Not many people ask my opinions about writers and income, but when they do, I always say that writers should be more upfront with what they're making. Keeping secret how much we earn only helps publishing houses, Amazon...
Not many people ask my opinions about writers and income, but when they do, I always say that writers should be more upfront with what they’re making. Keeping secret how much we earn only helps publishing houses, Amazon, etc. They all know who’s making what, but so long as we’re secretive, we don’t. That’s a big negotiating disadvantage. I’ve used Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money site (and sent her information, though I think I’m behind) and always look forward to reading Jim Hines’s post on his income. Well, this year, Cara McKenna added to the mix with her post on Wonkomance about her writing income and I realized it was time to put my mouth where my money was. My numbers are going to be very different from Cara’s or Jim’s and there will interesting reasons why. I think it’s a good example of the variability of writing income, the importance of always having something out there, and keeping an eye on your priorities.
Let’s get started, shall we. These are net numbers, meaning it’s not how much I was paid (gross) but how much I earned minus expenses. My first book was published in February 2013, so the earning starts with 2012, when I got my first advance. I have five books out with Harlequin Superromance.
Let’s talk about the expenses before I address that big red number for 2014. My expenses have been conferences, some research travel, promotional stuff (a little swag, mailing out prizes, etc), random business expenses, paying an editor for some self-pub work, and my website. My income has so far been all in advances with a few speaker fees here and there. I don’t have an agent.
Now, on to that big red number. From 2012 to 2013, my income is looking pretty good. It’s at least positive. Then comes 2014, which is negative and seems strange, since in 2014, I had three books (A Promise for the Baby, Weekends in Carolina, and Winning Ruby Heart) out.
I had three books out in 2014, but I got most of my advances for those books in 2013; I only got the very last bit of the advance for Ruby Heart in 2014. However, most of my expenses for those books (promotions, giveaways, etc) happened in 2014. As I was incurring the expenses for the three books, I was also incurring my research expenses for future projects, plus there was RT and RWA.
2014’s writing income would look very different if I’d had a proposal ready to go when I turned in Ruby Heart, but something happened in 2014 that is reflected in those numbers, but is neither income nor expense.
I got divorced.
In North Carolina, there is a mandated year separation period, which means my husband moved out in October of 2013. I turned the first draft of Winning Ruby Heart in February of 2014 (about a month late, I might add). Instead of working on new projects, I took a much needed break, doing the edits as Harlequin requested (mostly meeting my deadlines) and otherwise puttering around from project to project until I felt together enough to write a romance novel again (late summer, in case you were wondering).
That break is responsible for the BIG RED YEAR. That break will also hurt my 2015 income. While I’ve got stuff in the works to come out in 2015, there will be over a year between my Superromances and a novella I’d planned to self-pub in 2014 won’t come out until March-ish of 2015 (let’s assume I make my expenses back). That gap will hurt sales of my backlist and is costing me visibility.
I knew that such a long break in writing would slash my income and visibility when I did it. However, I also knew that I couldn’t write a romance novel while I felt like shit. I paid for Ruby Heart in blood, sweat, and rivers of tears and that is not a way to write a book with a happily-ever-after. After I turned in Ruby Heart my priority was me, not my books. I have a day job and could afford to take the break and still eat, so I did. If I wrote full time, I would have been able to make that choice.
Priorities will also keep me from writing (and thus earning, assuming a positive correlation) as much I can in 2015, and likely 2016, etc. Not only do I have the full-time day job, but I also have a life to remake. That means I’m doing things like taking drawing lessons, exercising 10+ hours per week, going out with friends, and dating. Those are all hours I could put to writing and (in theory) making more money.
But would I write more or would I spend more time writing? That’s always the question. Friends, drawing lessons, exercise and, hell, even dating help keep me sane and prevent the slide into hermit-ness. I also know that on days off, I get more words in, but only double the number of words (if I’m lucky), rather than three times the number of words (or whatever you might expect for putting seven hours into my writing rather than two). Staying busy does more than keep me sane; it keeps me creative and efficient in my writing. I’m not sure cutting all those activities would increase my output by enough books to make up for the sanity I get from going to a Drink & Draw. Sanity is a heavily-weighted variable in my life. I’m also not sure my books would be as good. Ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. By being places other than on my couch and with people, rather than just my cats, my ideas are richer.
In my case, I’d be sacrificing quality for quantity and I don’t want to do that. I assume my readers don’t want me to do. Plus, it’s my life.
The big thing that gets sacrificed is promotion. With a very limited amount of time to dedicate to writing, I choose writing over promotion. I’m on twitter, Facebook, etc. very little. I have a regular blog post on Superauthors, but I rarely post here on my own blog. I can never remember to do a newsletter (note: you won’t get many newsletters from me, so sign up now !). I always respond to requests from bloggers and readers, but am not as active as I should be about seeking them out.
Does this cut into my income? Yes. Do I know by how much? No, and anyone who tells you they know is a fool. The link between promotion and marketing and income is there, but it’s fuzzy and it hops around a lot. There are so many variables.
Again, I’m okay with this. I have a full time job that I love and have no intentions of quitting, so I can make decisions that favor drawing lessons over blog posts. Not ever writer is in a position to make those choices and, even among those that are, not every writer would make the same choices I do.
I’ve got at least one self-pub novella that should come out in 2015 and should have one Superromance coming out in November/December. The expenses of the novella will be spread over 2014 and 2015 and all of the Harlequin advance for that book will be 2015 income. Hopefully the novella will make me some money, though for business planning purposes, it’s planned as a loss leader. I’ve got no shortage of ideas for books (see above on my general activity level) and as I navigate my new life, will also be learning how to better navigate projects (learning, always learning). I should have more stuff ready to go (proposals and the like) in 2015.
Anyway, I hope this was helpful. It was more long-winded than I’d planned, but that’s how I roll (just ask my editors!).
Got questions? Ask away.