Some Economic Straight Talk: The Economics of Frugality, Abundance, and Creativity

photo by PT Money
photo by PT Money

When I was growing up, in addition to avoiding the traditionally forbidden topics of sex, politics, and religion, my family added money to that list. I suspect my family was not alone in this.

The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to make solid, informed decisions about our careers when so much of the financial realities are clouded in uncertainty or hyperbole. There has been a lot written recently discussing the earning potential of self published authors, but what do the earnings of a slow build, mid-list, traditionally published author look like?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of that, it’s important to keep in mind that ebooks are still only a relatively small percentage of overall books sold—somewhere between 15-25%, depending on who you talk to and which numbers you go by, and Amazon sales as a percentage of total books sold is 27-30%. So while self publishing and e-only publishing numbers are by all accounts going up and up, there are still some places where traditional book sales are stronger. These percentages will depend a lot on your genre, as well as your publisher and their sales strengths. Interestingly, this is reflected in Bookscan numbers, with some titles’ Bookscan numbers only being 25-35% of their total sales, and other titles’ Bookscan numbers being fairly accurate for total books sold.

Real, solid numbers and info on advances and traditionally published earnings information can be hard to come by, in part because few people like to discuss their finances in so open a manner, but also because of the nature of publishing. Many contracts preclude the author discussing their advance, and even if it’s not forbidden, many are hesitant to do so, afraid they will dispel the romance and mystique of their actual place in the publishing pecking order.

Since my own experience is with middle grade and YA, that is what I am most familiar with. If there can be said to be any averages in publishing, then the average kid lit advances look something like this:

Middle grade (ages 8-12) advance $4,000-$10,000

YA advance $7,500-$25,000

There are other resources out there for other genres such as Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money which is a survey of Romance advances and earnings, and Tobias Buckell’s survey on the advances of SF/F.

Which brings us again to the question of what those numbers might translate into over time. Well, Dear Reader, they probably look something like this . . . (prepare to be underwhelmed)

I sold my first book in 2002, and my writing income over the years has been as follows:

2002      $ 5,187

2003      $ 8,353

2004      $27,500 (Yay! Sold a trilogy)

2005      $ 4,142

2006      $ 12,841

2007      $15,282

2008      $28,470 (I had to augment that writing income with 2nd job because we had two kids in college that year. Ouch.)

2009      $58,516  (This was a BIG school visit year and I sold a second series. I also quit that second job.)

2010       $ 47,590

2011      $ 64,579

Not exactly a nice, steady stream, is it? Lots and lots of dry years, definitely. (2005 was particularly grim.) One of the saving graces was that in our family budgeting, I was only responsible for bringing in a part time salary. Additionally, while I had lots of skills, none of them really screamed HIGH PAYING JOB in the workplace. So it wasn’t like I was giving up a six figure income someplace else in order to work for those early peanuts.

For a second look at a similar career path, another author who has been very generous in disclosing her annual earnings information is Laura Salas, who discusses her 2012 earnings here.

Let’s say you were to sell a trilogy in a three book deal at $15,000 per book for a total of $45,000! First of all, we’d all congratulation you and lift a glass in your honor! Next, it would be time to call your accountant and find out your tax obligations. No, seriously. That’s the first thing you need to do.

The good news is, with a fairly modest traditional deal, we’ll put you in the 20% tax bracket. But even before we do that, we’ll need to give your agent her cut of 15%. Your share of each book is now $12,750, or $38,250 for the trilogy.

NOW we’ll take out your 20% taxes, leaving you with a grand total of $30,600 or $10,000 per book. These advances will be broken into thirds, and paid out as follows: 1/3 of each book on the signing of the contract, 1/3 of each book when you deliver the manuscript and the publisher accepts it (D&A in publishing parlance) then the final 1/3 when the book publishes.

