Why Write a Book?

Recently someone said to me, “I think I’ll write a book. So, what do I need to do?”

The answer, of course, is simple–Sit down and write it.

But they usually want more than that. They want to know “How do I get an agent?” or “What’s the easiest way to get mybook self-published?” They don’t realize all the steps a writer takes before a book is in a form that can be purchased. And many of these wannabe writers have an exaggerated impression of how much writers earn.

Therefore, my first question usually is: Why do you want to write a book?

If my wannabe writer thinks it’s a way to make money–lots of money–I understand. After all, the media is always eager to announce huge advances paid to politicians and actors for their memoirs. We hear how J.K. Rowlings is richer than the Queen (I don’t know if she is or not), and that she went from rags to riches because she wrote a book. (Several, in fact.)

A  report issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics certainly makes it sound like writers are doing well. According to their most recent figures, the average income for ‘writers and authors’ in 2016 was $61,820 per year.

Not bad, but I don’t know many writers earning that amount, and the bureau’s definition of authors covers more writers than just novelists. Authors of text books and non-fiction books are included, along with those authors who get 6 and 7 figure advances. So this isn’t a perfect answer on more than one level. (To read the entire article, go to: Average income for a fiction writer )

In fact, the issue of  authors’ declining earnings has been the subject of several articles, and on November 13th the Authors’ Guild is sponsoring a free event for members on the topic of “Writers on the Brink: The Current Economics of Authorship.”

According to the promo for this talk, “Published American authors today average $11,000 per year down from $25,000 a decade ago. Full-time author incomes in Canada and Great Britain have declined as well. What does this mean for the future of literature? Is writing no longer a sustainable career except for the rare few? Panelists from the Authors Guild, the Society of Authors in the UK and the Writers’ Union of Canada discuss the latest income survey results and the challenges of surviving financially as an author today.”

Some of the topics for this event will be: Whether published in print or online, what types of fiction and nonfiction books still attract sales and vast readership? How can working writers supplement their incomes? What do authors and publishers working collaboratively need to do to ensure the book industry remains healthy and robust to deliver stories that enlighten, educate, and entertain?

They’ve invited writers, book publishers, booksellers, literary agents and dedicated readers alike to join this important discussion. I’d love to be there in person, but it’s being held at Scandinavia House in New York. However, it will also be available via streaming video.

And, if you’re interested in how books have been selling and what authors earn, here’s another article on book sales and author’s earnings in 2017-2018 Author earnings report January2018

Note at the end of this article, the author says income depends a lot on the type of book, even within the fiction category. (And, as we know, romance sells.)

I do like to encourage people when they say they want to write a book, but I also want them to be aware of the realities of this profession. Simply writing a book does not guarantee wealth.

That said, I know if the person really has the urge to write, this won’t stop her or him. And, of course, we all have the hope that our next book will be the one that reaches #1 on the best sellers’ lists and makes us millions of dollars.







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8 Responses to Why Write a Book?

  1. Great post Maris!
    So much interesting information. I agree that people need to be aware of the whole picture if they choose to write.
    Good luck and God’s blessings

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Pamela. I hope the Authors’ Guild posts a summary of that seminar they’re holding. I’d love to see what ideas they come up with to help us make more money.

  2. Very few writers become bestselling authors who earn lots of money. But it is possible. I think for most of us we just need to write and money is not our major consideration.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I agree, Jacqueline. I would love to be making 68k a year with my books, but not even coming close to that amount hasn’t stopped me from writing.

  3. Income never has and never would have stopped me. If you are a born writer, you will write, even knowing the income might not be that great. Even if you make good money, every year is vastly different from the one before or the one coming. It all depends on pub dates, how many books a year you write, what your contract says about timing of payments, and whether or not it’s a contract year (in which case you make more because of advances). New writers need to remember that those advances have to be earned out before they will make one more cent on the contracted book(s), and it will take from one to three years to see any additional money on the contracted book(s) because of that earn-out ageement. Anything extra comes from royalties from older books, so you’d better write a LOT of books over a LOT of years if you want to make a living at it. Very rarely will any writer make big bucks on one or two books unless they get very, very, very lucky. I have always preached to new writers – “Never quit your day job after writing just one or two books. NEVER.” I make good money now, but I’ve been writing almost 40 years and have 68 books in print. That should explain it all. You had better love to write

  4. Nan Lundeen says:

    Creative writing is to me a way of processing life. After 30 years of writing what newspaper editors required of me as a reporter, it is such a blessing to be able to write my own “stuff” now without having to worry about making a living. Of course, it means living on a fixed income. That’s the trade-off. I’m grateful for a royalty here & there. Good luck to those of you who write for money!

    • Maris Soule says:

      I agree, Nan, that it’s a real blessing not to have to publish and sell to survive. I know I find it a relief. Nevertheless, I wish you much success, both professionally and financially.