There’s a little secret in this business that no one wants to hear, but it is the truth. We’re not making money at this.
According to the Author’s Guild survey of 2018 earners, author incomes were down by a whopping 42 percent to a median income of $6080. That’s supplemental income at best. It’s also a median of over 5000 authors.
That means that, yes, there are wildly successful authors out there, and they are wildly offset by those of us making peanuts. This isn’t a living, not for most of us, and that’s the first thing every author has to make peace with from the start.
I’m not here to tell you that you absolutely can’t, but I do want to lay out the reality that for all those success stories you hear there are hundreds or thousands who never broke even.
That means what exactly?
It means we have to adjust our own expectations. If you walk into this chasing a pot of gold, I’m telling you that you may never find it. I usually chase readers, not the pot of gold, but even that translates to frustration.
Authors want to be heard. That’s an overwhelming desire among everyone who publishes their work. Even the work on fan sites is from some writer looking for a reader. Otherwise, why would we bother?
This leaves us with two choices; Accept this reality or challenge it. It’s a choice we have to make. Either of these choices are acceptable. Let me be clear on that. You can be very happy challenging yourself and the reality you live in, but you have to be self-aware when you make that choice. Will it make you happy?
If you accept that writing is your hobby, it means accepting limited writing time because this isn’t your job. It means accepting that you might never get the feedback that you’re seeking. It also means no deadlines, no worries, no investment beyond time, and no heartbreak of rejection.
If you challenge the prevailing wisdom, be ready because it’s going to get tough. You may be putting time and money into something that just won’t pay off, and could likely break your heart as well. Especially if this is going to create financial hardship, think about this very carefully. But if it does pay off, you get readers, contracts, and the possibility of an acknowledgement of your abilities. The author’s dream.
Do you want to write?
In my case, I need to write. I’ll be writing something even if I never make a dime. Can’t stop. Won’t stop. If I could make money, I wouldn’t turn it down, but writing is a non-negotiable part of my life. I couldn’t give it up for any reason.
Yet, I was so burned out that I wasn’t writing at all. Some of that was stress and regular life getting in the way. Some of it was the pressure I put myself under to be better, do more. Just sucked the joy right out.
You can improve your craft without browbeating your inner muse, trust me. Still, I let all the other voices out there tell me I wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t trying hard enough. If I wasn’t being read, it was because I’m not good enough. All of that may be true, could be true, but I’ve read some phenomenal books written by people that I know aren’t making a living, so I’m betting there’s more to it.
Creative impulses do not flow uphill, and I was making this an uphill climb. As with any endeavor in your life, if you force it or throw shade at yourself for your failures, you will kill your will to go on because mistakes are part of learning.
If you can evaluate your writing impartially (which I doubt by the way), more power to you. Otherwise, listen to those who have read your books. If they say good things, believe that feedback as easily as you believe the negatives. If they say negatives, evaluate it. Look at it hard and decide if it’s true, and then -this is key- lay that down.
Once you correct your mistakes, put that down. You learned and you grew. Now go out there and be this new writer who gets it right instead of flogging yourself with that rejection. That’s what gets us in the end.
Writing is an act of love.
I mean this. You give a little piece of yourself away every time you write something. If that’s not true, well, then you’re the very definition of a hack (Tough love). Writing is art, not just business. Just as art isn’t the business of selling the paintings. Marketing is not the act of writing the book.
My (unpopular) opinion is that books deliberately written to market can be art if the artist loves them, BUT the overwhelming majority are regurgitated trope with cookie cutter feelings, and I don’t see that as art. I see that as a money making scheme, and that’s okay.
It’s okay to write books people like to make money, if that -pay attention- makes you happy. Just as it’s okay to write books that don’t make money, if you want what you have to say to be heard and enjoyed.
There are artists who do both, and they are my heroes. Oh, I can hear the arguments for and against this already. Understand that I’m not saying writing to market makes you a bad person or a bad artist. Read it again.
The point is that every author has to decide what matters to them, and do that thing. For me, I don’t want to lose that thrill that comes from creating. I need that to be whole. Others want something else. It’s all about self-awareness and managing expectations.
Okay, so go forth and write. But, above all else, be happy.