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For Love or Money

I’m about to be totally crass and talk about money, but before I do allow me to butter you up with some FREE STUFF, if I may.  My haunted Halloween romantic comedy The Ghost Exterminator: A Love Story is free, free, free for the next week.  Ghosts playing pranks on your fancy schmancy new inn?  Who ya gonna call?  The Ghost Exterminator, baby.  Free for KINDLE :: NOOK :: Direct from Samhain.  Enjoy!

And now to the serious stuff…

At my first ever writing conference, during my first ever pitch session, Big New York Editor asked me what my goals were.  I told her (with the undiluted confidence of ignorance) that I was going to make a living from my writing.  Quit the day job.  And she laughed.  Not unkindly, but with a certain degree of indulgence for the optimistic newby who had yet to learn some harsh realities about the writing business.  She said, “That’s the dream, isn’t it?”

It is the dream. But how many authors, even successful ones with multi-book deals and awards to their name really support themselves with their books? Not as many as we might think, or hope.

You sell your book (have a party!), it’s out there being bought, being read, and we should be euphoric, basking in our accomplishment, but if we aren’t making enough to pay the mortgage, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that we’re frauds when aspiring writers look up to us as success stories.  Imposter syndrome.

But is money why we write?  I’m guessing most of us answered a big ole No on that one. (Cuz let’s face it, as a get rich quick scheme, writing kinda sucks.)  We do it because it’s a passion and an addiction.  Because our stories won’t leave us alone. (And okay, yes, we may dream about this book being bigger than Twilight and Hunger Games combined, but we’re dreamers.  It’s what we do.)

But at some point the dream of making a living becomes a job and we can get tangled up in worrying about the bottom line.  That’s when it can be hard to remember that we started out doing this as a passion, not just a business.  That we cared more about our name on the book than the number of zeroes on our checks.  (Though I’m not knocking the zeroes, no sir.)

Sometimes we need the money as validation – and not always for us.  A close friend of mine (multi-published and so talented) is in a tough situation because her husband wants her to get a “real” job if she can’t prove to him that her writing is financially lucrative – and prove it fast.

I’m lucky enough to make my living from my books (for now, knock on wood), so I’d like to say right up front that there’s no shame in writing for money.  Part of the reason I took the epub path was because the accelerated release schedule of that model gave me a better opportunity (as an author who writes fast) to take that step toward supporting myself with my books.  (Call it was quantity over quality if you want, it got me to my goal.)  I also made the decision to go into genre fiction rather than literary because I wanted to live off my books (and, okay, yes, I LOVE and NEED the resolution of genre books – everyone dying in the end just makes me want to throw things).

But even with my mercenary “will this help me make a living” career approach, I think we each have to find our own balance between love and money.  I have one series that is much more lucrative than my others, but the stories just don’t inspire me anymore, so I’ve made the choice to work on different projects and keep myself creatively happy (and hopefully the money will continue to be enough that I can afford to do that).

I know it’s vulgar to talk about dollars and cents, but this is a passion AND a business, so tell me your thoughts about making a living with your words.

Why do you write? What are your writing goals? Is money part of that equation?  Does it impact how you feel about yourself as a writer? Does it effect what you choose to write?  Will you only feel that you have really “made it” when you can quit the day job?  How do you measure success?

36 Responses to “For Love or Money”

  1. Jenn! says:

    I began writing only because a college professor said I was good enough to. So I gave it a whirl. Money wasn’t a factor. It was all about the challenge, the end result.

    Five years later, it’s nice to be validated by having people who aren’t friends and family purchase something I wrote. And want to buy more. It’s also a pretty great feeling when they’ve been moved enough to write a review.

    Do I write for money? HAHA…no. But someday, I’d like to save enough of my reward to move to the Caribbean. :-)

    Great post, Vivi!

    Jenn!

  2. Liz Talley says:

    Nothing wrong with talking money, especially when it clues people in to the reality of writing for (or not for) profit.

    I think people who say “I don’t write for money” are a little cracked. Okay, fine, not cracked. They are artists who derive great pleasure in the written word. They would likely die if they didn’t express themselves. No offense to you passionate creatures who live to create. I just don’t happen to be one. (And I say that with no derision whatsoever.)

