Supporting the writing habit

May 20, 2009

I’m not exactly racking in the dough writing this book full time. Hopefully I’ll make a little cash when it’s finally published, but for now my annual income is, well, nada.

This is the first time since graduate school that I don’t have a salary. For the last few years, I worked my dream job reporting for a daily newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, getting paid to write, ask questions and stick my nose where it otherwise might not belong.

I even managed to make some money last year as I backpacked through Africa, freelancing for several newspapers. (Read my favorite of those pieces: A story about why polygamy is declining in Cameroon.)

But now I’ve given up a paycheck to create a manuscript. How can I afford to do that? For one, I’ve got no one to support except myself: no hubby, no children, not even a pet to worry about. Secondly, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I moved back in with my parents (who are cool enough to have me). Without rent and all the bills that come along with an apartment, life is pretty cheap. And lastly, I saved money while working at the Chronicle that I can now fall back on.

I am working a part-time job, coaching a high school softball team, which helps cover expenses like health insurance and my new laptop. But as my savings dwindle and my parents solicit my help for chores like this weekend’s garage sale, increasingly I wonder: How do writers support themselves?

Some authors work full-time in non-writing jobs and write on the side. (Now that I understand how time-consuming it is to write a book, I’m super impressed by these people.) Others maintain writing as their first priority and make a living with a side career. And a few lucky and hard-working writers manage to support themselves solely off their word creations.

I still haven’t found the perfect solution. And so I ask you, writer readers of this blog: How do you fund your writing pursuits?

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    14 Replies to “Supporting the writing habit”

    • I don’t know if I’m typical, but, I actually lost money with my first book. Yes, I had a “real” publisher, and yes, it was in a trade paper back, but, gee, making money? No way.

      First, my publisher had no funds to support advertising. Had to pay every dime of that myself. Take out an ad in Romantic Times Magazine? You bet. But I had to pay for it.

      Do a book signing? Sure, but, I had to arrange, coordinate, and pay associated expenses, travel, food, do-dads to hand out, etc., myself. Then, when I got to the store, I found every book discounted in some way. So, I had to discount mine as well. I am, after all, standing right next to a full sized cut out of Harry Potter”¦whose book was 25 percent off.

      Last point, then I’ll shut up–but could go on with more examples–was the profit I made on each book. I don’t recall exactly, but, the thing sold for like, 15 bucks, (full price mind you.) of that 15, I got to keep like, 1.88, or 2.50, or some really minimal number.

      So, for me, I spent lots of money promoting and selling my book, I lost money big time. BUT, and this is key. That was okay. It was a story I wanted to tell, and so, I didn’t mind the expense. I looked at it as a hobby of sorts, and we spend money on hobbies, right?

      Sorry this is so long, Alexis, but, I wanted to cover a couple of points. Bottom line: Keep your profit expectations, in line. Galen.

    • My advice to aspiring authors, especially young ones in the prime earning career ages, is “Don’t quit your day job.” I’ve read reports that of all the published authors in the world – and there are millions – only 5% of them actually make enough money to live comfortably on. If you have a mentor or a patron to support you, or are in some situation where you do not have to support yourself, well, that of course is different. Take full advantage and remember your benefactor(s) when you strike gold. 🙂

      Me, I’m semi-retired with a small government check each month and I supplement that and my (still quite small) royalty checks with picking up odd carpentry jobs here and there, and the occasional speaking engagement that pays.

      The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

    • Helen Ginger says:

      Very few people can just write – no other job – unless they have a big bank account or support from others. Your parents are really helping you out. Give them a hug each morning and work like crazy at the garage sale.

      Most of us do other jobs to supplement our writing. I do a lot of editing for other writers and for companies.

      Straight From Hel

    • We have a joke around our house that writing used to be my inexpensive hobby and since being published, it is now my very expensive hobby. Lake Galen, I’ve spent more promoting my book than I’ve made from sales. I think it is not that unusual. I read an interview in Poets and Writers magazine with Chuck Adams who said that only about 200 writers make their living writing. I hope we all make that number increase soon. In the meantime, I am funding my “˜habit’ with retirement income.

      Jane Kennedy Sutton

    • Karen Walker says:

      I’m in the same boat as Galen. I’ve spent way more than I’ll ever earn from my memoir. And I am truly blessed that my husband told me in 1999 that I could quit my full-time job to write.

      For now, my advice is to be grateful to your parents for giving you this opportunity to write your book. After that, you’ll have to decide what you’ll do. Hope you’ll be one of the 200 or so lucky authors who make their living writing books.

      Karen Walker

    • Add my name to the list of those retired, traditionally published authors who lose money because we spend our advances/royalties and more to promote our books. Jane’s assessment is right on–a very expensive hobby. Are we hoping to finally hit the NYTimes Bestseller List, or are we just addicted to writing stories?


      • julielomoe says:

        I’m still hoping to hit the big time – or at least make some decent money. I’ve given up on the NY TImes, though.

    • Alexis, your article on polygamy in Cameroon is interesting and very well-written. You do nice work.


    • julielomoe says:

      Fascinating to hear all the published authors log in about how they’ve spent far more on promotion than they’ve brought in. I’ve made a bit with my POD books, but I still haven’t broken even. Networking at confrences is expensive but fun.

      My husband, Robb Smith, published several books on photography, and although they were with traditional publishers, he didn’t make much money with them. He and I both ended up working for New York State, and now we’re enjoying the fruits of our labors as long as the NYS retirement fund and Social Security hold out. We’re relatively free to follow our bliss, whatever that may be.

      At least we can all take comfort in the fact that writing doesn’t cost much if you don’t care about promoting it. The cost doesn’t begin to compare with all the money spent on art supplies and studio space when I was a professional visual artist!

    • How do I fund my writing pursuits? I’m a kept lady. 🙂 Yes, my husband is my artistic patron. Otherwise, I’d have a day-job.


    • K. A. Laity says:

      I have an academic position. Writing is an integral part of it, as is research and teaching, things that often fuel my writing (as well as take up time — it is a compromise). However, it’s far more fulfilling than working a 9-5 job and fills my head with wonder all the time. I’d rather be writing full time, but most of the full time writers I know spend a lot of their time looking for jobs — novelisations, journalism, business writing, etc. There are surprisingly few writers who just write what they like full time. JK Rowling and S King are the exceptions, not the rule, people who wrote what they liked and it just happened to sell eventually. Most professional writers do a lot of different kinds of writing to pay the bills.

    • Karen Brees says:

      I’m retired now, and a triple threat: pension, social security, and a golden age pass at the National Parks. So I do what I’ve been headed for my entire life and don’t have to fund it. I write simply because I must.

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