Making money as a writer

June 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm (Advanced/Publication, Writing Advice, Writing Ranting)

Someone on a writing forum said they “need” to finish their novel, both because the story won’t let them go and because they need the money.

This is some of what I said, which clearly not enough people are saying:

First rule of writing is never ever write for money. Here’s some reasons, as briefly and coldly stated as possible:

1. Publishers lose money on most of the books they produce (it’s the few bestsellers that keep them from going bankrupt). The market is just not big enough (think, for example, of how many books YOU have bought in the last year – and as a writer you’re a much more avid reader than 99% of the population). This means the advance is usually all the author gets. Which means (a) small publisher = small advance, so that won’t work for you (nor with print on demand or self-publishing, which despite the much-repeated success stories are MUCH less likely to get any money at all), and (b) your total profit for your book will be between $3000 and $10,000. Keep in mind that most writers tend to average a book a year IF they write full time.

2. You are not special. Major publishers receive literally hundreds of manuscripts each week. I recently went to a conference where there was a higher-up from a major publishing house (I don’t want to name them, but I guarantee you’d recognise the name). She mentioned that they’d just had a five year period where they did not publish a single book from the slush pile. She was excited because they’d changed their slushpile system and had published three whole slushpile books in two years. She was super pleased about that. . . . which works out to a one in 10,000 chance of publication….in a good year.

3. I personally have done okay as a writer. I’ve won or placed in more contests than I can remember without referring to notes (including three or four longer-manuscript contests). Five of my books have been recommended for publication by five different manuscript assessors. Publishers have requested the full manuscript after seeing sample chapters (this happens to about 5% of manuscripts in the slush pile – the rest just aren’t very good) more than twenty times.

Altogether I’ve written thirteen novels over thirteen years. At least one of them has been to an acquisitions meeting at a world famous publisher (ie when the head publishers sit down with books that deserve publication, and decide which ones to publish). Not a single one is published.

So don’t write for money. Third world sweatshops pay better – literally.

You will probably never be published.
If you are, you probably won’t get a career (a publisher probably won’t make money on you, therefore will not publish you again – even though it’s a series).
If you are extremely successful, you’ll probably earn around $5000/year.

I’ve probably given you a pretty bad day – but wouldn’t you rather know now than after thirteen years of trying?



By all means, write. But write for love.


  1. Jolyon said,

    • Louise Curtis said,

      Jolyon: Thank you, and good timing for today’s entry.

  2. Who am I? The rebooted identity « Louise Curtis said,

    […] is disabusing new writers of the notion that they’re about to become rich and famous, and the latest expression of that obsession was somewhat tactless and made several people on a writing forum quite angry. It always freaks me […]

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