Where Personal and Professional Life Collide...

My life in 8 words: Organized chaos, by preference. Exhausting, but never boring

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Boosting the signal, and commentary: C.E. Murphy's "a momentary reality check"
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Preface:  I am normally of the "it's none of your business how much I earn, any more than how much you earn is any of my business" mindset.  But... maybe this will help people understand.  Or not.  I don't know.

mizkit posted about writerly income at a momentary reality check and I'm reposting here because, well, WHAT SHE'S SAYING.  Never mind Rowling, King, Brown, etc.  Ain't nobody 'cept those very few getting rich at this job.  Damned few of us are earning above the poverty line (Federal standards: $12-15k per household of 1, $23-25k for a family of 3).

Catie and I are on a similar track (well, substitute two needy felines for a kid, and remove the spouse), and we are among the fortunate ones, at this point in time, in that we can say that we make an actual living out of this gig.

Averaging the past five years, I'm making around $45k/year, after my agency's 15% commission but before taxes.  After-taxes would make you cry, no lie. Freelancer taxes are hell.  I write more slowly than Catie does, which means I have fewer opportunities to sell, but I have my editorial sideline (5-10k of that pre-tax 45) which is why I can (almost) afford to live in NYC.*

(EtA: I also have multiple streams of writing income, between NYC, BookViewCafe, and direct-to-market)

As a point of comparison, the median family income in 2011 (most recent official numbers) was $61,455.   There are benefits to this gig, but a fat paycheck is rarely one of them.

Keep in mind that writers (all freelancers) are not eligible for unemployment insurance if we lose our job, and every year that's a very real risk.  So every year you're also (hopefully, ideally) squirreling away for the inevitable Really Bad Year(s).  As they say in the financials, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

(everything that follows beneath the cut is Catie's original post.  or you can go read it here directly.)

*and before anyone says "oh but why do you live in NYC if it's so expensive?"... because this is my home, and where my family lives.

Catie says....We’re looking for somewhere new to rent, and I mumbled about a lovely place that costs an impractical, um, *checks conversion rate*, $2350 a month. This caused someone (that I have known since childhood, so while it was cheeky, well, actually, total strangers ask these questions too, so) to ask the following question, and since I wrote out the answer anyway, I thought I might as well post it.

“I thought successful authors like yourself made a lot of money? Am I way off base?”

Yes. :)

Here. I’ll talk some real numbers.

For example: my most recent 3 year average income is about $47K gross, which sounds pretty good. However, that’s with my best *ever* year of writing income as part of the average. If I take that year away and factor in something more normal, my 3 year average is more like $34K, which still isn’t half bad, but it’s not stupendous amounts of money.

But that’s gross. Before I ever even see that, 15% goes to my agent’s commission, which brings a more normal average year down to about $29K. Then you convert it to euros, which on average takes about 30% away from the take-home, which puts it at about €20K. It’s a living, but it’s not what most people would call a lot of money.

Furthermore, I write fast. Less fast now that I’ve had a kid, but I still write fast, around 300,000 words/3 books a year. So if you pretend the money you’re getting paid is for the book you’re working on right now (which is really not how it works, but that’s a different long story) that’s about $10K (or €6.7K) per book. And again, I write fast, so a 100K book (an average Walker Papers novel, for example) takes me 100 hours.

That makes my hourly rate look really good, even if you add another 50 hours on top of that for revision and editing and everything. But I rarely get to write a book in a straight shot, so it’s usually more like 6-12 weeks of work. I mean, I can and have and no doubt will again do 10-12 hour writing days for several days on end, but a more normal (pre-child) writing schedule was about 4-5 hours a day. Which is not, I realize, something to cry in one’s beer about. :) But the point is a great hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of cash, because of how the system works.

The people you hear about who make a lot of money? JK Rowling, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Michael Connolly? They’re the outliers. Writers’ lives and incomes are not like they’re portrayed in the media or movies. They’re the rock stars compared to the garage bands.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Thanks for posting about this. People really have no clue how much (or how little) writers make ;o)

I am actively trying to destigmatize the discussion of personal finances - I think we're collectively doing ourselves a disservice by being so reticent on the topic because... capitalism?

I suspect less capitalism and more materialism, which is NOT the same thing, really..

Good point, but I think a nontrivial facet of each is driven by the other, though the fractions can definitely be argued, and vary among participants. :-)

I'll note that not discussing one's finances in broad terms is generally a middle-class value; the super wealthy have their estimated net worth published publicly and people solidly out of middle class on the other end seem to be free with how much they got per hour at various jobs.

There's probably all sorts of reasons why money is such a taboo topic among people that have a reasonable lifestyle but still need to earn money paycheck to paycheck.

Generally, dentists, bricklayers, etc don't get asked (by friends or total strangers) how much they make....

this is going to be rambly and weird


2013-05-22 05:12 pm (UTC)

At a guess, the biggest reason is shame.