Broken down by year, it would look something like this:

2014            $10,000 on contract signing  + $3,400 for D&A of Bk 1 = $13,400

2015            $3,400 for pub of Bk 1 + $3,400 for D&A of Bk 2 = $6,800

2016            $3,400 for pub of Bk 2 + $3,400 for D&A of Bk 3 = $6,800

2017            $3,400 for publication of book three = $3,400

Then of course, there are the mega deals nearly all aspiring authors dream of. But keep mind that those are paid out over time with a very structured payment schedule. Additionally, these bigger deals aren’t paid in three installments as laid out above, but instead are broken down even further into four installments, with the final fourth paid out on the publication of the paperback. So your mega deal might look something like this:

Three book trilogy for $550,000.
Minus Agent commission of 15% = $467,000
Minus 30% taxes = $360,000 (it would actually be $327,000 but I’m going to use a round number to make the rest of the math easier.)

2014            $90,000 on signing


2015            $30,000 on D&A for bk 1 + $30,000 for hdbk pub = $60,000


2016            $30,000 on D&A for bk 2 + $30,000 for hdbk pub of bk 2 + $30,000 pbk pub bk 1 = $90,000


2017            $30,000 on D&A of bk 3 + $30,000 for hdbk pub of bk 3 +$30,000 pbk pub bk 2  = $90,000


2018            $30,000 on pbk publication of bk 3 = $30,000


So as you can see, it is fairly well spread out. (Also, clearly I need to learn how to make tables in WordPress!)

But there can be an enormous downside to those big deals, not the least of which is the intense pressure for your books to perform. A vast majority of novels do not earn out their advance. This can be especially shocking if you are one of the lucky few to have gotten a major deal. For a frank, candid look at such a reality, read Jessica Spotswood’s wonderfully honest post here. (Be sure to read the comments for other authors weighing in on their experiences as well.)

Now clearly the earnings I shared with you were nothing spectacular, and yet I was able to build a hugely satisfying, creative life around them. The thing is, my life could be seen as a financially barren life, or it could be viewed as a creatively rich one. (Also? I realize I was incredibly lucky in having a spouse who shouldered the majority of the financial burden for so many years. He’s a walking National Foundation of the Arts, he is.) While I may have been strapped for cash, I was rich in writing time and being able to wallow in what I most love to do. Because here is an important thing we all tend to lose sight of:

Money’s only value lies in what it allows us to acquire—whether that is food and shelter, material goods, prestige, a sense of worth, or time.

And some of those things don’t even require money to obtain.

Prestige may or may not follow. Whether you write romance or YA or westerns, there is always someone out there ready, willing, and able to disparage your genre. Self published authors face an additional hurdle of often being dismissed, although that is thankfully beginning to change. And if you possess two X chromosomes, well, prestige may well be harder to come by than that original publishing contract ever was.

Which is a long, convoluted way of saying to be wary of what hidden emotional pay off you are expecting from your writing, for it may not follow.

As luck would have it, I’m not particularly high maintenance, so it has been easy to adopt a fairly frugal lifestyle. Aside from my extravagance for books and expensive mascara, I have simple tastes and aspirations. I wear jeans and yoga pants and t-shirts. We have two twelve year old cars and rarely go on vacation.

Plus? It has been oh-so-easy to view every expense in terms of the writing time it bought me: I could have a new car or twelve more months of creative freedom. I chose creative freedom every. single. time.

I have come to define wealth as having unstructured, minimally committed time to do my writing unencumbered by deadlines or contracts. This is a relatively new development, actually. Once, contracts were the Holy Grail I was constantly seeking, but over time, our goals and definitions of happiness often shift and evolve, and mine definitely did.

But also, in this day of self publishing, there are more options available. It used to be there was a danger of writing an entire novel on spec, only to be unable to find a home for it. Now, with self publishing, there is another option available to help augment that financial risk.

Something that is often lost in a lot of these conversations about money is that economics isn’t just about money, but about time. It is that same economic equation that prevents me from going the self publishing route at this point in my career. There are already so very many demands on a traditionally published author’s time, I can’t even imagine adding the role of managing editor, art director, and publisher to that mix. It would impinge far too heavily on my writing energies. But that’s me and my choice, yours may be entirely different.

