Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Writer Wednesday: Money, Money, Money

SuperRomance author Linda Barrett takes a look at the question of How Much Does an Author Earn?

The subject for today is money. Moola. Dough. Bread. Lucre (filthy or otherwise). Gelt. Shekels. Call it what you want, I’m talking about a writer’s take-home pay. Can we, authors of romance, support ourselves with this gig? Does it really matter?

Ten years ago, before my first manuscript was bought by Harlequin, talking about a writer’s earnings was taboo. Editors made no promises, gave no estimates regardless of how excited they were about a story. Published authors seemed to have a tacit agreement among themselves: discussing earnings in any form was off-limits. Money was simply not discussed at all – not at local meetings, over lunch, or even at writers’ conferences. (Although, I admit to picking up a lot of misinformation at one conference.)

Back then, newly published authors jumped blindly into their writing careers. We had high hopes. Such amazingly high hopes.

My hopes were shattered in 2001 by my first royalty statement, and I wondered why no one had prepared me.

I held onto my day job. The day job - that’s the one that offers a regular paycheck, health insurance, paid vacations, paid sick days and a lousy commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But did I mention the regular paycheck? Did I also mention that most writers want to leave the day job ASAP after getting The Call? To us, that call is the genuine call to adventure, not for just one book, but for a career. It is the call to fulfill our biggest dream and the one we all want to answer.

But can we afford to?

“A living wage” will be defined differently by each one of us according to our financial responsibilities and lifestyle expectations. Those writers with rich or even not-so-rich patrons won’t have to worry too much. I’m talking about a recent college grad living with parents, or the wife of an oil executive. (Of course, in these economic times, patrons may be in short supply anyway). Lined up at the other end of the spectrum is the rest of us with children, mortgages, dental bills, and college tuitions not to mention the mundane necessities of groceries and clothes. You can choose the items which apply to you and tack on your own. The bills add up. Nothing new here - except for that big conflict. We yearn to write full-time, but those royalty statements… hmm…not so helpful to the big financial picture.

I wrote more books on nights and weekends. By the end of 2005, I had eight books out. Still, the royalties were erratic. My best year brought in 10K less than my modest daytime earnings at a non-profit social service agency. Add in the 15% social security tax for self-employed folks as well as all the expenses associated with writing – home office, conference, membership dues, books/magazines – well, you get the picture.
While brooding over those royalty checks, the sad truth finally seeped in. Writing romance would fulfill my creative drive, but would not fill my pockets.

Maybe this gig would be more lucrative if the road beyond publication were not as bumpy as the road to publication. But it’s a tough industry, before and after. I’d hoped to have at least two books released each year. Sometimes, I did. Sometimes I didn’t. Some proposals were turned down; sometimes, editors were late in responding to them which eroded my prospective timetable. Editors leave. New editors arrive. The specs change, and lines close. It’s no one’s fault. It’s the way of the business. And good stuff happens, too. I won several prestigious awards with my work and garnered excellent reviews. Vindication!

My career has been focused on writing series romance for Harlequin Books (Superromance & Everlasting Love), but my research has shown that many single-title, mid-list authors can easily earn the same or less money than I do. Sure, there are exceptions - those authors who seem to fly to the top of the lists from the git-go. But the key word here is exception. There are no guarantees. Competition is fierce – just check out any of the big bookstores. Can you actually count the number of romance books on the shelves? Every author, whether a high ranking best seller or a brand new debut hopeful, worries about sales. This worry club includes me.

I kept the day job until the very end of 2007 when changes occurred in my personal life. My husband switched jobs for the better and obtained health insurance for me; the kids had become adults by this time with exciting careers of their own. My dh and I became empty-nesters. In the end, I stayed at the day job until I was comfortable leaving it.

My twelfth book, SUMMER AT THE LAKE, is out this month with another on the way for next year. The money is still lousy. But I’m still writing.

Many of us have said at one time or another that we love writing so much, we’d do it if we weren’t paid at all. (Scout’s honor, I’ve heard this too many times to count).

Do you believe it? Does the money matter?