As someone more or less without any, I'll use myself as an example. :-)

We (speaking broadly as a suburb-raised, middle-class white guy, and trying not to extrapolate over-broadly; this is mostly me talking about people/guys like me, the "american default setting" narrator... privilege of that statement position most thoroughly acknowledged)... are shamed by debt that doesn't exist as pending equity (and even this is mostly "mortgage ok, car payment less-ok").

there are lots of pressures to be debt-free, both in terms of sustainability in the face of loss of income, perceived responsibility (living within one's means), and flexibility (to buy or do stuff)... leavened with both materialistic pressures (both in favor and against) and long-term planning goals.

if you present as middle-class, the assumption is that you're on top of your finances, either being revolving-debt-free, or having a firm plan for getting there... and a lot of people aren't, and are ashamed of that situation.

destigmatizing it will allow people to talk about it, which means we can share ideas and coping strategies and, hell, just recognize that we're not alone.

debt is the depression of the financial arena, in that it can lurk, and drag on us, and is a lot more ubiquitous than a lot of folks think in terms of "my friends are dealing with this" and not "this amorphous, faceless chunk of society/the economy is dealing with this".

(i speak as someone who has struggled with and, most days, overcome mild to moderate depression, and who crawled out from under $20,000 in debt that got dropped on me... neither was enjoyable, both had short- and long-term costs in terms of my attitudes and how i live; your situation is your own, but if my data point provides you some leverage to move in a direction of your choosing, that's all i could hope for.)

Thanks for posting this.

In a similar vein, I had a discussion with a neighbor --who I'm pretty sure didn't vote for our recent school levy-- about how much the assistants who help special needs kids make. He seemed to think that since they were teachers, they make a "lot of money". I knew for a fact that the special needs assistants make not too much more than minimum wage, and said so. He mumbled something in return about "well, I don't know about that" and the conversation dropped. Some folks simply have no idea how little some of these jobs actually pay.

These guys don't want to know and will lock their minds shut if you try to tell them.

One of the boarders in my horse barn does that exact job. She makes just above minimum wage. Is not paid for vacations or sick days. Has to get a second job during summer break (had to turn down the one that wanted her to pay $150 to purchase her own security and ID cards, because funding got cut and that amount would render the rest of the pittance they pay basically nonexistent--for two months' work). Babysits, housesits, teaches riding lessons on a friend's horses (she pays the friend a commission), does a part-time paper route that involves being out all night before she leaves for her "real" job at 6:30 a.m., does whatever else she can to keep her ancient car running and her rent and horse board paid. She's looking to finish her nursing degree (had to stop when the funding ran out) so she can earn a more decent living working just one job. And maybe, someday, get some sleep once in a while.

I want to spit at people who talk the way your neighbor talks. And they are legion.

It is a reality check - especially when I moan about how badly I'm doing and for similar amounts (I'd have to check the exact exchange rate)you are doing well...

Hah! Yes, that's an interesting aspect, isn't it? What constitutes doing well in one field vs in another. It's all kind of augh!

Call me crazy, but I find this heartening in the sense that you are making a decent living and you can live in NYC and you still have work rolling in. Of course, there's a lot more than that going on and it's not without its perils (and one of course wants to be an outlier), but...nonetheless, in this time and this economy, heartening.

I will admit that from October through January is an ongoing underlying (and sometimes overt) panic attack over the next year's budget....

What?!? You're trying to tell me you don't all live the fabulous, carefree life of Richard Castle?!? :)

Granted, I'm in the camp of fans who are still baffled that neither you nor Catie aren't regular members of the NYT's best seller list.

I realize there are different tax rates for 1099 forms and self-employed people, but the UI payments is one thing I don't tend to think about -- Which has me now wondering about some of the other benefits most full time employees tend to take for granted, like health care. Granted, I know that there are a lot of companies who are shuffling hours around to try and avoid paying for those benefits -- some even before the AFCA went into effect.

But, I know that often individual health insurance can be priced higher than a group insurance, even if it's only a
group of two people. Is there any association, co-op or
similiar organization that you know of were writers join
in order to group discounts on insurance premiums or other
benefits generally made more affordable by a group?

But, I know that often individual health insurance can be priced higher than a group insurance, even if it's only a
group of two people. Is there any association, co-op or
similiar organization that you know of were writers join
in order to group discounts on insurance premiums or other
benefits generally made more affordable by a group?

Prior to the Affordable Care act (aka "ObmaCare") very few insurance companies offered plans to the self-employed/freelancers, and those plans tended to be very expensive and cover very little. And if you had a pre-existing condition? Forgetaboutit.

I get my insurance via Freelancers' Guild, which - because it pulls in ALL freelancers - was large enough to be able to create a decent-sized pool and therefore get semi-reasonable terms. I still pay $350/month for basic coverage, and have a large deductible. FG started in the NYC area but is trying to spread throughout the US (it's in Oregon and CT, I think, and a few other states now). Other orgs have offered/tried to offer plans, but it's been an uphill struggle....

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