This is where it is essential to do some long hard thinking about how you want writing and publishing to fit into your life and what you would like it to bring you. You need to understand what your priorities are so you can spend what time, money, and energy you have on them rather than pursuing something by default.

Some people have enough self knowledge to understand that they will never quit their day job—they need it for balance, structure, and financial security. The weight of financial pressures would utterly strangle their writing, so being a full time writer isn’t even on their radar. Other people know they can only juggle both their day job, writing, and family demands for a finite time before they become exhausted, so having writing become their day job is essential.

As writers, we need to ask ourselves some probing questions. What do we want out of our writing career? What about writing is most important to us? The act of it? Or is it a means to some other end? And what are we willing to sacrifice—if anything—in order to make that dream a reality?

What are ways you can create some creative freedom in your life? Sometimes it’s a matter of taking a lower paying, less demanding job that allows you to conserve brain power for early morning or late night writing sessions. Sometimes it’s paying a babysitter to buy yourself the time you need, realizing you’re investing in a career as well as your sanity and self actualization. Sometimes it’s going without things we’ve come to see as necessities—a daily latte, a new car every four years, designer whatever.

Living somewhere cheap is also a great strategy. As is being the person who stays home with the kids. See if you can structure your work life to maximize earnings efficiency while also maximizing writing time. Working four ten hour days, for example. Opt for humbler living accommodations when possible. Get up earlier. Give up TV, the internet.

Remember, being frugal—whether with time or money—in one area of your life is what can allow you to experience abundance in another area—one that is more at important to your dreams, and aspirations.






About Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers is the author of fourteen books for young readers, including the Theodosia and Nathaniel Fludd series. Her most recent book, GRAVE MERCY, is a young adult romance about assassin nuns in medieval France. A lifelong introvert, she currently lives on a blissfully quiet hill in Southern California.


  1. says

    “Ebooks are still only a relatively small percentage of overall books sold—somewhere between 15-25%, depending on who you talk to and which numbers you go by, and Amazon sales as a percentage of total books sold is 27-30%.”

    Hugh Howey’s author earnings survey of Amazon’s top-selling 7,000 books pegs it as much, much higher.

    In fact, a great debate is going on now over the advantages New York publishing gives an author. With advances crashing and the pressure to sell so high, there are questions whether it’s even worth pursuing it.

    • says

      I know it does, Bill. That’s why I gave both a range and qualified it by saying depending on whose numbers you use. There is a terrific comment on that post that also gives some reasons why traditional publishing need not be written off so quickly.

      However, this post is more about weighing our own economic priorities to make the best choices that make sense for US, rather than a traditional vs. epublishing debate. :-)

    • says

      Also, Bill, it depends on what you are writing. Robin writes for kids, and most kids don’t have ereaders yet, so the percentages you can expect in ebooks is a lot less than you can for the kind of adult genre fiction Hugh Howey and similar write. In Middle Grade, especially, ebooks hardly make a dent, and you are really very much beholden to school and library sales, book fairs, etc. As a YA author, only one of my books has even broken double digits in terms of ebook percentage of sales, and my publisher and I believe this to be a factor of adults reading this one teen title.

      On my indie side (I’m a hybrid author), my adult romance novel is 99% ebook sales.

      So it varies and what is good in one situation is not good in another, which is why I am, in fact, a hybrid author.

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing your financials and for inspiring some perspective on expectations for debut authors. Like you, I’m lucky enough to have a spouse who shoulders the larger share of family finances so I have time to write.

    Thanks for reminding us that there’s always something else to think about when we read about those big deals in PW.

  3. says

    Pretty amazing post here. All those numbers, I tend to glaze over. I like the questions you bring up for writers: What do we want out of our writing career? What about writing is most important to us? The act of it? Or is it a means to some other end?” Really good points! Thank you, Robin.

