When my first book came out, this was exactly what the Chairman of my day job said to me. True? I wish!
It’s not his fault. He subscribes to the same myth that most people with no experience of the publishing world does. We all remember the success of J K Rowling and E L James. I admit, I thought the very same: perhaps I can write books and live off the royalties? However, the reality is very different.
Sara Sheridan examines this issue in her recent article, What Writers Earn: A Cultural Myth, for Huffington Post. She quotes the median average earnings of a professional author in the UK as £12,330. Although there is a caveat on this – the information is based on 2005 figures, the last available, and she claims that the Society of Authors believe that the figure has now decreased in real terms. This suggests that even a contract with one of the big six is unlikely to match the day job of someone earning a national average wage. You may be lucky and have another source of income. If you do, great! If you don’t then the reality of this is that most new writers squeeze their work into those spare moments around a day job that pays the bills.
I think it’s wonderful that there are so many avenues to publishing these days. I chose the traditional route because I have a day job and a family; my spare time is limited so I wanted the writing to be my focus. I signed with an independent publisher and, in spite of investing a huge amount of time and energy into promotional activities, the truth is I’ve barely made anything on my first book. Will it be different with my second? Time will tell.
Rachel Thompson is a US based prolific self published author of three books and a whiz at online promotion. Recently, she shared her annual income on her blog and it makes for very interesting reading. I’m not a materialistic person, but the net balance on there wouldn’t be enough to pay my bills and feed my family, even with my wonderfully supportive husband.
It seems to me that those authors that are financially independent tend to have a string of popular books out there with large publishing houses that support a strong marketing programme and sells foreign rights to provide additional income. Alongside this, they write, write, write; many of them producing two books a year.
I still consider myself a new writer. Yes, I have written two books and am currently working on a third. Navigating the realms of the book industry over the past couple of years has taught me so much, but I still have an awful lot to learn. My first two books took me almost eighteen months each to complete. I’m hoping to write the third in a year. That’s the best I can manage with still holding down a job, being a mum and spending time with my family.
I’m not here to dash any dreams. My life is built on the ‘what ifs’; those moments that imbue our dreams and adventures. What I’m here to say is don’t set out to write to make money. Write because you love it, enjoy the craft of putting those words together, have fun with drawing up characters and plotlines. I write books that I would like to read myself, and re-work them until I’m completely happy. Try something different, something new. Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t, but the fun is in the trying. Indulge in those magical moments.
Will writing a book change your life? Yes. It’s marvellous to watch your story, a figment of your own imagination and hard work, come together as print on a page with glossy cover art. I’ll never forget the day I first held a copy of An Unfamiliar Murder in my hand. Also, I’ve met so many interesting and lovely people through this journey, and received lots of wonderful messages, emails and notes from readers to say how much they enjoyed. All in all, a great experience and sense of achievement. Will it fill your bank account and fund your mansion? Unlikely. But you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.