Tag Archives: working writers

How do authors make a living? (or, approaching the middle class of writerdom)

It surprises many people to learn (people not in the industry, anyway), that the majority of authors do not make a living off of their writing. Not exclusively, at least.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that it doesn’t happen, or that it won’t happen for you. I honestly hope it does! Between advances, royalties, and options I’m sure Stephen King doesn’t have to consider whether to take that editing job or not.

I think it’s good to be aware, though, that most authors are in what Cory Doctorow refers to as “the middle class of writerdom.” i.e. they have day jobs. Same goes for every kind of artist: dancer, actor, musician, painter, etc.

Below, in an interview with Bill Kenower, Doctorow speaks of having been surrounded by “working authors” when he was young, which gave him an appreciation for where he is today.

Even though I have quit my day job, and I earn quite a good living writing, I never take it for granted, and I never assume that all writers will do it or that it’s just hard work and talent. I understand that what I’ve got is the combination of, yes, hard work and talent, but also a lot of luck.
~Cory Doctorow

I know authors who have gotten sweet advances, who have become self-published successes, who have optioned their books as movies, or who write 3 books a year and consistently end up on the best seller list. And those I know who live solely off of their writing work extremely hard to do so (they’ve also become marketing machines, which truthfully is time not spent writing, but part of the game these days).

But mostly, I know authors who are teachers, librarians, microsoft workers, A/V workers, and accountants. And I know other artists who are dog-walkers, bartenders, and event producers. As long as they find time for their creativity, they’re not going crazy.

Some people, like my husband, get panicky at the thought of not having a regular paycheck every 2 weeks, while the idea of having a 9-to-5 job makes me short of breath. For the past 20 years I have primarily lived my life contract to contract and pieced together a living for myself. My finances have always fluctuated.

Yes, I still fantasize about that mega hit that will keep me afloat for years to come, but in the meantime, I’ve created my own “writer’s life.” It all depends upon your level of comfort and if others are financially dependent upon you. If you prefer the consistency of a 9-to-5 job, by all means, stay there while you carve out your writing life.

But I do encourage you to take risks. I believe if you reach toward a writing life, and allow space for it, if you’re willing to get creative with your lifestyle and career, you can do things that are related to your art and may fulfill you more than just another “job.”

My other two loves are teaching and performing, so I’ve been fortunate to be able to incorporate those into my career. Below is a list of all the things I’ve done to earn money to supplement my income since my first novel was published:

ESL tutor
creative writing tutor
story editor
script reviewer
studio teacher
creative writing instructor
school author visits
book club author visits
convention instructor / speaker

Other than ESL and studio teacher, everything else has been related to being an author, which makes me happy. If you assess your skills and passions, I’m sure you, too, could create a satisfying life that supplements your writing.

What have you done to create your author life? How have you gotten creative around your work?


Filed under behind the scenes, Reviews and Interviews, writing life