Wednesday, December 26, 2018

When You're An Author, Being Busy Isn't The Same As Being Successful

I've noticed something over the past few years; anytime I talk to someone who isn't a writer about all the projects I'm currently working on, they immediately think that I'm exaggerating how broke I am. After all, how could I possibly be broke if I'm actively writing a new novel, working on one client's game world, writing a new DM supplement every month for another client, maintaining two blogs, building an archive on Vocal, and ghostwriting blogs for a bevy of other customers? Especially when you look at all the new stuff I'm taking on in 2019, which I mentioned in my last post My Authorial Aspirations For The New Year?

There is a universal truth that I would like everyone to remember, writers and non-writers alike; just because a writer is busy, that doesn't mean they're making bank.

This is not a joke. The busier you are, often the LESS money you have!
How can that be? Well, I'm glad you asked.

What You Make Doesn't Necessarily Tie To What You Earn

Class is in session folks, so let me start with this truth; just because a writer writes something, that doesn't mean they're getting paid much (if anything) for the effort. Even if you think that thing they made is pretty bitching, or even if they're coming out with stuff faster than a panicked machine gunner with an itchy trigger finger, that rate of production doesn't mean they're raking in the cash. Often the faster one works, the more they are in need of a steady cash flow.

Let's take this blog, as well as my gaming blog Improved Initiative, as examples. I update this blog once a week, and the other twice a week. Both blogs are completely free to anyone who views them, and I spend several hours a week writing and promoting them... so what do I get out of that?

This is the part where we talk about numbers.
If you look around this page, you might notice there are ads on this blog. But it's more likely that you don't notice, because you can't see them. Most people who show up on my sites have Ad Block up, which means that my monthly ad revenue is only a couple of bucks. Even on months where I top 50,000 unique views, or more. I also have a Patreon page, and that is where most of my earnings from my blogs come from.

How much do I make there? Well it varies depending on how many people have chosen to pledge to me, but it tends to be in the $100 to $180 range every month. At present, it's a lot closer to $100 a month, since a bunch of my patrons scooted around this time last year when Patreon said it was going to start charging patrons service fees (something they quickly backtracked on when people left their platform), but my supporters never came back after that corporate debacle, which left me limping as a creator.

About half of all my writing projects are like that; the more popular you are, the more you make. My Vocal archive, which I mentioned earlier? It pays roughly 1 cent for every 3 reads an article gets. That's pretty great when I write an article that gets an ass-ton of views, like my piece It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby which got 8k reads (which translated to roughly $35) in its first few days up. However, most pieces don't get those kinds of views, and all of them slack off after a time, earning pennies instead of dollars. It still adds up, but it is a bullish load of work just for an extra Jackson or two a month. The same thing happens with book sales, too. My sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife earns me a few dollars on every sale, for example, but I'm not exactly Neil Gaiman when it comes to my readership. I make a few sales a month, but thus far none of the books I get royalties from are burning up the charts.

But what about the other half of my writing? You know, the kind where a client pays me to write a piece (or pays me a certain per-word rate), and then I turn the work in? Surely that makes up for all the time and effort spent sweating on feast-or-famine projects like novels, blogs, pay-per-view articles, etc.?

That would be nice, wouldn't it?
The problem with being paid for writing work is mostly that the majority of clients you'll have will pay you when the work you gave them gets published, rather than when you hand it in. Sometimes that means your check will be in by the Friday after your article goes live on a given website. Other times you might not get a check until the anthology your short story was accepted for comes out; which is a six month waiting period. I've had clients hold onto articles I've written for a year or more before they finally published the piece, and sent me my check.

Don't get me wrong, there are some clients will pay you as soon as you hand your work in. They are far too few for me to pay my rent by depending on them, though, so I have to play the waiting game and hope for the best.

You Have To Play The Odds

Writing is a patchwork profession, and if you want to make sure you have enough stretches of earnings to cover your necessities, then it pays to stack the deck in your favor. That is why authors like me tend to be so goddamn busy all the time; the more things we produce, the better the chances are that enough of our earnings come home to roost before our bills come due.

Rent's due by the fifth, sweetie! Oh, you won't have it? Well, well, let me just get this eviction notice written up...
That is the reality a lot of us are dealing with. Even if we have hundreds of articles out there, dozens of books on the market, and clients who owe us several thousand dollars for the work we've completed, the machinery grinds slowly. The easiest way to avoid getting caught with your pants down is to write like demons are on your tail, and hope that you hit the lottery.

Because if I wrote a post that generated millions of views, or three dozen people all signed up to support me at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or something over on My Amazon Author Page became an overnight bestseller for no reason that I could pinpoint, do you know the first thing I would do? I would slow down. I'd take my time to plot out my blog posts for the week, rather than hammering them out in a post-Christmas caffeine haze. I'd up my daily word count on my novel so that I could put more (and more diverse) books onto the market in a fraction of the time I currently take. I would say no to project offers that came with minuscule price tags, and no guaranteed date of delivery on the invoice.

I might even take a day off. Something I haven't done without almost giving myself an anxiety attack in nearly five years.

So think about that, and remember that all of the creators whose work you love are running a race against the threshing machine of capitalism. So take a moment to like their posts, leave a review on the books they've written, share an article of theirs you like, and just generally do your part to help lighten the load.

Who knows? You might be the pebble that starts that avalanche of earnings they've been waiting for!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you want more from me, remember to check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me, then Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Every little bit helps.

1 comment:

  1. Oh this is so true. Multiple income streams are essential for survival, that's why I have retirement income, a part time job, a garden column, a website (that's really more a labor of love - $50 a year plus my time) that makes no money and my Amazon royalties that can buy me a cup or two of coffee (quarterly!). And every minute spent on other things takes away from writing...