Tag Archives: writing contracts

Writing for a living

Over the weekend I attended a house warming barbeque and I got talking to cousin I haven’t spoken to in a while. They were telling me about an in-law who has recently moved back to Ireland and has yet to get a job and start supporting themselves. One of their alternatives to employment my cousin told me, was to instead write a book. I was not supportive. In fact I was even less supportive of the idea than my cousin is.

Hard information on how the average writer does in financial terms from their work is hard to come by. Based on the occasional article I’ve read and other anecdotal information, I believe this is where I fall on the old bell curve.

Bell curve

I published my first work in July of 2011 and since then I have sold a combined total of twenty seven and a half thousand copies. Of this twelve and a half thousand are the Nameless War, a little under eight thousand the Landfall Campaign, five and a half the Last Charge, with the balance covered by the Job Offer novella and the two tech manuals. What has this amount to financially? Well in three years after expenses and taxes I’ve made about the equivalent of one year of the take home pay from my day job. As a supplement, that’s really good. As an actual primary income, not so good.

In fact the situation is worse than that. The Last Charge was about my most efficient book; it took two years and about a thousand man hours to get it from the first word to the finished product. I have no idea how many man hours the Nameless War took but to say many, many thousands is probably no word of a lie. Of course all the expenses from living costs, editing, cover art, etc are all front loaded. You will have to pay these out months or years before you can hope to see a penny come back.

Okay but that’s self publishing, what about traditional publishing? I have never gone down the traditionally published road so what follows is deeply anecdotal.

Assuming you’re first time writer, based on what I’ve read, advances on a first book are likely at best single digit thousands, with little likelihood that there will be anything beyond that*. This is to be expected, there aren’t many lines of work out there where you immediately walk into the top job, you have to prove yourself and writing is no different. Also once again even with traditional publishing, that first book is going to have to be written before you approach a publisher, so you’re front loading the living costs while you write.

Does this mean I’m saying you shouldn’t even try? No, definitely not. What I am saying is that even you’re a really good writer with a compelling story to tell, writing is difficult way to earn money and if you get to the point where you earn minimum wage through writing, you are doing very well. Certainly for several years something else is going to have to meet the bills. It is worth remembering that even the boys and girls who’ve made it big in publishing were often several books in before they started to see major money.

So in conclusion writing as a means of earning a living. Possible? Yes. Easy? No. Fast? Definitely no.



* If any readers can offer better information I would certainly welcome hearing from you.


Filed under Random Rants, Self Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing

Bit like being told what a sweet, pretty victim you are by your mugger

Came across the following on John Scalzi blog and felt it was worth passing on for writers and would be writers.

A Contract From AlibiMarch 6, 2013 By John Scalzi

So, don’t ask me how, but I have in my hands (from what I consider a reputable source) a contract from Alibi, which is the sibling imprint of Hydra, the Random House imprint that I thumped on roundly in the previous entry. You will recall that I thumped on Hydra because its contractual terms were so heinous to authors (including, but not limited to, offering no advances). Well, it appears that Alibi’s standard boilerplate contract is no less horrible than — or, more accurately, it appears to be exactly as horrible as — Hydra’s contract was reported to be. This suggests to me that the contracts for Flirt and Loveswept, Random House’s other two eBook imprints in this grouping, are likely to have similar boilerplate.Shall we dive in? Oh, let’s!

But before we do, just to have this out there:


The rest which is well worth reading can be found here

The publishing industry has of course been buffeted in recent years by the winds of change but this kind of thing really does make you wonder at the thinking within traditional publishing. Sure there have been writers that had one huge hit but in the ranks of writing they are the aberrations. Most successful writing careers are based on a succession of books. Terry Pratchett, Stephan King, JK Rowling to name but a few. Sure they have had individually successful books but the bulk of their success is based on the number of titles each had written over the course of decades.

I have heard that a massive percent of traditionally published books failed to turn a profit and every best seller subsidized a dozen flops. So I’m guessing the thinking here is:

  1. If it is a flop the publisher covers their own costs at the writers expense
  2. If a success the writer is tied to the publisher for at least a second book.

Flawed thinking to my mind since writing is a hard way to earn a living especially when you’re not being paid. Offering a contract that a writer will want to get out of a soon as they realize how little they are going to get for their efforts seem evidence of short-term, no-further-than-the-next-quarters-figures thinking. A strange attitude to take when success takes time. It may even kill a few promising writing careers after all, who wants to be played for a fool?

Note: Blog title came from a commenter on the Scalzi page going by the name Mark Terry

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Filed under Traditional Publishing, Writing