Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Survey Says!

By Joe Moore

Do you (or could you) support yourself on your current writing income?

money1 I belong to an organization called Novelists, Inc. Membership qualifications require at least two books published by a traditional, royalty-paying publisher. NINC conducted a survey of 100 randomly chosen members. All 100 respondents had published a median of sixteen novels apiece in multiple genres with women's fiction/romance (93%), mystery/thriller (24%), and young adult (12%) being the top three. Nine percent of the authors have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, 19% on the USA Today bestseller list, and 32% on Waldens list. Of the 100 authors surveyed, 10% had a PhD or doctoral degree, 27% a master's, and 35% a bachelor's. Ninety-six percent were female.

It would be easy to assume that all 100 highly educated, highly successful authors were doing well from their writer's income. Right?

One of the 9 questions they were asked was the one above: Do you (or could you) support yourself on your current writing income?

Here’s what they said:

22% -- Yes

9% -- Probably yes

17% -- Probably no

52% -- No

So 31% of the surveyed authors revealed that they were able to support themselves with their writing income. Sixty-nine percent could not. And these are best-selling authors with a median average of 16 books in print.

Are you surprised? Do you make enough money from writing to support yourself and your family? It takes most authors at least a year to write a commercial novel. Is giving up your sleep, TV, family, social life, and everything else you sacrifice as a writer really worth it? Most importantly, if you can’t make a living at it, why do it?

Personally, I love to write. I would do it whether I got paid or not. Would you?


Anonymous said...

Back when I was writing non fiction articles for magazines, I think I might have been able to live on the money I made from it, but it wouldn't have been much of a life and I would have resented forcing my "art" to be my "job." Now that I'm writing fiction, I'm much more satisfied with my situation. Sure, I have a "real job" but that is just to pay the bills. The essential me is immersed in my fiction. I think I would like to live in my retirement on the income I make from writing, but it will be a conventional retirement funded by IRAs and 401ks and such.
The idea of living now off of the income of my hugely successful novels (as if) is not any kind of dream I hold or nurture. I don't consider it any more realistic than winning the lottery.
And I think my writing is better for it.

Keith Raffel said...

Dr. Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Hmm.

Mark Terry said...

I make a good living writing nonfiction. Fiction, even when I WAS getting published, didn't pay for itself, let alone much of anything else.

96% of them were women?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I hold onto the dream that one day my writing might support me. But I'm sensible enough to realize it won't happen for possibly many years. And more and more I look at it as a retirement supplement.

Would I write if I wasn't getting paid? Probably, but not as feverishly.

Mark Combes said...

Being an author: The world's worst get-rich-quick scheme.

Paul likening it to the lottery is somewhat true. Lottery is pure luck - writing takes some talent. But if you want to win the lottery, you gotta buy the ticket first. I guess we've bought the ticket, so let's see how the numbers play out....

Mark Terry said...

As the joke goes:

Q: How do you make a small fortune as a novelist?

A: Start with a large fortune.

Joe Moore said...

E.L. Doctorow once said, "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."

So why do we do it, even if we don't make money at it? I once knew a record producer from Nashville who answered the question when commenting about song writers. It applies to all creative types. In his earthy Tennessee manner, he said, "We do it because we're eat up with it."

Thanks for all your comments.

Keith Raffel said...

Joe, I like the Doctorow quote so much that I added it my favorite quotes in my Facebook profile. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel any need to recognize Dr. Johnson as any authority in my life.

My comparison to the lottery is in the chances of success, not the mechanism of it. It's a long, long shot, either way.

Felicia Donovan said...

What an interesting post, Joe, especially the "Ninety-six percent were female." Does that mean we have a better shot than you guys?

Seriously, it's a bit daunting to read those statistics, but I'd still rather be in the 52% who couldn't support themselves (with the hope I'll make it to the group that can someday), than not being published at all.

Suzanne Brandyn Author said...

Two comments I would like to leave.
Does Midnight Writers tell me you all are up till midnight every night bashing out your words? :)
Secondly, someone called Inkspot, left a message on my blog and it disappeared?? Anyone from here? I am dying to find out. lol
Oh so I can't count.
Thirdly, I am not looking for zillions from my writing, a little bonus here and there would be nice along the way.
I am not a midnight writer, just plain ol romance to the heart with a tad bit of suspense kinda writer.
Suz :)

Jessica Lourey said...

That's a thought-provoking post. I would wager that there's a fair number of us writing who actually do think we will break through the ranks and make it big, and that that is part of the draw (or at least what keeps us going when the creativity flickers) as well. Delusion is a necessary quality as a writer, both to be creative and persistent, no?

jbstanley said...

No way do I make enough. If we lived in Ghana, I might make enough, but I barely pay for childcare with what I make. Would I trade being an author for my other high-salaried job of being a teacher? No way!