    • says

      You’re welcome, Paula! (And sorry about the number overload–it may have given me a teensy bit of a headache trying to pull all those together. )

  4. says

    Fascinating! I’m also a freelancer with a job on the side and a husband who supports the arts! I work part time as a library coordinator in an elementary school. Ironically, I just picked up this new book to read….Theodosia!!! Truly enjoying it. So, yes, your time has been well spent!

  5. Denise Willson says

    I really loved this post, Robin. Nothing better than a post that delivers the facts straight-up, yet still gives the warm-and-fuzzies. You make me proud to be a writer. Thank you.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

  6. says

    It’s important to think about the big picture of career. Thank you for this honest and insightful guide.

    Mostly this post makes me realize what a lucky guy I am. Not just because I too have a walking National Foundation of the Arts for a spouse (she really is!). But because I’ve been to the other side and I clearly know what I want out of this (all too short to be squandered) life. I’ve worked 60-70 hour weeks, and saw what was left of my time to spend what were then my lucrative earnings on. We’ve simplified. We have fewer “things” (and I never forget, that’s what they are). We pursue a more meaningful life. We are happier.

    The blurred years of hard work were not in vain. They’ve made me even luckier. I gained the gift of realization. We were lucky to have identified what was important to us while there was still time to change courses. While I want to be compensated for what I produce, that’s not my reason for producing it. I am lucky to make my career choices mostly free of the numbers.

    Thanks again for your honesty and insight, Robin! And for reminding me of my good fortune.

  7. says

    I sure related to your opening, Robin, having come from a family that avoided the F-word (finance) as if it was a tacky subject. You put much-needed perspective on the table. Thank you for that.

  8. says

    Absolutely love this, Robin! :)

    My partner and I got married young so life has basically been Frugal Living 101. And I have to agree with you completely in that money is only as valuable as what it gets you.

    Currently I’m in a season where I’m an at-home mama (ah! Where did the time go?). And I absolutely love that my undying passion (writing) can be balanced with being a mom. And my goodness! I’m married to a walking National Foundation for the Arts as well. God bless him. Honestly this post got me excited that my writing could ever garner any financial income at all. So yay!

    Anyway, wonderful post as always. Between this post and Madeliene L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, I’m more inspired than ever to utilize those naptimes for writing – the devil take the dishes. ;)

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing your financials. Big publishing has hidden their finances for so long that it’s hard for newby writers to know the norm.

    I read the Howey report, and while helpful, I also think it misses a lot of the writers in the middle. It also may extrapolate too much by using single day sales to extrapolate weekly (I know a few Bookbub number ones who don’t have weekly or monthly sales anywhere near that.)

    However, all info is important as it helps people get a better sense of the overall picture.

  10. Lisa Smith says

    Thank you, Robin. It’s good to get a peek behind the veil,
    so to speak. I am struggling at the moment with the cold reality of
    putting countless hours into writing with no paycheque in sight.
    This article gave me good food for thought.

  11. says

    Thanks, Robin, for putting these things into perspective. I tend to think (not clearly, of course, but ideally) that getting published will solve all of my problems and allow me to stay home all day and write in my pajamas… when really I’m not sure that’s sustainable. And, really, at this time in my life having no dependents, no spouse I am rich in time and creative mental space… even if the nature of my day job prevents me from spending hours in a manuscript. It’s simply how things work. Looking at things from the point of view “what do I have and how can I work with it” rather than “what would be ideal” is the true key to a creatively rich life.

    Great things to keep in mind as I continue down the really-wanna-be-published path.

  12. says

    “The thing is, my life could be seen as a financially barren life, or it could be viewed as a creatively rich one… While I may have been strapped for cash, I was rich in writing time and being able to wallow in what I most love to do.”

    This is such a helpful post on so many levels. Like many others, I imagine, I’ve had to wrestle with the question of money. As in, we have kids to raise, ballet and soccer and school to cover. How can I justify a writing life?

