Now that I’ve been published for almost a year, a question I’m hearing more and more is, “Have you quit your day job yet?” When I finish wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, I always explain that, no, I’m still working. The next question, of course is, “Wow! How do you do it?”
Well, there’s a very easy answer to that: I like to eat. I enjoy having a roof over my head. And heat and running hot water seem like things I should have, living in the northeast. All of which require that I show up at my regular job every day for the foreseeable future.
My friends aren’t trying to upset me, I know that. And they’re not trying to be funny. But the pervasiveness of this question shows how little people understand what authors make. We hear about the Nora Roberts of the world, the Stephen Kings. The vast majority of authors don’t even come close to those types of incomes. According to one survey (admittedly a few years old, but I doubt the numbers have changed that much), only 53.9% of traditionally published make $1,000 or more per year.
That’s not a typo. If you know a place where I can live on $1,000 per year, please comment below. That number increases to 77% for self-published authors, but most of them are putting out multiple books per year and have a long back list to sell and promote. They didn’t start out making $1,000/year with their first book.
Bigger publishers are increasingly not paying advances, especially with their digital lines. Large advances make the news because they’re so rare, especially for new authors. Those writers are unicorns. The average advance, for those lucky enough to get one, is $5,000 to $15,000, paid out in two to three installments, often over a year or longer.
Have you ever tried to budget living on $5,000 for six months to a year? Recently, I did some research. According to one source, the lowest cost of living in the U.S. is in Harlingen, Texas, where rent starts at $501/month. If I pay no taxes and don’t give my agent a commission, I can afford to live there for 10 months off a $5,000 advance, assuming I don’t eat, have no expenses, and pick up all pennies I find on the ground.
Another source shows Toledo, Ohio as the lowest rent in the U.S., with apartments as low as $442.50/month. That buys me one more month before homelessness, and even gives me an extra $132.50 per year to cover all my other expenses, so Toledo it is. Let’s hope that $442.50 apartment includes electricity.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that my fantastically cheap Toledo apartment is on an upper floor, but not too high, set in the middle of the building. That saves me some on heating costs, especially if I owned plenty of blankets before moving in. We’ll further assume it’s walking distance from the public library where I can get free internet. I obviously can’t afford cable, and I’ll go ahead and cancel Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. That reduces my TV/internet bill to zero.
My cell phone will have to be shut off, but that’s great, because it means I save another $70 or so/month. My apartment must be walking distance from a grocery store. That lets me sell my car to save on gas and insurance (not to mention the car payment). Great! See how easy it is to reduce my expenses to live off my author earnings? And with nothing to do and no way to go anywhere more than about 2 miles away, I’ll have plenty of free time to think about writing more books. Too bad I can’t afford notebooks to write these thoughts down.
Also, food. The cheapest food typically available at many grocery stores is Top Ramen. I can’t afford a Costco membership (or Amazon Prime) living on $1,000/year, so buying in bulk is out. Apparently, you can get a 100 pack for Ramen for about $60. Let’s assume I eat one packet a day, because my stomach has shriveled due to my inability to buy adequate food. For one year, I’d need four 100 packs, which costs $240. It’ll even give me an extra few packs, if I want to really splurge for Christmas dinner. Alas, that’s nearly one quarter of my total annual income, and since I can no longer afford to place to live, I also don’t have a pot or a stove to cook my feast. So, that’s not going to work.
Let’s not even do the math for the authors who make less than $1,000/year. Who wants to be homeless in Toledo for ten months out of every year?
Writing can be rewarding in a variety of ways. I love sitting down and watching stories unfold as I plug away at the computer. I love crafting my drafts into something readable. I love getting feedback from readers who enjoy my story, and there’s a special thrill that comes from seeing my face on Amazon. But, no, I’m not going to be quitting my day job any time soon. And unless you have significant savings or a very understanding spouse, you probably don’t want to count on living off your author income right away.
About the Author:
Laura Heffernan is the author of America’s Next Reality Star, Sweet Reality, and Reality Wedding, available now from Kensington. Apparently, watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys board games, travel, board games, baking, and board games. She lives in the northeast with her husband and two furry little beasts.
Laura loves connecting with readers. Find her on her website, www.lauraheffernan.com, Facebook, www.facebook.com/lauraheffernanbooks, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LH_writes, where she spends far too much time tweeting about reality TV and Canadian chocolate.
About Reality Wedding:
SAY ‘I DO’—OR ELSE
When Jen Reid escaped a reality TV cruise with her relationship intact—if not her hair—she swore she was done with the cameras for good. Sure, she and Justin met, had their first kiss, and got engaged with tape rolling, but manufactured drama and ruthless producers have shaken them up more times than she can count. With Jen’s reality-themed bakery just getting started and her brand-new lawyer fiancé in a pile of debt, they’re a long way from glitz and glamour, and that’s fine by Jen. Until the Network calls and tells her that unless she says “I do” to a wedding special, Justin will be out of a job.
Now Jen has two weeks to plan an all-expenses-paid “dream wedding”—and dodge the tricks and traps of a showrunner happy to mess up her future in the name of ratings. Luckily for Jen, she’s got plenty of experience with cake and popcorn. But when real-life drama and reality TV twists collide, the cliffhangers may just follow her right down the aisle . . .