authors as well. Writers seem to get discouraged if their publishing doesn't translate into quitting their day job overnight. I know one traditionally published author who had a contract for a trilogy through Harper Collins, is a very good writer, had books that were well-reviewed by readers and critics, and who did "tolerably well," but couldn't quit her day job. It was discouraging, and I think if her expectations were different it would have been a better experience.

    Of course, there is enough room in the market for plenty of people to make enough money to live on, and any writer who is good at what they do and puts enough out there has a fair shot at making it to that point. But on the whole, I think writers as well as the general public have an over-inflated idea of what the average writer makes. While that's not significant in terms of the public, it can be problematic when writers have a false impression and form their expectations based on them.

    None of which is to say that a writer shouldn't have a goal of being the bestselling author around, if that's what they want to do, or just making a quiet living at it if that's what they want instead.
     
  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Agreed on the whole concept of expectations.

    I think that it's problematic in general to base any assumption on average earnings for an author, though. How is "author" even defined? I have a novella up on Amazon, and I've sold a dozen copies. If that's all I ever do and I make $1 a year, am I an author? Should my earnings be lumped in with JK Rowling to create an average?

    Number of books, genre, and a whole host of other variables have to be factored into the equation to determine any real expectation for earning.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    As I read the article, I think you'd be an author under these numbers (looks like self-published authors with at least one work count). It was, it appears, a random survey, which can give pretty good results, but the results are only good if you know what they tell you and what they don't tell you. They don't separate it out by number of works, genre, or any of those other factors.

    And, perhaps more importantly, the self-publishing numbers aren't separated between amateur efforts and people who hire professional editors and cover artists. The self-publishing numbers have a lot of wiggle room based on what factors you might want to concentrate on.

    I think the traditional-publishing numbers are a bit more telling, because in those cases you're always dealing with a work that was at least good enough to interest a professional editor and publisher, and presumably got good editing, a professional cover, and so on. I think the public in general has always had a misconception about how much those authors make. Authors making the big bucks are the exception, not the rule, across all areas of publishing. As to whether or not you can quit your day job - a lot of traditionally published authors can't. I'd be interested to know if relatively more self-published authors can.
     
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    There's still the issue of quantity of work, not just quality. On average, an author who puts out a book every 6 months is probably making more than an author who puts out one book a decade.

    Absolutely.

    I think the % of people who can quit their day job is also highly dependent on salary expectations. I'd need to be making a lot more money off writing than someone right out of school who doesn't have a family to support.

    I've read about a lot of indie authors who have "quit their day jobs" while making a whole lot less money than I'd be comfortable with.

    I guess my overall takeaway from the article is that there's not enough information to really tell anybody much of anything. Same with the other author income surveys that people keep going on about all over the internet.

    To me, the important question is:

    Can you make money writing?

    And the answer is:

    Yes. But it takes working both hard and smart.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yep. That's the most important takeaway, I think. It's true for 99.9% of writers. There are always exception, like Andy Weir. The film of his first novel, The Martian, opens this weekend. The guy posted the work for free on Wattpad, then self-published on Amazon, then got a traditional publisher, movie contract, etc., all off of his one and (so far) only book. People see his story, or E.L. James, and a handful of others, and think of making quick money. Just not going to work that way.

    Put out good work, consistently, and you have the best chance of succeeding. From what I've read by people who have looked into it, putting out additional books is a better use of time than even marketing the one you have.
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    From the success stories I've read, the key seems to be writing series. Once you get the third book out, discount and promote the first book. Then, if you've done a good job, the sell-through is where you make your $$$.
     
  9. ALB2012

    ALB2012 Maester

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    There are loads of people on the KDP forums with unrealistic expectations. They think they've published a book and now they will sell millions. More often their book doesn't sell many and they can't understand why. Some of the books are simply trash, but many aren't. It takes hard work, patience, luck and more hard work and even then most writers won't make enough to live on. I suppose it depends why a writer writes.
     
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Writers average income falling is not a good thing at all. It means that the value of writing as a commodity is going down, probably for several reasons, none of them good news.

    Doug Preston is a great guy. Glad to see he has the courage to go big game hunting on this one.

    It unfortunately seems to be that fiction writing is now becoming more and more like sports. Lots of people doing it, a very small group making any half decent money at it.
     
  11. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    I'd only quibble with you over the 'luck' part. With self-publishing, every aspect is in the author's own hands, and as long as you make sensible decisions you can sell enough to (at least) be a very handy supplement to regular income. I've seen any number of people just quietly writing, publishing, writing, publishing, and their income goes up with each book. Whether you can make enough to live on depends entirely on lifestyle, but making a few thousand a month is very easily achievable.

    I'm not really bothered about making a living wage. All I want to do is earn back the money I spent publishing the books, for covers, proofreading, marketing, etc. So I write what I want to write. Even so, I've been making four figures a month for several months now. And I know one lady who set out to write a money-making series very fast (she was desperate to escape from low-income hell), and went from coffee money to $20K a month in 3 months flat. No luck involved there, just hard work and a very targeted approach. Plus, she's a great writer, which always helps. :) Mind you, she almost killed herself doing it - it's not a sustainable strategy, really.