    But when writing is what sustains us, then we build a life that makes that work. Your post was a great reminder that it can be done. And it’s OKAY! Our battered minivan works just fine in shuttling our crew to those ballet rehearsals and soccer games! I’m good with it. Small vacations to Michigan beach towns can provide wonderful summer memories – we don’t have to fly the whole family to the other side of the world.

    These things work for us, and they provide the wiggle room to let the writing life thrive.

    I’m lucky enough to have a debut children’s novel coming out in May. And while the buildup is fun, connecting with other middle-grade authors is great, and seeing my book come to life is a dream, I know the best part for me is the quiet time spent writing and researching. That’s what satisfies my day-to-day.

    I appreciate your post!

  13. says


    You are incredibly gracious to share your financial secrets here. One of the many reasons I’m so impressed with Hugh is not because I’m “pro self” or anything, but because when established authors share (data, experience, knowledge) it helps the mountains of newbies like myself make better decisions and come into the game knowing (at least some of) the rules.

    Kudos to you. We all appreciate it more than you know!

  14. says

    Thanks, Robin. I’m going to use some of your statistics (with attribution) in a writer’s workshop I’m currently giving. Women want to know what it feels like to hold a book in their hands. Men want to know the ROI. Odd, the men all think their wives should write the next great best seller… Hmm, must be a hidden message here.

  15. says


    I noticed something about the trend in your income: It’s going up.

    Small business owners would be familiar with your growth curve. Heck, I’m familiar with it myself. My first decade as a literary agent looked not unlike yours. It’s 34 years along now, so the numbers are somewhat better, thank goodness, but I’m acquainted with Uncle Frugal.

    Other small business owners are like that too. Independent restaurants take a while to find their audience, craftspeople hawk their own wares, musician, dancers and actors struggle and hang on to their day jobs.

    No one boo-hoos for them. They’re doing what they love in a highly, highly competitive business. And do you know what–? The passionate ones stick with it and grow. They get better. They find success: artistic, financial, and sometimes both.

    Income growth for dedicated fiction writers, I find, is a rising curve. At the beginning of the curve the slope feels long and flat. But then something happens and the incline steepens, rising faster each year.

    What happens? I’ll bet you can guess. And no, it’s not self-publishing. It’s a leap in craft and a greater commitment to storytelling.

    Robin, I’m going to sound off for a minute. Please bear with me?

    My friends at WU: Do not for a moment believe that self-publishing is the magic answer to all of a writers frustrations. It can work for some, it’s an option, but it’s not inevitably the future of the industry and it’s not an easy road to riches for anyone, even those whose genres naturally do better as e-books.

    That is not to say that print publishing with the Big 5 is a big old party, either. Follow Robin’s links and see.

    Here’s what to remember: You are making entertainment, art, or both. There’s a surplus on the market. Getting noticed isn’t easy. Not everyone who likes novels will like yours. You are not guaranteed a good income–or any. Discouragement is a fact of the profession.

    Above all, you are in business for yourself. The industry is merely a conduit to the only transaction that matters, the one between you and a reader. Does self-publishing remove barriers? Does print publishing ease connecting?

    You decide, but the data is overwhelming. Whatever your road to publication it is your writing that sells your books, wins fans and brings them back for more.

    Look at it this way: your book does not become a better book just because it’s on a Kindle. Nor does paper and binding make it better reading.

    Only you do that. I think I know why your income is rising, Robin. In fact, I’m sure of it. I’ve read your work.

    • says

      I love when you “sound off.” I learn so much. The one constant in your shares is that there is a growth curve in a writing career like any other profession and that successful writers build audiences with continued work. Thanks again for sharing your valuable wisdom and experience.

  16. says

    Thanks for your willingness to share with us, Robin. I came to the conclusion long ago that there would be no walking away from my engineering career, especially after having purchased the house and cars that go along with it. My goal is to write good books. If there’s a little cash bonus, I’ll happily pay off a loan. My side-job, writing marketing papers for businesses, probably pays more that a novel will. But I’ll continue to work on my first love, in the hopes that it will keep me out of my wife’s hair in retirement and possibly finance our trips south each winter. I’m richly blessed already. I can hardly complain if I never see my name on a book jacket.

