You Can’t Make a Living with Your Fiction

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing: #8… You Can’t Make a Living with Your Fiction

This myth “You can’t make a living writing fiction” is so clearly hogwash, I shouldn’t have to include it as a chapter in this book. All anyone has to do is look at a certain fantasy writer in England being richer than the Queen. And the number of fiction writers on the Forbes List every year. And that’s not counting all the writers publishing their sales numbers each month just from Kindle alone.

But, alas, new writers hear this myth all the time, constantly, from every direction, and sometimes from longer-term professional writers.

So, it’s worth a long post I guess. It shouldn’t be a myth at all, but it is.

Myth Origin

We have all seen the silly studies that an ‘average’ fiction writer makes something like $2,345 per year. And, of course, people look at that and think ‘Oh, my, no one can make any money writing fiction.’ Of course, those who say that don’t know how studies are taken, or what a number like that really means.

Most of the big studies ask every person who has a dream of someday writing a novel. The writers asked maybe have finished a few short stories, maybe even mailed a couple. They go to a writer’s group regularly, and call themselves writers, because they are in the early days of learning their craft. They make no money. There are hundreds of thousands of this type of writer, all in the early days of learning.

Then, of course there are the writers who will never sell, a person with the best intentions, but no real drive to actually sell anything. Or if they do sell, it’s to a small press that pays in copies or worse yet these days, they give their story away free to an online press and don’t even get a copy.

Or they write poetry and are doing fantastic when they make a few hundred per year.

The studies ask all those writers how much they make, and the answer is almost always zero or not far above zero. Millions of ‘nothing’ answers.

Then these studies include writers in organizations like SFWA, who lets a writer with three sales in the door. And Romance Writers, which has a huge chunk of membership that has never made a sale. All those thousands and thousands of unpublished or slightly published writers are included.

It’s stunning to me that the average is so high, actually. But the truth is to get the final answer up to a few thousand, a lot of people have to be making a lot of money with their fiction writing to pull up all the beginning writers.

Writing, to my knowledge, is the only profession that takes studies this way.

It would be exactly like trying to figure out what an average lawyer makes by also including every undergraduate who is thinking of going to law school and every law student in the study about what they made working the law. Lawyers, in that type of study, would make less than two thousand average I’m betting.”

Continue reading @ Dean Wesley Smith »