I am not a finance person. When I think of the words “financial” and “realities” in the same sentence, my brain tries to make a little symbolic dive under a sofa.
All I can do with this post is just lay it out there and be honest. I have no problem telling everyone exactly what my book finances have been so far, because I think it’s important that we’re willing to do that. From what I’ve been able to learn by googling, my book deal was absolutely typical for a quiet literary debut. Our original offer from Penguin was for the one stand-alone book: $12 500. My agent worked her magic and got them up to $15 000. The payout is divided in three—one third upon signing, one upon delivery of the edited manuscript, and one third on publication. It’s a paperback original, so royalties for me will be low: 7.5%. It will take me quite a while to earn out this advance, and like most authors, I probably won’t.
So, in our original timeline, I was set to make a whopping five grand per year for the next three years until the book came out, and then we’d see how it did. And don’t forget I have to pay my agent her fee, so $5000 becomes $4250. Then taxes off that.
If you break down the hours I spent writing and researching the book, editing, educating myself about agents and querying, perfecting a query and sending it out, time spent researching the agents I was sending to, and so on and so forth, I feel my pay comes out to something that feels like about fifty cents an hour.
Back when I was still a teenager, I managed to make a little money from time to time with my writing by winning contests. The first time I won a student writing contest I was about fourteen, and my prize was a hundred dollar gift certificate to a local indie bookstore. Not a bad haul for one short story. At eighteen, I won a poetry contest, and that prize was five hundred dollars. The next year, I placed second in a Canadian national student writing competition and won another five hundred dollars. The small groups of poems that earned me this money didn’t take that long to write and revise. Poems are much faster to write than novels. So even though there was a certain amount of luck involved, the money that came my way was pretty impressive, especially for someone who wasn’t even twenty years old.
All this to say, despite my added decades of experience, I’ve noticed that at this particular point in time, my hourly rate has gone way down.
It’s not a good financial breakdown. The reality of my writing so far is that I don’t even consider it part of our finances. But just as a reminder, my part of the financial burden in our family has always been hidden. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: I was a stay-at-home parent for a long time, and my husband was the one earning money, so my financial situation has always been different from literally every other writer I know. My labor has technically been unpaid for a long time. There are other reasons why I do it. And writing is the same way.
When I think about being paid for writing, things get complicated. Because I should be paid for it, but it’s also something I love. Something I’m willing to do for free (or a grand average of fifty cents an hour). I dream of being some kind of best-selling author, but I was happy to be paid anything for my writing. Astonished really. Because for so many years writing was a hobby, and becoming a professional was only an indistinct possibility, somewhere off in the future. I think now I can technically call myself a professional, but I certainly can’t make a living off it. Not the way I’ve been doing it.
I think of myself as uniquely unqualified to discuss “financial realities.” I’ll let you know if that changes!