  17. says

    A good dose of reality, Robin, but of all the things you said, the one which struck was this: “Which is a long, convoluted way of saying to be wary of what hidden emotional pay off you are expecting from your writing, for it may not follow.”

    There are many disillusioned writers out there, and yes, absolutely, sometimes they’ve been abused or misused by the industry. But other times they’re upset about an unrecognized or intangible need that wasn’t met by their publishing journey; rather than go inwards and seek change and self-knowledge, they push the blame onto others. As more authors go hybrid or begin by self-publishing, it’ll be interesting to see how that might change. As the old saying goes, everywhere you go, there you are.

    As for myself, I know I’ve uncovered iceberg beliefs and expectations through blogging. (This is one of those side benefits to building a platform, IMHO, that has nothing to do with cultivating an audience or building craft!) Hopefully I’ve exposed and dealt with most of them before being published.

  18. says

    Robin, thank you for a wonderful post. I see after those lean years your income is rising steadily. I see a steady growth pattern in mine as well, though no quantum leaps yet.

    You hit the nail on the head though –evaluating what time and money are worth. My husband and I have been able to live modestly on his income so that I can stay home with the children. Vacations are generally camping trips. We cook instead of eating out. And no TV = music and games and writing time.

  19. says

    Well said, indeed!!

    The supportive spouse or partner? The value of that can’t be quantified with $, really. For the last few years I’ve made more money than my husband, but without his steady job/health insurance, I don’t know if I’d have the peace of mind to engage in this risky business we’re in! I sure as heck wouldn’t have started down this road without it.

  20. says

    Oh, Robin, how I love you for sharing information like this! As depressing and balloon-popping as it is, it’s necessary stuff to understand.

    I also love Don’s response, which is so astute – your persistence and talent and passion for what you’re doing is paying off, as shown by the upward curve in your earnings.

    I salute you!!!

  21. says

    I have so many things I want to say about this post! Which means it’s a great one, so thank you Robin!

    1) I worked a day job as an HR professional and wrote alongside that job for years and years. It was not easy. But I did it because I had to. I quit my day job in January 2010 and have now been a full-time author for four years, and like Robin, my income has steadily increased every year. This is a good thing because we rely on my income to help pay the bills (and very soon, we will also have two kids in college. Gulp).

    2) The thing you have to remember about this writing thing, though, is that *most of the time* not a ton changes once you get that contract or once your books hit the shelves. I feel like a lot of people have a belief that things will be better, somehow. They’ll feel better about themselves. People will look at them differently – in a more positive light. Or maybe they’ll be one of the few that does make some good money. The ego loves the idea of a published book, that’s for sure.

    3) For me, the “better part” is not about any of that. It’s that I’m there for my family in a way I couldn’t be when I was working full-time (and writing in the very early morning hours). AND the better part is that I really do love the act of creating – of writing. Most days I think to myself – I LOVE MY JOB. (Most days because, you know, every job, even writing, has its bad days).

    I agree, Robin – it is important to ask ourselves what we want out of our writing career. And if the answer is fame and/or fortune, I would just warn to be careful about what you give up trying to get there.

  22. says


    “I have come to define wealth as having unstructured, minimally committed time to do my writing unencumbered by deadlines or contracts. This is a relatively new development, actually. Once, contracts were the Holy Grail I was constantly seeking, but over time, our goals and definitions of happiness often shift and evolve, and mine definitely did.”

    This is where I am, too. I need to write whole books and then decode what to do with them.

    An insanely valuable post, Robin. Thanks so much for writing it.

    • says

      I stopped on the same line Barbara noted here: “I have come to define wealth as having unstructured, minimally committed time to do my writing unencumbered by deadlines or contracts.” Mmm. That is indeed a lovely idea. I would like that wealth.

