Tuesday, April 16

Writing Is Hard Work

No, I'm not whining...just stating facts. Writing is hard work, and for most of us, the reward is not financial. This past week, this article showed up on the discussion list of a professional writing group I belong to. Comments have been fast and furious--mostly saying that earning a living as a romance author just ain't happening.

The gist of the whole discussion is whether or not the public should be paying us decently for our art and came from the information garnered in the 2018 Author's Guild's Author Income Survey. The survey showed a 42% decline in author earnings in the last decade. If you don't think that's scary, then you're probably not trying to earn your living as a writer.

Truth is, I know maybe two romance authors in my circle of writer friends who actually make a living wage from their book sales. Nearly to a person, the writers I know are either doing other jobs, too, or have another source of income (husband, partner). I fit both descriptions. I have a spouse who brings income into our  household and I have a pretty much full-time gig as a freelance copy editor. I couldn't make ends meet if I depended on my writing as my sole source of income.

There. I said it. I'm an author who doesn't sell enough books to put food on the table or a roof over my own head. Does that make me less an author than the ones who are selling millions of books, have personal assistants, and go out on book tours across the country? That's a question I often struggle with in my head. Some of the good folks in my writer's group have talked about writing more books faster, getting as many words out into the indie market as you can--that's how you make money. Um...interesting theory because nearly every million-seller author I know produces about one book a year, some one book every two years.

Publishing is tough business--I can speak to the difficulties of trying to make it in publishing because I'm on both sides of the desk--writer and editor. I see what publishers are being offered and what they accept. I also see so many writer friends choosing to go indie right out of the gate because they don't want to go through the process of submitting and being rejected. I think it's true that many publishers are not taking on new writers because the market is so glutted with romance novels--well, all genres of fiction really--that they can't compete. Publishers can't put a book up for 99 cents and hope to make money for themselves, the author, and possibly the author's agent.

And that brings me back to the question of whether or not the public expects us to give away our work. In my opinion, we began a slippery slope with that first 99-cent e-book. We're teaching readers that our stories are worth exactly what they pay for them--and yes, e-books should definitely be less expensive than print books. The work involved in production is less, but for most of us, the work involved in the writing of them is no less at all. So charging $3.99 to $5.99 for e-books seems fair. I'll pay that happily for a new book by a favorite author and even for a book by a new-to-me author if the story intrigues me.

There's so much more to say about this topic, but for now my question to you is this--what will you pay for an e-book?

PS: Please send good energy and love to the citizens of Paris--they are struggling with the devastation of the terrible fire at Notre Dame cathedral. I was there ten years ago and seeing that historic church was one of the most beautiful and humbling parts of being in Paris. My heart goes out to Paris.


  1. Great post. Publishing is becoming, I am afraid, way too much of a hobby industry, and I don't see it going the other way anytime soon.

  2. I'd totally starve and be living in my car if I had to live solely on the money I make from writing. (no, wait. I couldn't afford my car). I've heard the debate on writer loops about how writers shot themselves in the foot by offering .99 cent and free books. At one point it worked in encouraging readers to buy other books at full price, but most say it no longer works. Readers now expect books to be free or at the most .99 cents, unless they're from a favorite author. I know exactly one writer who makes a good living from her writing.

    Last year I went indie for the first time. I didn't do it to avoid the scrutiny of an editor (I hired a professional editor). I did it in the hopes of making a little more money on the sale of each book. 70% of retail is a lot better than 35% of whatever's left over after the publisher and Amazon take their cut. I also wanted some indie books that I had total control over. I can put them on sale when I want and change the price if I choose to. Of course, total control means total responsibility, but that's another topic.

  3. I'm back here again, after reading your post again, to say I pay whatever the price is for an e-book I want to read. That being said, the prices on ones I really want to read are high--at least as much as paperbacks. I think they should be less and that authors should get HUGE royalties on them because they are so cost-efficient; however, I realize editors and cover artists, et al, still need to be paid. I wish I had the answers on this.

  4. I think some aspects of commercial publishing are so skewed--for example, why do publishers spend so much on marketing authors that will sell without the marketing (James Patterson, King, Grisham, Nora Roberts)? Seriously, can you imagine what Patterson's marketing budget is??? It's ridiculous.

    Why not scale back on the sure-thing authors, and promote new or second tier authors--invest in their future? But, corporations are an illogical breed.

    I like paying 1.99-3.99 for an ebook. If it's about the same as the paperback, I've found myself buying the book because then I can pass it on to a friend or two. And someday I hope to have a little free library out front.