    I love stories…and I love telling them. I started this whole gig by playing around with writing. It was an escape, done to stimulate the mind of a SAHM who thought she might go bonkers. So, yeah, I wrote for FUN. But as I learned more about writing, it became a career with the end result being reward for my work.

    Reward for my work. Now here’s where it’s murky – what’s your reward? Well, a paycheck works nicely for me, a reader letter fills the well, a nice review bolsters my spirits. So I suppose, I write for those things – rewards.

    My checks have paid for a golf cart, a piano, a vacation, the down payment on my cute new car, travels to writers’ conferences to hang with other nuts like me. Oh, and shoes. Lots of shoes.

    Writing has brought me some good stuff, but most important it’s brought me a piece of something that is mine alone – Liz Talley. I like having that part of me that belongs to me only. That’s the biggest value of writing for this wife, mother, and PTA chairperson :)

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      That’s a cool way of looking at it, Liz. Have you also found the books themselves can be a reward? Not in the artsy my-prose-is-it’s-own-validation sense, but more in an I-did-that accomplishment sense?

  3. Hope Ramsay says:

    I wanted to be a writer when I was like six and could hardly read. I didn’t sell my first piece of fiction until 5 decades later.

    During those 50 years I did a lot of writing, both personal and professional. I wrote term papers, short stories, poetry, song lyrics. I was a professional Congressional correspondent, which meant I wrote letters all day for a living. I wrote speeches and testimony and white papers on truly eye-glazing subjects. I wrote memos and press releases and marketing brochures.

    I have been a professional writer all my life, even though my job descriptions never had the word “author” in them until quite recently.

    Do I write for the money? Hell yeah. I’ve been supporting myself with the written word for most of my life. Of course I don’t get paid very much for the fiction. But who cares. I’m a writer. It’s who and am and what I do.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      What I find interesting is the “it’s who I am and what I do.” That resonated more powerfully with me than the fact of writing for money. It’s like we just ARE writers – how many jobs say that? It’s an interesting cross-section of identity and work. Thanks, Hope!

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    “Imposter syndrome.” Vivi, what a great way to describe something I’ve personally been struggling with since the publication of my second book earlier this year.

    In the scheme of things, I sold “fast.” My first manuscript was a Golden Heart finalist, and sold soon after in a three-book deal. I made PAN quickly, and my debut, TASTE ME, won several awards.

    I knew going in that the great majority of published authors don’t make a living writing, but /looks at royalty statement with dropped jaw/ THIS is what “success” looks like? Really? Alrighty then.

    For me, this year has been one of realigning my expectations, and reconsidering my personal definition of success – and, as author Claudia Welch so aptly put it in her essential Aug. 12 RWR article, of “protecting the girl.” How do you preserve your joy in the process once writing becomes a job? When sales – that crass measure of ‘success’ – don’t meet your naive expectations? When the financial reality of life as your typical debut or midlist author whaps you upside the head?

    So I’m in a serious self-assessment phase right now. I need to set some career goals that keep me productive, yet preserve my joy and satisfaction with the creative process. I’ve come to the realization that the satisfaction isn’t likely to be financial – at least not in the short term. So what’s my motivation for continuing to do this? The joy must be preserved, at all costs.

    Thanks for writing this, Vivi. We, as authors, need to talk about stuff like this more often.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Such a great point, Tammy, about protecting the joy, especially in the face of less-than-awesome business realities. I’ve had several reality checks over the years, but when my very first royalty check was only $200, I just reminded myself that I’m playing the long game. Step by step, we can get wherever we want to be.

  5. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Actually, I started writing because I wanted to earn a living doing something creative. I’d never written a word before besides business letters. Money was most definitely the motivating factor.

    I didn’t earn a dime for thirteen years, but I kept at it, because of passion and love (not to mention I’d devoted too much time to it to consider giving up.)

    Then a miracle happened and indie publishing became an option. Now when someone asks how my books are selling my answer is, “I could quit my day job if I had one.”

    I know I wouldn’t be able to say that right now if I’d waited to publish traditionally. Being an indie author is a full-time job and not for the faint-hearted, but like you, Vivi, I’m also living the dream!

