Since indie publishing became such a hot topic, with legacy publishers and authors slamming indies on a regular basis, while media like to whoop up the success stories, the idea of authors holding down day jobs isn’t nearly as shocking or unheard of as it was even five years ago.  However, this post may still give you a small boost.  — t.


Don’s comment, yesterday, is a perfect example of the blind spot that exists in the global publishing industry. There is a persistent and frustrating misconception that any writer with a published novel or two is raking in the cash, and therefore writing full time.

I have tried to find statistics to demonstrate that this isn’t even close to the truth, and failed – for a few reasons I’ll outline in a minute. Instead I will share with you my own experiences and a couple of other authors’ comments that, combined, convince me that this blind spot exists.

1) Ten years ago, just before the publication of my first novel, I was working full time, and my husband was a stay-at-home dad, taking care of our combined household of three elementary school kids. I wasn’t earning a lot of money back then (or now, I must add), and a household of five people living off one just-above-basic salary meant money was really scarce. We applied to the kids’ school to have their lunch fees suspended as we just couldn’t afford them.

Fast forward five months, to just after the release of my first novel. We get an invoice from the school, claiming a year’s worth of lunch fees, times three. We phoned and asked why they were hitting us up for fees that we couldn’t possibly pay, and the office administrator told Mark, “Well, your wife published a novel. You’ve got money now.”

2) Most fiction readers I meet are shocked when they learn I have a day job. Invariably their reaction is along the lines of “But you have all those books published!”

3) I have a non-fiction book proposal doing the rounds, based on this blog (which is written specifically for fiction authors with day jobs). It was rejected by one major publisher in a record 24 hours, as being “too narrow a field of interest.”

4) Tara K. Harper, Science Fiction and Fantasy author, said:

“The Author’s Guild conducted a survey recently on author income. If I recall correctly, and including the stats from those incredibly high multi-multi-million dollar contracts, the average author earns about 10,000 a year”.

5) If you do a Google search for “authors with day jobs”, you get 19 hits, and 9 of them are direct links to this blog. No one is talking about it much, except me.

6) Holly Lisle, in Mugging The Muse: Writing Fiction For Love And Money said:

“If you are wedded to the idea of security and you like knowing that you’re going to be able to pay your bills on time every month, kiss the idea of fulltime writing a permanent goodbye. At levels of success higher than those I’ve yet reached, I imagine money is a bit more secure. At my level – which is fourteen or so books in print, all in a solid genre that generates a good audience, no single title breathtakingly successful, but several that have earned out and pay regular if small royalties – it is an adventure. And remember that the definition of adventure is ‘some poor shmuck having a hell of a hard time of it a thousand miles away.’”

7) English novelist Michael Allen said, in On Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile:

“…writers are unlikely to be successful in achieving their ambitions. In the book world, … bestsellers tend to become massive, while sales of ‘ordinary’ books are minuscule. It is not that bestsellers sell twice as many copies as the average novel: they sell hundreds of times as many.”

Which means that most of the pool of revenue generated from sales of fiction goes to the handful of bestsellers. Everyone else gets to scramble.

8 ) You can’t be selected for fiction writer-in-residence programs unless you’re already writing full time.

9) In Canada, you can’t even apply for writing grants unless writing is your primary source of income.

Statistics and industry gossip confirm that most writers don’t make much money. There’s the three quotes above, to start, and some simple research will provide a ton of others. If you’re not making much money with your writing, then you have to be earning a living some other way, i.e: a day job.

Yet most people believe – or pretend – that most fiction writers write full time.

Fiction writers themselves are guilty of maintaining the illusion. Many writers – including myself for a long while – carry the belief that having to maintain a day job somehow makes us illegitimate, that we’re not “real” writers if we’re not earning enough to write full time. So the subconscious shame makes us contribute to the fantasy of authors living high on the hog. We find it difficult to admit to readers and others we talk to that we have a day job, and all the PR and marketing materials we produce subtly build the impression that we write fiction for a living, not as moonlighters.

The industry itself also contributes to the ghetto-ization and cloaking of authors with day jobs: there’s an embedded resistance to talking about author income, potential revenues, advances and royalty schemes. Many book publishing contracts come with confidentiality clauses. And authors, even if not contractually bound to silence, are reluctant to reveal real earnings because it may show they’re not doing as well as everyone thinks, or it will prove they’re not doing as well as that author over there. Failure to reveal objective monetary data creates subjective, wildly inaccurate estimations and assumptions.

The public feasts on stories of mind-boggling advances for books, and lifestyles of the handful of fabulously successful authors. The media are not doing stories on the actual lifestyle of your average author – it’s just not sexy enough. So the public tends to think that the average fiction authors’ lifestyle is just a scaled-down version of the lifestyles they see on TV and in magazines and newspapers.

It’s time for this hoary old industry myth to be debunked loudly and publicly. The fact is most published fiction authors have day jobs, and the industry is structured so that most published fiction authors will always have a day job…and they’re not inadequate, or poorer writers if they do. They’re just one of the vast majority that didn’t win the sweepstakes and a roller-coast ride to the high-altitude head of the long tail.

Don’t buy into the pig swill, and refuse to generate more of it. You’ll feel much happier about your life and your writing career as soon as you accept that you’re a member of the largest fraternity of writers out there: A perfectly normal, average novelist.

First appeared on Anchored Authors on July 1, 2008

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