We’re taking a break from our first-page critiques today to welcome my friend and fellow thriller author Mark Terry as our guest blogger. Mark and I shared the same publisher for a number of years and on many occasions we’ve discussed the ins and outs of this writing life. As a matter of fact, Mark maintains his own blog by the same name; This Writing Life. It’s worth your while to drop by and read his latest thoughts on life and literature.
This month Mark celebrates the publication of his latest thriller in his Derek Stillwater series, THE FALLEN. James Rollins said it was “blisteringly paced and unrelenting”. And Paul Levine called Stillwater “tougher than Jason Bourne and smarter than Jack Ryan”. If you like action and suspense all wrapped up in a tightly written bundle, grab a copy of THE FALLEN today.
Writing For A Living by Mark Terry.
For probably a decade now I have been on a quest. That quest is to get the answers to a two-part question. This question is one I have, off and on, directed at published novelists or, just as likely, guessed at. Here they are:
- Do you make a living writing novels?
- How much money do you make annually writing novels?
This is a question mostly dodged by novelists, I’ve found. I believe the rationale goes like this: readers want to believe in the mystique of the rich novelist, of the novelist who makes a lot of money writing their books; if a writer is not making a living from his novels, then he/she must not be a very good novelist, the books must not be worth reading, and hence, I’m going to lie and say yes.
Something like that.
From time to time someone really lets it all loose. Lynn Viehl, who writes under a number of pseudonyms and in several different genres, actually published one of her royalty statements for all to see, and discussed the print run and her advance ($50,000).
There are a number of things that shocked me, starting with her $50,000 advance. She’s a New York Times bestseller, so I expected a much larger advance, despite the fact she’s a paperback original author. Moreover, although I would welcome a $50,000 advance (with open arms, c’mon, I dare you, lay it on me!), after my agent took 15% and the federal government took 24% and the state took 4% (your mileage may vary), I wouldn’t exactly be rolling in money. I’d be looking to bring in some more income somehow.
Lynn Viehl brings in more. She publishes multiple books a year, she undoubtedly has foreign sales, and she has a nice backlist that continues to bring in income. So she’s doing fine.
Which brings me to another thing. Periodically someone invites me out to lunch so they can pick my brain about writing for a living. In fact, I’m going out to lunch next week on just such an occasion, and it’s happened 3 or 4 other times as well. A lot of times the individual wants to know how to either make a living writing or supplement their income writing. I invariably ask, “Well, how much money do you want to make?”
That’s an important question, because someone making $30,000 a year is going to have different goals and needs than someone already making $100,000 a year.
Okay, let’s back up a minute. For the last 5-1/2 years I’ve made my living as a full-time freelance writer, editor, and novelist. I make a good living, which is to say, usually somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. (Last year sucked, by the way; this year’s looking good). My wife has a good job and has excellent healthcare benefits, which is definitely helpful. The vast majority (a phrase I don’t like much) of my income comes from things other than novels.
Now, Ms. Viehl aside, I have over the years gotten to know a lot of novelists and even to get some idea of how much money they make a year (sort of). In 2007 SF novelist and freelance writer John Scalzi wrote an enormously honest blog entry about income. It’s illuminating. I have another writing friend, Erica Orloff who writes in several different genres in several different names and although she has not gone so far as to post a royalty statement that I know of, has been quite honest on her blog about bringing in somewhere over $100,000 a year annually. Joe Konrath recently posted on his blog about how much money his books have made and how much his e-books are bringing in and I’ve been sort of surprised by some of the numbers there, too.
So after talking to a lot of authors over the years and questioning my own assumptions about writing income, I’ve come to a couple conclusions. Your conclusions may be different.
- Just because a writer gets published doesn’t mean they make a living as a writer. It may just be one of the ways to make a bit of extra money when you retire.
- Many writers who write full-time as novelists have:
- A well-paid, supportive spouse
- Retired from a job and are on pensions and social security
- Made a lot of money somewhere along the line and are now living on it
- Write more than one novel a year
- Supplement their novel-writing with other types of writing
- Are lying.
- Are Top 10 bestselling authors
- Just because their books says “bestselling author” does not mean they’re making tons of money. Point in fact, my for-Kindle novel, DANCING IN THE DARK, recently jumped onto two or three of the Amazon Kindle bestseller lists, allowing me for the rest of my life to call myself Mark Terry, Bestselling Novelist. Yay me! And with the money I’ve made so far off that novel, I can take you out to dinner—one of you and one of you only. Maybe in a couple more months you can bring a friend and we can afford appetizers.
- There’s money to be made, but it’s not very reliable.
My friend Erica and I had an interesting discussion a couple weeks on this very topic. Erica noted that she’s been steadily publishing novels for about 20 years now and that with her various pseudonyms and multiple genres, she could make a good living just writing fiction. But the nonfiction she writes—ghost writing, commercial copywriting, etc.—provides a level of stability and reliability that the fiction writing doesn’t.
Amen, sister. I don’t know if my novels will ever make so much money that I’m willing to stop writing nonfiction (and I honestly don’t know what that figure would have to be). One, I like writing nonfiction. And two, in my experience it’s been a hell of a lot more stable (not to mention lucrative) than my fiction. Not as much fun, certainly, but more dependable.
Anyway, for anyone interested, on my blog (on the right side) is a 12-part series I wrote titled Freelance Writing For A Living.
Mark Terry is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist. The author of The Devil’s Pitchfork, The Serpent’s Kiss, Dirty Deeds, and a collection of mystery novellas entitled Catfish Guru, Mark lives in Michigan.