Thursday, April 25, 2019

Getting Paid to Write by Cheryl Bolen

The Author’s Guild recently released a survey that has shaken the publishing industry, particularly authors because it glaringly demonstrates significantly reduced incomes over the last several decades. This didn’t really come as news to those vanishing “midlist” authors at the big publishing houses who’ve seen their advances and print runs shrink along with their incomes.

Our Romance Writer of America’s Published Authors’ email loops have been buzzing with that topic. Those who want to see the full survey from Authors Guild can read the harrowing facts here.

Internet Has Made Publishing Accessible to All
We’ve always had writers who were so eager to get their work published they would either give it away or sell it for almost nothing. Then we’ve had writers who spent many years developing their craft to the point where they could expect to be compensated at a respectable level for delivering a product that had value. The way the internet has made publishing so accessible to all has contributed to the industry's financial chaos.

I remember when one of my journalism professors decades ago said the only way you could get an “A” in his class was to sell your feature article. “You can always find a publication that will print stuff for free,” he said. He wanted his students to aim higher. (By the way, I did make an “A.” And I’ve never devalued my work since then.)

Authors are saying they “have” to write whether they get paid or not. I get that. I can’t imagine not writing. I’ve always written. I earned a living for two decades, full time, writing for newspapers. I could support a family on what I earn writing books. I knock off articles for my local RWA newsletter. I blog. The latter two, I do gratis.

Writing Novels is Hard Work
I can’t imagine not writing. HOWEVER, and, yes, there’s a reason I capitalized that word, there’s no way I would make myself sit in my chair all day, every day grinding out novels if I didn’t earn a nice income doing so. Writing novels is very hard work. I sold my first one more than 22 years ago, and it doesn’t ever get any easier. They DO NOT write themselves. Plot problems keep me awake at night. Deadlines interfere with life.

I admit I love what I do. I love writing. I love being in charge of my own schedule, working in my yoga pants, throwing clothes in the washer as I write. I love starting a book and finishing a book. I love the satisfaction of finishing a book of which I'm proud. But there are plenty of things about writing that are just plain hard. Like the middle of the book.

All You've Got is a Blank Page
And I’ll say writing non-fiction is much, much easier. You’ve facts to gather and organize, and I’m a good organizer. With fiction, all you’ve got is a blank page. You’ve got to imagine every single scene. Make up every character, every word of dialogue. Don’t bore your reader. Have an interesting, unique plot, great romance. Yada, Yada, Yada. 

So, no, I would not write novels for piddly money. After so many years of writing I would retire if I weren’t still making good money. I would travel even more than I already do. After all, my husband has already retired. 

I happen to be one of the fortune authors who makes a decent income writing novels, and I’m very grateful to my loyal readers who allow me to continue doing what I love to do. –Cheryl Bolen’s 39th book, Last Duke Standing, released in January. She’s currently working on the lead novella for a Regency Christmas anthology to release in October.

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  1. I wish I did make enough to live on--there's no getting around that--but my writing money's always been travel money on good years, out-to-dinner money on others. However, I'm one of those who's going to do it anyway. I must admit that it was never my intent to make a living--I liked my day job just fine--but I hope my lackadaisical approach hasn't harmed the industry.

  2. I hope to someday earn enough to live on ( and I live frugally) but for now that's not the case. I am still a fairly new writer in the realm of things. I have the fortune to have been able to retire a bit younger than most and so now I am spending more time writing. The selling part is what's difficult. As you said, so many more books are out there now to compete with that finding people to buy and read is hard. Congratulations on being able to live your dream.

  3. Dear Cheryl, thank you for your succinct and professional way of 'telling it like it is'. I work hard and expect to be compensated. People who cheat the system and/or steal the hard work of others make me ill.

  4. I try not to fret over what I cannot control, such as other writers' incomes or process. I only deal with my own. I've made a concerted effort over the last year to learn how to get my books into the hands of more readers. I've learned a lot and still have more to go. This, I can do. But I love writing and have written for far too long without making a living, even when I was writing for two publishing houses. No one ever said it would be easy. LOL

  5. Great post. I'm not in the sustainable income category of author. Someday, maybe. All I know is that it won't be for a lack of trying ❤

  6. I would not want to actually figure up how much I make an hour. I think it would be too depressing. Since going Indie, there's all the marketing, covers, editing etc to deal with. Most of us have to really love writing.

  7. I'll have to catch up on the PAN discussion. When I do my taxes each year, I'm forced to look at my income, which is not livable. But I love writing. So onward I go with the hope some day that figure will improve.

  8. As an avid reader, I wonder if, when I have the money to retire (in 20 years), it'd be a good idea to do something that I love doing - such as writing. Now I know it's not an easy path.

    Good luck, girls. Please don't give up, you have readers out there who love your work.

  9. Cheryl, I read that report too. I regret to say it did not surprise me. As you and I know, it's a long road to getting to the point where you can make enough to live on thus the old axiom still applies: "Don't quit your day job."


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