      Thank you for this honest, informative, insightful post, Robin.

  23. says

    Thanks for your post – and sharing such personal information.

    This is my creed: choosing creative freedom every. single. time.

    I’ve found a way to freelance in my field. I sell my soul and work for a couple of months, then I take off a few months to write and feed my soul. Fortunately, the time I have to spend working in offices is getting shorter and shorter.

    In life there are always sacrifices. For me, writing will never be one of them.

  24. says

    “Money’s only value lies in what it allows us to acquire.”

    You just completely shifted my mindset. I had no idea I was so rich.

  25. says

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s a reminder of why I’m doing this now. As in, debut author who has reinvented herself very late in life. Like you, I am not in this for the money but the sheer joy of the journey. It truly is a boatload of fun and I’m old enough now to appreciate that fact.

  26. Marcy McKay says

    Thank you for pulling back the curtain to show us the truth, Robin. I admire your courage to tell it like it is. Although e-Books are still a relatively small %…there still going up! I like writers have more choices and more power than ever before.

  27. says

    This is a great post. So often I see writers hoping for an advance that will allow them to quit their job. But for most of us, big $ aren’t the reality. My goal has always been to make the life fit the writing. To depend on money as little as possible, even before I was published. My partner is great for helping me with plot and other support, but he’s had severe arthritis since childhood so he’s on disability, which makes for a steady but very small income. I was 17 when we got together so I knew going into adulthood that I could pretty much only depend on myself for any financial success, but that I also wanted creative freedom more than anything else.

    So I’ve pretty much structured my life the opposite of the usual American way.

    I avoided debt like the plague. Didn’t go to college. Didn’t even have a credit card until I had to build credit to buy a house. I learned to cook as soon as I moved out, I buy all my clothes (and a lot of other things, too) at thrift stores, I rarely take a vacation that doesn’t involve crashing on someone’s couch (though I also rock at Priceline’s Name Your Own Price hotel rooms), and I make heavy use of libraries instead of buying many books. When I was lucky enough to get a six figure advance, I put 20% down on a house of my own in a cheap county. Now that I have some land I’m trying to learn to grow some of my own food, and I already round up the mortgage payment every month even though money is super tight, but if I get $100k extra in writing income over the next however many years, I could pay off the mortgage, get proper insulation for this drafty old place, and put solar panels on the roof, at which point I could live comfortably on about $1000 a month (except for the unexpected stuff), so that is my current dream.

    This means, of course, that I don’t go out a lot. I don’t go on many vacations and retreats and research trips compared to other writers. I rarely shop for fun. But, there are not many people who can say that at 32 they have NEVER worked a full-time job. I’m rich in time, and I have everything I need. It’s a challenging way to live at times. There are things I wish I had. I’d love to go to Europe, do more traveling, which I think is so good for the soul. It’s not a lifestyle everyone would want, certainly it favors the introverted unless you have equally cheap friends, and it works better if you don’t have kids (although I pretty much learned how to live on the cheap from my mom, and I’ve picked up tips from self-sufficient/cheap mom blogs, so…it’s possible). But I do think structuring your life around living cheap instead of around making as much money as possible would be a wise outlook for more young people, especially those of a creative bent. You only can be sure of living once, so what’s most important?

    I thought this was going to be a short comment. >_<;;

  28. says

    Thank you Robin for this extremely detailed and thorough report on the payments involved in getting published. I’ve bookmarded this for future reference.

  29. says

    I would trade that 12 year old car for your writing career too. I recently asked your ponderous questions and, after I did, I became happier when writing and more realistic about the phantom chase for those golden carrots, like mega deals. Perhaps I already grabbed the biggest carrot when I followed my dream to write. That said, it is funny how I can make myself absolutely miserable following a dream even when the six-figure job I left made me beyond miserable — but I loved the paychecks, don’t get me wrong! Anyway, I’m not a spring chicken so I have learned that it usually takes 15 years to be an overnight success. I have three down and twelve to go! The car will be older . . .

