It’s an old cliché: “I don’t write for the money, I write for the…” (kids, fame, good of humanity, bringing about the apocalypse). Why is it there a basic assumption that we don’t write for money too?

There’s a simple reason. If you imagine a writer, they’re wearing scruffy jeans and a baggy shirt, with ink-stained fingers. They live in a tiny studio flat converted from the hay loft of a disused barn in the Outer Hebrides.

Who makes money, then? Entrepeneurs and professionals are people who wear slick suits, talk about mergers and markets, with a penthouse apartment in the Statue of Liberty’s face.

Writers Do Make Money

I’ll qualify that heading. Of course, famous authors rake in the cash. But I’m talking about average wtiters: online freelancers and published authors whose books never broke even. You’re the talent, you create the product in a creative industry. That means you have all the power, so you’re the one getting paid.

The Writing Industry as a System

To understand what I’m going on about we’ll need to look at the writing industry as a system. You’re the Producer, creating the work. That work then flows to the Agent (literary agency, publisher or writing service). It’s subsequently picked up by the Seller (bookstore, website or magazine) and makes its way to the Buyer (reader).

What Does the Publisher Do?

Why is the publisher only an Agent in this system? They’re the Almighty Publisher deserving a category all to themself! Aren’t they? Nope. Go to Harper Collins’ offices and ask to see ye olde printing press. I’ll save you the trip, they don’t have one.

What does a publisher do then? Only a few publishers do their own printing and binding. They often farm out proofreading, editing and design to subcontractors. Ultimately, they pass the book on to a distributor who in turn sells it to bookstores. Wait, so what’s left? Publishers don’t print or edit, so what do they do? Advertising and marketing. They use their reputation and experience to generate interest. Hence, they are just another Agent.

How Writers Make Money

Often, we don’t make enough to get by on just writing. But compared to everyone else in the process, we’re minting money.

The Seller (bookstore or website) might get about 45% of the profit, so they’re doing ok.

The Agent (whoever is in the middle) tends to bring in around 10%. That’s not bad until you factor in the costs involved. Don’t forget, everyone the Almighty Publisher subcontracted with had to be paid. How much does the writing service scrape off the top of your piece’s sale price? That’s a thin profit margin.

The Producer (you) can earn about 15% of the profit. This is a lot considering the raw materials used (your time, a crude writing implement and… that’s it).

The Cost of Failure (is low)

If your freelance piece or book flops in the website or bookstores, what happens?

You’re a freelancer, so you’ve already been paid. Nobody is going to cut your salary or make you redundant. You count your earnings and move on to the next project.

But authors are in a more delicate position, right? That’s true, unless you’ve been paid an advance. Then it’s yours to keep. Even if your book only sells one copy per week at £1 royalty, that’s £50 per year. You’re not working to fence copies every day of that year, but the money keeps coming in.

Anyone else involved in the process will make a loss if things don’t work out. So compare yourself to them and ask whether it’s worth writing for money.

Now picture yourself in a slick suit living on the Statue of Liberty’s left eyebrow. You don’t have to make writing a career and it doesn’t have to stop being your passion, but you can make it a business.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?

Previously:

My books:

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6 thoughts on “Tip #18: Write For Money

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