The Money – WFMAD Day 19


So I promised that I would talk about money today.

Such a depressing topic.

It’s not that money is evil. In fact, it’s rather lovely, especially when your children are hungry, or they have outgrown their sneakers for the third time in a year or they want to live in something other than a tent, especially when it snows.

But money, as Mother was so very fond of pointing out, does not grow on trees.

So you get a real job to earn money. That takes about 40 hours a week. Plus commuting time. And if you have family, they take up an addition 100,000 hours a week. And then you have to make time for things like dentist appointments, getting the car inspected, taking the hamsters to the vet, etc.

And then you have to make time for writing. Right?

Many people (like me) feel that if they could just get their novel published, it would be the end to their money woes. So in addition to all the creative pressures they feel when writing, they add financial pressure. And then? And then? Some people shoulder even more burdens. They hope that the novel they’re writing will let them get a divorce, it will stop the bank from foreclosing, it will cure their smelly feet, it will make a lost love return to their arms.

Those kinds of expectations will destroy your writing and break your heart.

This post does a pretty good job explaining the math of publishing. It is rather dreary. If you prefer to focus on the success stories of J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, go ahead. I don’t blame you.

Looking at my experience and that of other writers I know who are making a living and paying the bills from writing, this is how you can get there.

   1. Write a great book.

   2. Get an agent to represent you.

   3. The agent sells the book to a publisher.

   4. You celebrate, but you don’t quit your day job.

   5. Over the next decade, write and sell five more books.

   6. And sneak in whatever kind of publicity you can in your free time so that…

   7. All of your books earn out their advances and you have a steady royalty stream.

   8. Calculate how you’re going to pay for health insurance.

   9. Decide to keep the day job a while longer

   10. After 15 years and 8 or 9 books, take a deep breath and quit the day job.

(Note: if your significant other has a great job, you obviously have more flexibility.)

Are you still with me? Still want to be a writer?

Now that you know the icky part, what questions do you have about the money and publication side of things?

Today’s quote

 “The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut


Today’s prompt: Write your success story, the People magazine version, about how your novel is going to put you in the ranks of  J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. Be sure to include the wording of the note that you’re going to send me when you prove this blog post completely wrong!


 Scribble… scribble… scribble…

28 Replies to “The Money – WFMAD Day 19”

  1. This makes me very happy that I write for myself and my own enjoyment. I would love to see my work published, but I have no expectations of fame or fortune. Guess that’s realistic!

  2. I love the post… only, I think that it changes a bit with indie writers. I also think we all start out with illusions of grandeur when we begin. I know I did. But after a certain amount of time, the realization that all things take time hits you. *even if you secretly still hope for the success you mention* ;0)

  3. Hi Laurie:
    I applaud your writing and your open-minded views on censorship of books. However, I disagree with and am disheartened that your writing about the realities of money, making money, publishing, marketing, and writing itself, is lacking of hope and spirit. I am a glass is half-full person. I care not about what others have done to grant themselves success or non-success. Everyone’s path is different – including that of JK Rowling, EL James, and everyone else who has self-published and cracked into mainstream. That was them, this is you. This is me.

    We ALL have the power to create our own paths and write our own meal tickets. What it takes is a great deal of writing talent, perseverance, and an undying flexible stance on writing. Sometimes we write for pleasure (the things our hearts tell us to write), sometimes we write to please others (hence, our freelance writing assignments). All in all, we must remain in love with the craft of writing, for that is what will take us far and create our meal ticket.

  4. I agree with you , Amanda. But I’ve been contacted by countless people who want to know what the financial realities are. I also know people who did not understand the financial realities and made decisions that wound up hurting them tremendously and ending their careers before they started.

  5. Love your post, and my daughters love your books. So, you also know folks who think that writing a book will somehow enable them to get a divorce. Wow,…thought I was the only one.

    I saw you speak at Whispering Pines a few years back and you said so many gritty, real, funny, and raw things about the art and craft of writing and you are doing the same about money and publishing. I’m on book numero 3, agent numero 2, and have always had the mantra “don’t quit the day job”. I aspire to be where you are in about 10 to 15 more books! Thanks Laurie!!!!

  7. It’s kind of a relief to see that even very successful authors weren’t able to immediately drop their day jobs. Right now I’m very lucky to have a job I enjoy and coworkers who are enthusiastic about my writing. Hoping that continues over the next fifteen years or so until maybe I can think about how much it would cost to buy health insurance and write full time. Thank you for such an honest, thoughtful post about the financial side of your writing life!

  8. I love this! Mostly because in my eyes, you are a very successful writer and what you are saying speaks to your reality of that success. In general, our society locks into the idea that we can all end up as the outliers, when in truth, most don’t. That’s why they are outliers. I want to write and stories run around in my head, chasing out my mundane thoughts of work and bills, but my life doesn’t allow for writing yet. At least not on a daily basis. But, I am heading that direction and I thank you, because this post helps me wrap my head around a realistic plan for doing it. It doesn’t shatter my hopes and dreams, instead it tells me that with hard work, diligence, and willingness to understand that I will have to make time for writing in my life, rather than expecting some huge advance will allow me to quit, that maybe one day I can publish a book as amazing as Speak or Chains. Kudos to you! Your post started my day off perfectly!

  9. Thank you for this very truthful and honest post. I have just started my writing journey …. 15 years you say. Guess I will have to find new ways to love my day job, thankfully it pays good money. Love the quote!

