|On a library poster with a recent novel.|
There are a lot of myths about writing, not least of which is the amount of money involved. This myth goes in two directions – one, that's impossible to make a living as a writer, and two, that it's easy money, especially writing for children. Chances are you know it's not easy money. And it is possible to make a living – though most of the writers I know who are doing so are not surviving just on writing fiction.
Since I just finished organizing all my tax information, I thought I'd discuss my financial breakdown. (Not breakdown as in "Oh no—my finances have broken down!" but rather breakdown as in “an analysis; division into parts.”)
I am a full-time, working writer with no other source of income – well, at least if you count all the writing-related activities like teaching, critiquing, and giving writing workshops as part of the larger category of "being a writer." This means I can't just write what I want, when I want. I have to find ways to make money, while also considering how best to advance my overall career and find time for the writing I love.
2012 was a pretty good year. Without getting into specifics, let's just say I made somewhere between 70% and 100% of the per capita personal income average for New Mexico, where I live, depending on the source you use. New Mexico has the fifth lowest per capita income in the US, but it's also relatively cheap to live here. (Tip: if you are depending on freelance income, living someplace cheap is a big advantage.)
Let's look at my sources of income:
Magazine Articles: 22%. This includes about 20 articles, paying from $100-$600. Many were for Children's Writer or Writers Guide to 2013. I also did several for a New Mexico publication, one for a science magazine, and a few online articles.
Critiques: 21%. I did about 25 individual critiques, material ranging from synopses to 300+ page novels, plus a set of critiques for a contest. (Learn more about my critique business.)
Work-for-Hire Books: 13%. I wrote three short nonfiction books, plus one longer one, but only half the income for that came in before the end of the year.
Self-Publishing: 13%. By the end of 2012, I had five books published in e-book and print on demand, but the amount earned per book varied dramatically. I may follow up on this in another post, if there's interest.
Teaching: 11%. I taught two in-person classes through a writing organization and also taught students one-on-one through a correspondence school. In 2011, I did a lot of workshops at SCBWI conferences around the country, but not in 2012.
Royalties: 9%, all from The Well of Sacrifice, the first novel I ever sold. It came out in 1999, but it’s still in print and used in many schools as supplemental fiction when they teach about the Maya. None of my other royalty-paying work has earned out yet.
Educational Test Passages: 8%. I think I did six or eight passages, some of them in two related parts. This seems to be seasonal work with short deadlines.
School Visit: 1.5%, and this was actually from a visit done a previous year. Some authors make a lot from school visits. I don't particularly like doing them, and they are not really convenient or well-paying in my area, so I haven't pursued this, but I will do them when asked.
Novel Advances: 0%. I did not sell a new novel in 2012. In fact, I haven't sold original fiction since 2008. (Part of that is the choice to write more novels for adults under the name Kris Bock and self publish those.)
A couple of things stand out for me in looking over this information. First, no single source of income dominates. I couldn't afford to lose any of them, except maybe that one school visit. In addition, the two biggest categories, articles and critiques, involved dozens of separate projects. Your mileage may vary, but for me, I need a lot of types of work, and a lot of individual projects, to make a living.
Nonfiction is a major part of my work. It looks like about half my income was nonfiction, with the rest split between fiction and teaching/critiquing. (I haven't broken it out in detail, but briefly, one of my self-published books is nonfiction, Advanced Plotting; the other four are fiction. Some of the test passages were fiction. I've done some work-for-hire fiction, but this year was mostly nonfiction.)
Again, other authors may make more of their money from fiction, or school visits, or whatever. Some may get big advances or have lots of books paying royalties. There is no single path or right path, but I hope my "breakdown" has at least been interesting, and at best has given you some ideas for your own career or insight into what it means to be a writer.