2 Reasons Why You Don’t Want to Be an Author

1) There’s no money in it.

Are you surprised?

There is money in the publishing industry, though, for those who provide you a service as you create your book: from the classes you take, those who do your editing, formatting, help you develop your story, the virtual assistant(s) you hire to save you time, and so forth.

In his article, “How Much Money Do Authors Actually Earn?” Lincoln Michel states that 99% of all writers will need other jobs beyond the actual writing.

Jane Friedman states in her blog, “How Much Do Authors Earn? Here’s the Answer No One Likes” that “the majority of writers don’t earn a living from book sales alone.”

She revealed that her book, The Business of Writing has earned $25,000 since 2018.

Clearly not enough for any author to live on.

Friedman further reveals that her books earn only five percent of her total income. The rest comes from her “paid subscription newsletter, and her services, which includes consulting and teaching.”

Most every writer I know started writing books and scripts for the same reason. They were enticed by the money. Even readers believe authors earn lots of money. After all, don’t we read about the first-time authors who hit it big with six or seven advances? Those stories dominate the news.

I’ll admit it. I wanted to be a writer earning money from writing books. Along the way, that including writing screenplays, wanting to see my name on the big screen, too.

Even though I treated my writing as a business and was always trying to earn a living from my writing, I always needed a day job to pay for the writing expenses.

Once I became a published author, I was approached and asked to teach others how to write, how to get published, how to find an agent, and so forth. I discovered there was decent money in teaching. It’s why you see so many writers teaching! Not to mention paid spending engagements where their expenses are paid—travel, hotel, conference fee—plus, they earn a stipend. And, if they’re lucky, they sell a few more books.

It’s the rare author who earns a living from their books alone. I know of only three such writers personally. In two cases, they treat it like a forty-hour-per-week-plus job, and they have a huge number of books published—more than most writers will ever write. One has her husband doing the editing and formatting.

The third writer, who has less than a dozen books published, invests heavily in Amazon ads. She spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to earn it back and a third more.

2) Becoming an author is about playing the long game

All three said it took time for their sales to grow. It didn’t happen overnight, and it took constant vigilance in doing promotions, and writing more books.

Again, it’s the rare author who makes it big right from the beginning. It’s not the norm.

My favorite example of the long game is Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. The story began as a serialized blog, free to his readers. They wanted the book, so he offered it for sale for only $.99 on Amazon Kindle where it became a best-seller that attracted a literary agent and a sale to Crown Publishing Group.

Weir began his writing career in the mid-1990s. The Martian was published by Crown in 2014. Twenty-four years.

I’ve been writing for over forty-five years. Truly, the long game. With my share of teaching and presentations.

So, why am I still willing to play the long game? Two reasons.

  1. It’s the only way I can give a home to the many characters and ideas who follow and travel with me 24/7.
  2. Lightning has to strike somewhere, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, I’ll continue adding books to my portfolio, and in February 2022, I’ll be teaching online again, details to follow.

So, how long are you willing to play the long game?

About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
This entry was posted in Indie Publisher, Publishing, Publishing books, Writer at Work and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 2 Reasons Why You Don’t Want to Be an Author

  1. Lucy Kubash says:

    When I think about giving up on writing for publication, it makes me sad. So, I suppose I’ll keep at it as long as I can sit at a computer and create stories! I’ve pretty much acknowledged I’ll never make the money I once made from writing, which wasn’t a huge amount, but it was something at the time, and I’d be happy to make it again.

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  2. Diana Stout says:

    Not only sad, but then I thought what else would you be doing? Nope, writing is good for the brain, for the fingers, and it makes me happy. I’m with you! Writing until I can’t any longer.

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  3. This is an excellent article, Diana! I used to joke that I wanted to see just one of my books on an end cap at Target before I die. But really, as time has gone on and I learn more about all the hoops you have to jump through to get fiction traditionally or self published and get paid for it, I truly don’t care anymore if I’m published or not. Maybe it’s because in my day job I write blog articles and other content that ends up online, in trade magazines, and in marketing campaigns (even if I don’t get a byline), and that satisfies my need to see my words out there? Who knows, but I’ll keep writing fiction because it’s fun and because I like the challenge of upping my game to write better fiction. And if I ever write something I think is good enough, I may try to publish it. But until then, I’ll leave publishing to the good writers out there who have the fire inside them and wish them much success.

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  4. Diana Stout says:

    Thanks, Linda! I’m with you about wanting writing to be fun. I know you’d LOVE having your name on a book just for its own achievement. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll help you figure out your route so that it’s easy with minimum pain. Starting only with eBooks sounds like your perfect avenue. You could even publish short stories or novellas instead of full-length novels. Thanks for responding!

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  5. marissoule says:

    Excellent article, Diana. I remember a retired lawyer who joined a critique group I belonged to at the time. He was going to write a mystery, get it published, and live off his royalties. Then he went to a mystery writers’ conference in Chicago and mingled with several published (and relatively well-known) mystery writers. He came back and said, “They don’t make any money.” He’s now back practicing as a lawyer.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. pamelasthibodeaux says:

    All great info and sadly true. Most of us write for the love of story and to be a blessing to readers.
    I know I spend a whole lot more on publishing expenses than I make in royalties but it’s always nice to see those sales trickle in!
    Good luck and God’s blessings
    PamT

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