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Congrats on living your dream, Laurie. I’m fascinated by the fact that you consciously picked writing as a make-living-from-creativity field. Did you suspect, when you did so, that it would be a battle or did that surprise you?

      • Laurie Kellogg says:

        I thought it would be a lot easier than it was. My teachers in high school all said I had talent, and I always got A’s in English. I’d always wanted to write a romance, so I figured, why not? I was naive in that I thought authors made better money on their novels. I figured at least $50,000 a book. HA!!!

  6. I write for money, but I’m definitely not making a living off it. Yes, I would like to. That’s the *ultimate* goal. But writing is also a labor of love. It’s self-expression and validation that I have this God-given gift for a reason. It fulfills me and brings me joy and if it ever stops doing those things, then all the money in the world isn’t going to make much of a difference.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Yep, gotta protect the joy, like Tammy was saying.

      I confess I’m surprised by how mercenary we are as a group, that so many of us are coming out and saying they write for the money. Wasn’t expecting that.

  7. June Love says:

    Vivi, this is a topic that a lot of writers want to discuss, but don’t know how to really go about it. I’m glad you brought it up. :-)

    I’m not published. Yet. Do I want to be? Yes. Do I want to make money from my books? Of course. Would I like to support myself from my writing? Sure. However, if it never happens, I will keep on writing.

    Why? I love to sing, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it. I love to draw, but who wants a sketch of a lopsided vase? I love plants and flowers, but I once killed a cactus. So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, because I’ve always loved to write. One day, I started a book. Two years later, I finished that book. Afraid of failure, I timidly allowed a few people to read it. They loved it. Encouraged, I found a writer’s group. I learned the craft, and I kept writing. In the dark corners of my mind, I waited to be told “don’t quit your day job”. Only, it didn’t happen. The validation came for me as a GH finalist. I’d finally found my thing. Writing makes me happy, it drives me crazy, and I don’t suck at it. :-)

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I’m so glad you found your thing (and found us!), June. Do you suppose we need the quit-your-dayjob-riches as a distant dream to give ourselves permission to invest so much of our time an energy in our writing (because the truth is we would do it anyway, but the allure of money is easier to explain than ‘because it’s what I AM’ to a layperson)?

      • June Love says:

        Good point, Vivi. Most of the non-writers I’ve encountered do consider writing as a paying job. However, I’ve also learned, because I quit my day job to focus on my writing, that unless you are published and earning money, those same people don’t look at your writing during the day as a “job”.

  8. Rita Henuber says:

    Hobby-When you do something you love and don’t make any money
    Job – When you work at something and get paid.
    If you say, “I just want to write. I don’t care if I get paid.” You probably won’t get paid.
    You say, like you did Vivi, “I’m going to write and make enough money to support myself,” you probably will.
    Writing is one wicked hard job. Being paid well for the hours of work a writer puts in is something to proud of. I will continue to write what I want. I’m not one who can write on any topic. Having someone read my written word and tell me they enjoyed it is a real thrill. When the royalty check comes is another thrill. These two things and my own need to write keep me going. Even though I grump and moan sometimes.
    PS I don’t have a day job so many you better forget what I say

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I do want to say that you’re still a WRITER if you’re a hobby writer, but you’re very right that attitude and dedication play large parts in achieving your goals – financial and otherwise. Keep on writing from thrill to thrill, Rita! :)

  9. Gwyn says:

    I write because, years ago, a friend said, “You should write a book. When I read your letters (yes, this was in the days before email), it’s as if you are standing in the room speaking with me.” I thought, “Yeah, I can do that” and wrote the 859 page POS. I’d won awards for writing in school, but until that moment, never thought to translate that into something more.

    Right now, my goals are pretty much just to get through each day. However, I’m seriously considering entering book three of my Merlin’s Prophesy trilogy in the 2013 GH. If chosen as a finalist, all three books in the series would have the cache that brings when I finally take the plunge. How cool would that be?

  10. I’d like to think I went into this *career* with eyes wide open, knowing it wouldn’t pay me much. So I wasn’t shocked by my royalty checks.