  10. As an indie author, I can tell you that the urge to retire (which I can do in a few months) is very strong. My books are selling well and bringing in a decent income. But I have decided not to quit my day job for at least another 5 or 6 years. Why? Because no matter how well sales are now, they could drop to zero next month. The income is NOT guaranteed. In addition to that scary thought, my day job provides me and my wife with very good medical, dental, and eye care coverage. You can figure on spending about $1,200 a month just for medical coverage for a typical married couple. That’s a lot of books!

    For myself, it’s all about time management. I write wherever and whenever I can. I have a 30 minute lunch break – I write and eat. I get up early so I can get to work early giving me another 30 to 45 minutes each day. On weekends, I get up early and spend a couple hours writing. I work a lot of long hours, often putting in 12-hour days 6 days a week yet I’ve managed to publish 7 books in 5 years. If you’re a writer, you will find time to write.

  11. Having published my first book, I’ve already discovered how INSANELY difficult it is to earn back an advance despite rabid promotion efforts. So I’m sadly aware of how hard it is to become a billionaire through writing like J.K. But this article was illuminating…and very hopeful nonetheless. I’m on the 15-year plan now.

  12. I appreciate your honesty regarding money, and although the story varies from writer to writer, I’ve heard similar stories from a variety of writers who have had publishing success. And yes, I’m a writer in spite of all that. I write because I love it, and because I hope to share it with others through publication. I want to eventually make enough money from writing so I can write full time, but I also know that may or may not happen. I keep writing anyway.

    And to be fair, even J.K. Rowling struggled for YEARS before she sold Harry Potter. We’re in very good company.

  13. Thank you for the truth. I would add being a children’s librarian is a primo day job to have as a, aspiring/floundering writer. It’s great fodder for the pen and sometimes comes with health insurance. Also, you get to witness how masterpieces (and minorpieces) can really change a person’s life. That is priceless. It can give you strength to carry on. It could also be worse. I used to think I wanted to be a clarinetist. The world still hungers for writing genius. The world makes good use of writing genius. I can testify. The world very much needs your books, both written and brewing. Thank you for them. I believe you when you say how not easy it was to craft them and give them flight. I hope the next generation of geniuses don’t get too discouraged. We need them, too. ~ A sappy teacher librarian (and failed clarinetist).

  14. Since I can post this information without revealing my name, I will, to provide a real-life example. I have published two midlist novels in the past three years. Both were carried by major chain stores. My net writing income is in the $10-20K range in a good year. In a bad year, I’m in the red with a net loss. I don’t write full time.

  15. Laurie,
    I might you several years ago when Speak had just come out and you inspired me to keep writing and have the courage to address some topics that were/are taboo in YA writing. I am still writing although not YET published – time is an awful enemy to writers as well as the lack of money for all our hours of writing! I have not quite my day job not have I given up on getting published and having my novels be in the hands of kids and parents who need understanding.
    Thank you for your encouragement and your wonderful voice!

  16. I quit my day job to become a writer before my first book got published, but I didn’t have much of a choice. I lost my hearing to a virus and teaching kids deaf isn’t the safest thing to do, especially if you care for the welfare of the children. Now if only my novel, Goodbye Tchaikovsky, was made into a movie. One can only dream.

  17. Hi Laurie & Co.,

    Throwing in my two cents as a fellow published, full-time children’s and YA novelist. My agent always told me not to quit my day job until I had sold at least four novels to major publishers. I was even more cautious than that: despite the fact that my wife had access to affordable family health insurance through work, I didn’t quit until I had sold a whopping SEVEN books. First of all, it’s scary when you change from writing as a sideline to writing for your children’s supper. Second, that new pressure might very easily cause one to have writer’s block — and you won’t know whether it will until you’ve already quit the day job. Something to think about, anyway …

  18. Hi Doug

    Well said! I’m writing a series of adventure books and started a critique group. Inspiration, discipline and hard work comes from within. I work 2 jobs (1 full time and one part time) and still find time to write and be with my family. I find limiting TV to 1-2 hours a week gives me a lot more time. 🙂

  19. Thanks for the great post about keeping a realistic approach to writing. I’m happy to say I do it for myself and the joy I get out of simply sharing my work with friends and fellow writers. If I’m one day published, that would be wonderful. But if not, I also have a career that I love! That’s something to be thankful for. ^_^

    I’m curious though, what are your thoughts on self-publishing and e-publishing? It feels like a lot more breakout writers are starting this way just to get their work out there. Do you think this is a good idea for someone who’s having trouble breaking into the business?

  20. This is a great post and valuable to all writers. Tell it like it is, girl. And affirm our journies. I thought I was the only one who, after struggling and balancing expenses on one hand and family and time to write on the other, felt my dreams slowling fading away. But you have helped me see that that dream of instant stardom is more a product of our insta-culture than reality. The life of a writer has never been easy and many greats worked for years at other professions to pay the bills.
    Thanks and thanks for your wonderful books as well.

  21. Great, honest article, and such varied and intelligent responses. Makes me want every one who posted to have smashing success. Just want to put in one thing here. We are ALL “indie writers” — those who self-publish, and those whose publishers are companies. No writer that I know of is on staff earning a salary. No benefits, no health insurance, no security, no pension = independent. No matter who the publisher is, we all have to come up with stories that people will want to read. No matter who the publisher is, after one book is published, it’s back to square one again.

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