  30. Terry White says

    In the early 1990s, with two sons in grade school and my stay-at-home wife five months pregnant, I left a successful sales career to enter the world of publishing.

    Though not for a book—a game; a table-top parlor game.

    Both the unknown and the satisfaction of creating that game mirrors so much of my current experience with writing and the things said here on the pages of WU.

    At first, I self-published my game in the only way available at the time: the hard way; with components printed locally and personally assembled in a warehouse with the free-labor help of family. I then peddled it at flea markets and trade shows and landed it on the shelves of several independent specialty retailers across the country. The world was different then and with social media several years away, word-of-mouth meant one-on-one-face-to-face advertising. I simply told everybody about it.

    Like many of you say here and on your blogs about writing, my game was a thing I yearned to create, an idea that gnawed at me, one with seeds from my teenage years, one that I longed to simply share and play with family and friends.

    And my way of making that dream a reality could no way support a young family. I had to work temporary labor assignments, balancing the brief jobs I could get around out of town shows and game presentations.

    We lived frugally, but not without. Those days were truly the best of both worlds; it was no trade-off. My little ones came home everyday to a mother’s hug and I was always the dad in the back of the auditorium with the 20-pound shoulder-mounted VCR aimed at the stage. The cabinet full of videos that I plan someday to convert to DVDs prove that I never missed a school play or party or activity.

    But the impression that this was a stress-free existence would be incredibly disingenuous. I think no other woman on the planet could have lived the life my wife must have lived and it was tough imagining how my children compared what I did to what their friends’ dads did for a living. Though we owned a 1987 Jeep Cherokee and paid our mortgage, I no longer had a company car and money was scarce. I collected loose change in an antique glass jug to spend on special events and gifts. (Ah, but even today it’s habit I keep and it’s a nice surprise when all those nickels, dimes and quarters are rolled up and you have far more than you realize).

    My game was not a mass-market product, and the financial turning point came when I licensed it to a game manufacturer to handle all the production, sales, marketing, advertising, and distribution. It’s professional debut was in 1996, and it’s still on the market today, still making people laugh. It’s not Monopoly or Scrabble or Pictionary, but it was in the top five of all games sold for several years running and spent two years as the number one game in Canada, and it’s still paying my bills.

    The bottom line to my rambling here is nothing more than this: I needed professional help. My concept was sound and my game was as good as I could make it, but it wasn’t professional enough to support me financially. A manufacturer dedicated to making games knew how to tweak my game, to “edit” it properly so it would sell.

    Times are different now; digital technology is changing how new games are created and reach consumers, and in the 1970s the game industry went through a similar stir when the Atari electronic game box was introduced. Word then was that cardboard and plastic was dead and the future of new games was in electronics.

    Anybody remember “Pong”?

    Ten years after it came out, shaking the game industry to its core, the greatest selling game of all time hit the market—one made up of paper, cardboard, and plastic—and in 1984 alone, Trivial Pursuit sold a mind-boggling 20 million units. Today electronic, digital, and physical games blend together satisfying the game-playing demand.

    Granted, self-publishing a book today is far less labor and financially intensive than what I experienced with my game, but the question for me today is still the same, albeit the words are different:

    Is there something I long to write, or do I have a story people will pay to read?

    Based only on my experience shared here, I know that whatever path I take with my book that the most gut-wrenching, toughest, and important job will be the simplest in concept and the same no matter what: to pull out the absolute best story I have within me.

    And enjoy the ride.

  31. says

    Money’s only value lies in what it allows us to acquire—whether that is food and shelter, material goods, prestige, a sense of worth, or time.

    ~SO true!
    I feel very much the same as far as the luxury of time I have now. I have a day job–sort of. It’s our family cafe/music club, and it allows me to write in the mornings. I get paid in writing time. And I’ll take it! Though, I’ve yet to be published. Seems my husband is a supporter of the Arts, as well. Thanks for this post.