Thursday, April 16, 2020

Writer Finances and the Myth that all Authors are Millionaires

When you’re start out in this crazy business you decide which publishing track is for you. 

There is:

Traditional - publishing with an established publisher (think Orbit, Tor, or Angry Robot)
Self-Publishing - publishing on your own without an established publisher
Hybrid-author - publishing both with an established publisher and independently

Sounds great! Right? Except you may, or at the very least nearly everyone you tell about your decision to be an author will, assume that means $$$.

So, how do you budget when you don’t have a clue about what you're facing? 


I wrote my first novel in 2013, the one that earned me my Golden Heart in 2018. See that 5 year spread? There was a lot of internet searching and learning happening in that time because I knew I needed to decide what to do with the thing. 

Self-publishing in 2013-2014 had a bit of a stigma for being sub-par, but I checked it out anyway. I’m a laboratorian at heart, I can’t make big decisions without a detailed pro/con list. For information, I attended a couple small writer conferences and attended sessions targeted at traditional and self publishing. There’s so much to that that I could fill your screens for days, or you could check the archives of my fellow SFF Seven’s posts, there be goldmines there. And recently the Fantasy Inn did a great survey on self and traditional publishing, check it out here.

Jim C. Hines did a nice survey in 2010 about first novel deals and earnings. But in all the Publisher Weekly announcements there was cryptic wording on the deal amounts. Thankfully, the Nelson Literary Agency puts out an excellent newsletter and blog, a great follow if you’re in the trenches. Kristin Nelson shared deal-reporting lingo translation. 

Finally! A way to decipher those press releases and find out how much traditional authors make! 

*cue laughing*

Back in 2014-2015 I was enjoying a very successful career in the medical field and determined that the time needed to be successful at self-publishing wasn’t something I had. That left the traditional path, hybrid author really wasn’t a thing back then, and I needed even more info to formulate my ten year plan. 

You read that right, TEN YEAR PLAN. If you don’t have one, you should make one. Being an author is a long road, no matter which path you take. And planning is part of figuring out that elusive author finances.

My ten year plan was to have one book published within five years and subsequently two books per year after that which would allow me to retire from the corporate world and become a full-time author by year ten with ten books on my backlist. 

Best laid plans and all…

I still have a ten year plan, though it looks very different from what I started out with. Due to my chronic disease, I chose my health over my job and walked away from my career in 2018. Unfortunately that means my family is now single-income, my husband is absolutely wonderful in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, and my healthcare takes up about 20% of it. 

Remember the planning carefully part I mentioned above? 

Even after all that, I still have a plan. Technically I have a one year, five year, and a ten year plan, and I’m still collecting information because the most important thing I’ve learned concerning author finances is the need to be flexible

Flexibility is key for which ever publishing path you choose. Make goals, set timelines for yourself, and be flexible. Yes, that means flexible with your income as well. 

In the past couple of years there’s been a movement to be more transparent about author income and a number of authors have voluntarily posted about it. There’s been some shared on Twitter, sorry I can’t find the tweets to link to. And Susan Dennard, author of the Witchlanders series, did a post on author income along with her agent (scroll down to the bottom section: For the Daydreamers).

None of this is to bum you out about your future prospects. But if you’re committed to being an author for the long haul, you’ll need a plan for your finances. Otherwise you’ll end up like poor Rob…

But he always looked on the bright side, which sounds like a good idea to me! 

Are you starting out and vacillating on which publishing path you want to take?