Boosting the signal, and commentary: C.E. Murphy’s “a momentary reality check”

Preface:  I am normally of the “it’s none of your business how much I earn, any more than how much you earn is any of my business” mindset.  But… maybe this will help people understand.  Or not.  I don’t know.
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mizkit posted about writerly income at a momentary reality check and I’m reposting here because, well, WHAT SHE’S SAYING.  Never mind Rowling, King, Brown, etc.  Ain’t nobody ‘cept those very few getting rich at this job.  Damned few of us are earning above the poverty line (Federal standards: $12-15k per household of 1, $23-25k for a family of 3).

Catie and I are on a similar track (well, substitute two needy felines for a kid, and remove the spouse), and we are among the fortunate ones, at this point in time, in that we can say that we make an actual living out of this gig.

Averaging the past five years, I’m making around $45k/year, after my agency’s 15% commission but before taxes.  After-taxes would make you cry, no lie. Freelancer taxes are hell.  I write more slowly than Catie does, which means I have fewer opportunities to sell, but I have my editorial sideline (5-10k of that pre-tax 45) which is why I can (almost) afford to live in NYC.*

(EtA: I also have multiple streams of writing income, between NYC, BookViewCafe, and direct-to-market)

As a point of comparison, the median family income in 2011 (most recent official numbers) was $61,455.   There are benefits to this gig, but a fat paycheck is rarely one of them.

Keep in mind that writers (all freelancers) are not eligible for unemployment insurance if we lose our job, and every year that’s a very real risk.  So every year you’re also (hopefully, ideally) squirreling away for the inevitable Really Bad Year(s).  As they say in the financials, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

(everything that follows beneath the break is Catie’s original post.  or you can go read it here directly.)

*and before anyone says “oh but why do you live in NYC if it’s so expensive?”… because this is my home, and where my family lives.
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Catie says….We’re looking for somewhere new to rent, and I mumbled about a lovely place that costs an impractical, um, *checks conversion rate*, $2350 a month. This caused someone (that I have known since childhood, so while it was cheeky, well, actually, total strangers ask these questions too, so) to ask the following question, and since I wrote out the answer anyway, I thought I might as well post it.

 

“I thought successful authors like yourself made a lot of money? Am I way off base?”

 

Yes. :)

 

Here. I’ll talk some real numbers.

 

For example: my most recent 3 year average income is about $47K gross, which sounds pretty good. However, that’s with my best *ever* year of writing income as part of the average. If I take that year away and factor in something more normal, my 3 year average is more like $34K, which still isn’t half bad, but it’s not stupendous amounts of money.

 

But that’s gross. Before I ever even see that, 15% goes to my agent’s commission, which brings a more normal average year down to about $29K. Then you convert it to euros, which on average takes about 30% away from the take-home, which puts it at about €20K. It’s a living, but it’s not what most people would call a lot of money.

 

Furthermore, I write fast. Less fast now that I’ve had a kid, but I still write fast, around 300,000 words/3 books a year. So if you pretend the money you’re getting paid is for the book you’re working on right now (which is really not how it works, but that’s a different long story) that’s about $10K (or €6.7K) per book. And again, I write fast, so a 100K book (an average Walker Papers novel, for example) takes me 100 hours.

 

That makes my hourly rate look really good, even if you add another 50 hours on top of that for revision and editing and everything. But I rarely get to write a book in a straight shot, so it’s usually more like 6-12 weeks of work. I mean, I can and have and no doubt will again do 10-12 hour writing days for several days on end, but a more normal (pre-child) writing schedule was about 4-5 hours a day. Which is not, I realize, something to cry in one’s beer about. :) But the point is a great hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of cash, because of how the system works.

 

The people you hear about who make a lot of money? JK Rowling, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Michael Connolly? They’re the outliers. Writers’ lives and incomes are not like they’re portrayed in the media or movies. They’re the rock stars compared to the garage bands.

 

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

 

 

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