    What’s been hard is knowing there are many other things I could be doing that would help me contribute to our family finances. Thankfully, I’m able to be a SAHM and a writer, but it would make me so, so glad if I’m able to at least contribute to the kids’ college funds and family vacations, and eventually our retirement fund. I think that’s my goal…and I’m getting there with baby steps. I know it’ll be a few more years down the road before I feel I’m truly contributing, but I’m okay with that, because I know I contribute to the family in other ways – as wife, mother, and domestic goddess. And because I can express myself creatively, I’m so much better at all of those roles.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I love that – that the ability to fulfill yourself artistically pays in being better at all the other hats we have to wear. And yep, it’s a marathon, this business. Thanks, Anne Marie!

  11. I wrote my first couple of books purely for entertainment (I’d run out of reading material before ebooks were widely available). But once I finaled in my first contest, I began to seriously pursue publication (I had no idea it was even possible for me before that).

    If my editor suddenly quit buying my books, would I keep writing? I honestly don’t know. On the one hand, I like being rewarded for the hard work that goes into writing a story. On the other hand, I do love hearing from people who’ve read my books, so that’s a big motivator as well.

    Interesting topic, Vivi. I think my motivation and expectations have evolved over time–probably as I learn more about the industry. So ten years down the road, I may have a completely different viewpoint.

  12. I started writing because I needed to. Only writers can truly understand that statement. I was told by my teachers I was very good at writing and my mother claimed I had the wildest imagination.

    I always carried the dream of one day earning a living through my writing then I joined RWA and listened to published authors and realization set in. While I’m still not earning a *living*, I am paying my way to conferences and taking care of a few household bills, but things are definitely moving in the right direction.

    Would I still be writing if I hadn’t published? Probably, but not at the same pace, and I might not challenge myself with each book.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Wow, I love that comment about how publication has led to an effort to challenge yourself with each new book. I’d never thought of it that way, but it speaks to Tina’s comment about how our motivations change as our careers progress. So true.

  13. Kate Parker says:

    I live in the same small town as a mega famous author. As soon as I announced to my neighbors, friends, bank teller, swimming pool life guard (okay I was excited) that I’d sold my first book, everyone asked when I was going to buy the house next door to mega famous author.

    That’s never been my goal, but making money from my writing is. I’ve always been ridiculously certain I would sell, even when my writing was garbage. This is probably because I’ve always been proud of my writing and think everyone will love it, even when experience taught me not everyone would. It’s a joy to write, to create a world out of thin air. I can’t imagine life without writing, even though I don’t expect to get rich from it.

    And writing, besides making money and pleasing myself, gives me the added excuse not to do housework.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I wouldn’t turn down a big house next to mega-famous, but that has never been my goal either. And I always had that same certainty that I was going to make it. Here’s to blind faith and optimism! We weren’t crazy cuz turns out we were right! :D

  14. Elise Hayes says:

    My hubby says he is looking forward to the day when I make enough money for him to quit his day job, and keep him in the manner to which he would like to grow accustomed. :)

    Yes, I’d love to reach the point where I could be a writer first and foremost–but I do love my day job and I think leaving it (and the financial security it brings) would be really, really hard, on lots of levels.

    So…I write because I love telling stories. I want to be published so that those stories can be read. The extra income would also be very (very) helpful…and maybe that dream of staying home in my jammies to write all day will come true :)

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Here’s to living (in our jammies) in the manner to which we want to become accustomed. And to enjoying every day between now and the realization of that dream. :)

  15. Ginger Robertson says:

    I’m not a writer but a reader of books. I’m a secretary/assistant and I get paid for my job. As a writer, even if it is something that you love, you should get paid too. We all have bills to pay.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Good point, Ginger. We should all get paid for our work. Unfortunately the how much varies wildly. There’s no salary or hourly wage for writers – such a subjective, variable business. Thanks for giving us a reader’s perspective!

  16. JL Mealer says:

    Can I jump in and say for the money and fun of poking at Scottish Highlander romance novels? Well, that and my political stuff which would be for patriotism… wait, was that a possible answer?

    one pen name is “Jane Janey Doe Romance Author”

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