Why writers are always broke

Piggy Bank with CoinsPhil: One message that is thrown at wannabee writers time and again is that you aren’t going to become rich. For every Rowling, Brown or Archer, there are hundreds of people hammering away at keyboards earning less than someone stacking shelves in a supermarket or flipping burgers.

The average novelist will earn around £5000 per year. Worse, 10% of writers bag %50 of all the income going. And this is for those who manage to jump through every hoop on the way to being published in the “normal” manner. Most aspiring writers see no reward for their efforts.

If you want to get paid, don’t write novels. Radio and TV pay £50 – £100 per minute, but that’s per minute of broadcast, no matter how long you took to concoct the stuff. It’s not an easy world to break in to either.

Heading out to one of the many on-line opportunities isn’t going to work any better. I recently saw one “opportunity” where applicants were asked to summarise either Guantanamo Closing, Bitcoin or the Syrian conflict in 100 words. These would be submitted to the website and if accepted (you are competing against all the other applicants) you will be paid the grand total of $10. That’s just over 6 quid for researching a complex subject and boiling it down to 100 words.

In their defence, the people offering the gig say that once accepted you’ll receive other assignments and that a good writer should be able to knock out 3 of these an hour and $30 or £21 an hour isn’t bad. Mind you, if you can research a complex subject and distil the important points into a few lines accurately and consistently in 20 minutes and keep doing this for 8 hours a day, I suggest that you either deserve to earn more or you’ll go bonkers within a couple of days.

Truth is, a lot of on-line writing involves the CTRL+C and CTRL+V keys more than anything elses. Cut and paste text from other on-line sources, smooth out the worst of the reading bumps and spit it out on to a new website. Content Mills as they are called, pay people in third world countries to do this all day on what we would consider a pittance and what I suspect they consider a poor wage for a job that attracts those with decent educations by dangling an opportunity that looks more promising than it turns out to be. All this to produce “articles” designed to attract the attention of search engines so visitors are dropped off at the website where they might buy something, or at least look at the advertising.

No, if you want to write, then you better be doing it for the love of it. Candice and I have already had this conversation as we look at a few publishing options. Both of us will be chuffed if we eventually make a single sale out of this. If one person who we don’t know choses to buy our book in the future, then that has to be success. Should we make a few quid, that’s a bonus. Were we to find ourselves with a best-selling series and fantastic wealth then we’ll not be complaining.

For the moment though, neither of us is giving up the day job.


Filed under Phil, Writing

3 responses to “Why writers are always broke

  1. Poor, starving artists that we are, do not produce our creative works for the money but for the pure pleasure of offering our gifts to the great, uncreative masses across the world.
    However, there are ways to monetise your creativety….if you are very, very lucky. My stepson is a poet and he performs his works whilst playing his cello (sometimes) in pubs and at festivals. He has got into several networks that enables him to earn a bit of cash whilst working as a teacher of difficult teenagers. My son writes a blog about SF and fantasy books, TV shows, films and computer games. He also reviews books for Golanz who pay him if they use a quote from his review. He reviewed Game of Thrones as a book and was invited to Ireland when the first series was being filmed. He’s just been invited to appear on stage discussing the genre at a big convention in Chicago, all costs covered but no real money but he is in the network and I have advised him to get business cards produced or get a t-shirt produced advertising his site. Meanwhile, he’s writing his own fantasy novel. Networks matter and the more you are in, the better.

    • You need the core product to define what you do but it’s the extras that probably make as much money. Lots of novelists earn their income through teaching creative writing for example. It’s being creative with the skills you’ve got and seeing beyond the obvious.

  2. janelovering

    Sometimes the day job can be part of the problem. I am well known for my impecuniosity – despite being traditionally published, award winning and with a backlist of seven novels, I rarely ever earn enough to come into the tax-paying bracket, despite also having a (part time) day job. Advice keeps coming in, “talk to libraries/the WI/be resident writer somewhere/lecture in writing”. But the day job, which helps (for which read, doesn’t really but it’s a steady income) pay the bills, soundly prevents me from taking these opportunities – which always seem to crop up a good fifty miles from home base.
    So, damned if you do, damned if you don’t, really.

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