    So it can be done, but as Brian said, you have to write what people want to read, you have to write fast, and you have to market it effectively. Most writers don't want to work that hard at it, and that's OK too. For me, it's an enjoyable hobby that also brings in a bit of extra money. But for anyone who's sufficiently motivated to make good money from it, it can be done.
     
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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  13. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Nothing unexpected about the survey results I'm afraid. Writers have always been paid poorly. We are in fact part of the true "struggling artists" horde. The one thing that did stand out for me was that the biggest income drop was for the trade published. I'm not surprised - the companies are getting tight with their advances etc - but it does make me wonder that so many still seek to go this route.

    And yes indies will always rate poorly, because far too many indies simply put out a book, don't edit it, cover it, or market it, then sit back and wait for the kudos and the cash to flow in. Unsurprisingly they earn little if anything. But the true rate for the trade writer if you consider those desperately trying to get contracts with agents / publishers, is far worse.

    Having said that, if you want to make money writing novels, here's your strategy.

    1 Go indie. Don't waste a single second on the agent go round. It's too slow and weighted against your succeeding.
    2 Write a good book. (subjective I know) But write a book that has full quality control, including beta reading and decent editing.
    3 Publish well - this means good cover design and blurb.
    4 Publish wisely. At present for novelists this means kindle unlimited and Createspace. My income the last few months has doubled thanks to the changes in KU. (Thank you Amazon!!!) Alternatively if you choose not to, go wide - but hit every channel you can find.
    5 Pick the popular genres. Bead working from the 1900's is not popular. Paranormal romance is hot.
    6 Write series - trilogies are especially popular in sci fi / fantasy and they outsell single books.
    7 Market well.
    8 The instant you've finished one book start the next. You'd don't have time to tarry.

    Do all of these things and you aren't guaranteed a huge income or financial success. But the chances are that you will do many times better than the "average" author mentioned.

    As for me, I do do steps one to four religiously. Steps five and six my muse won't allow me to do. Step seven my inherent natural self disbelief won't allow me to do. And step eight I'm spotty on though I do try. And as regards income, last month on its own I exceeded all the average yearly income figures given - although it was helped by my putting out a new book in July that did well. KU also made a huge impact on my income.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Greg,

    I mostly agree with you, but I have to take strong exception to one of your points:

    My book about bead working in the 1900s is going to blow everyone out of the water. Just you wait and see!

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
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  15. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    This is me, too, almost exactly. I'm OK with step 7, though - I hand money to people who do the advertising for me, and that seems to work quite well. And 8 I definitely do - by the time I get to the end of one book, I'm desperate to start the next.

    Yeah, I've enjoyed the new KU regime, too. :) Still working on the income, but there's a definite lurch upwards with each additional book published. I'm now covering all my costs on the books - just got the *cough* new computer *cough* to pay for. ;)
     
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  16. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    Either this or work something else as a main source of income.
    I really don't want to write LotR\AsoIaF\starwars\50 shades of shit clones\paranormal romances as a full time job.
    In my opinion publishing one good book which would be remembered is better than making a living as a writer.
    Unfortunately writing a memorable book is hard.
     
  17. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    That's a perfectly sensible strategy. Not everyone wants to make a living from their writing, or even supplement their income. But for anyone who does, then writing in a popular genre, writing multiple books in series and writing fast - that's the way to do it.
     
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think I see this attitude a lot here at Mythic Scribes. You want to produce art or whatever.


    I think, however, that the chances of hitting big by pursuing your route is difficult at best. IMO, it's akin to buying a lottery ticket.

    It's also, as you mention, incredibly difficult. I've worked very hard for almost 5 years on trying to make my writing entertaining. I'm still not sure I'm as far along in that regard as I want to be. Adding the requirement that it be "memorable" to being entertaining? Wow! Good luck with that!

    I'm incredibly lucky in that my goals for what I want to produce align very well with my goals for what I want out of writing. I simply want to write stuff that entertains people, and as it turns out, people seem to want to pay for stuff that entertains them.

    Frankly, I don't have a lot of use for "memorable" books. I don't want to read something that speaks truth or some such nonsense. I just want to read stuff that entertains me.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2015
  19. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I think that both of these attitudes are unnecessarily denigrating. Everyone has different goals for their writing, and it really isn't necessary to shit on all other approaches to justify your own.

    I don't have any expectations of hitting it big or quitting my day job. Writing for my is an immensely important hobby; it's about self-fulfillment. I really don't think I'm at the place yet where my skills and style are meeting my own expectations, so I'm still working towards publishing as a point in the future, not the present. Does that make my writing worthless? Not to me. But I will damn well respect someone who's self-publishing in volume for entertainment and profit, because that's a lot of work.

    Writing is an incredibly individual commitment. Let other people do it on their own terms, and don't frame your own goals by trashing someone else's. It just isn't necessary.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2015
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Nimue,

    I've worked really hard for a long time to get to the level where I am now. To have some ... person ... like valiant12 make that kind of comment really irritated me.

    To be honest, I see condescension of that nature a lot, and I'm simply not going to let it go. To say that writing "memorable" fantasy somehow has more merit than writing for entertainment is ludicrous.
     
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