Looking forward to your comments,

Visit Linda at:
I’ve got a contest going on right now for a $10.00 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble and a signed copy of any backlist book.

Linda’s latest book, SUMMER AT THE LAKE, is available now in all book stores, Wal-Mart’s and on-line at: and at other on-line venues.

The reviews are coming in!

4 ½ STARS – RT Book Reviews: “Linda Barrett’s touching story is about the power of love…to help us heal.”

5 STARS – Cataromance Reviews: “another Linda Barrett classic…brilliantly written”

5 STARS – Huntress Reviews: “Linda Barrett pens the most heart-warming stories!”


  1. Linda thank you so much "showing us the money"! Time restraints are the greatest excuse for the aspiring author's writing drought whilst we dream of the day we can quit the day job and just write full time!

    I guess I'll just keep trying to find that perfect balance where the family, day job and other activities all fit in together with a proper writing schedule! Thanks for making me realise it would be foolish to quit the regular paycheck!

  2. Thanks for the insight Linda. Every writer dreams of giving up the day job. We'd all much prefer to get up, have that first cup of coffee, and sit down at the laptop to disappear into our own imaginary worlds where we have complete control (when our characters let us!)

    I'm not giving up on that dream, but at least with posts like yours around I won't be too disappointed if it doesn't happen the day I make my first sale!

  3. Hi Linda - interesting and informative blog thank you! It's always an aspiring dream of newbie (and established) authors to be able to give up the day job isn't it? But by the sounds of it (unless we have rich patrons) we can't - not if we love category romance as I do anyway! Anyway I'll keep on writing as I just love the elation I get when I type "The End" after completing a 70k ms. And at the end of the day there aren't that many people that actually finish a book. Thanks again. Take care. Caroline x

  4. Ahhhh, Linda. Money. Yeah, I wish we made what people THINK we make as writers. LOL. We'd be in great shape then.

    And health insurance. Gotta have that, too.

    Money DOES matter to me. I have bills to pay. And I think if we create something that people want, then we should get paid for it. (I want things like electricity. The electric company creates it. But they expect me to PAY for it. (G) Same should hold true for creative endeavors.)

    Where can I find one of those patrons? LOL.

  5. This is an interesting topic because I am an aspiring writing and I have been dreaming of what my life would be like if I was published. Certainly an eye opener!

    I think that people who really love to write would do so even without the compensation. I would anyway. It's like an inner voice that needs to be expressed.

  6. Linda,

    Wonderful post. Mystery surrounds the area of money when it comes to writing and I was no different than you, wondering and waiting, hoping and dreaming, but in the end, the day job has kept me afloat and the creative stuff has been a nice supplement. Whereas before we were check to check with no room for wiggling, now we can actually consider going on vacation (which we did for the first time!) or splurging on a new-to-us sofa or washing machine. I know there will come a day where I can say goodbye to the day job but that day isn't today.
    Thanks for the great blog.

  7. If nothing else, I'm glad to have injected some reality into our "fantasy" lives :) In the end, we have to pay our bills as Susan G pointed out about her electric company.

    Mari - I'll always write for my own satisfaction, too. I have oodles of family stories, poems and other not-meant-for-publication work in my binders at home. If writing is part of who you are, you write. Period. You write because you have something to say. To quote Wm. Wordsworth:

    "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."

    I'll check in again later! Thanks for the comments.


  8. Great post Linda. Sometimes reality isn't what you want to hear about, but you have to at least have a clue what you're up against when it comes to wanting to be published and what happens afterwards.


  9. I smiled as I read this, Linda. The only way to make a living writing category romance is to write LOTS OF BOOKS, every single year, the way Debbie Macomber did when she first started out. When I was first published, Debbie had eight books a year out. That doesn't seem possible now. Even three or four a year is tough, given the length of time it takes for editors to make up their minds, etc. A few lucky ones manage -- mostly because their sales are so good they get extra attention. I had some really good years back in the mid-nineties -- five books a year out, category still selling really well -- but those times have changed drastically. I'm too tired to write five books a year even if I could sell that many, and the books aren't earning anywhere near what they used to earn. Anyway, you'd better love writing category because you won't get rich doing it.