I’m jumping off a post over at Delusions of Grandeur to mull over something I think about now and again: the compensation writers get for their labors.  As I understand it, pro markets for short stories pay pretty much the same rate as they did 100 years or so ago, which makes short story writing something less than a path to riches – selling a story a week to a pro-paying magazine would be enough to let one hover around the poverty line.  Granted, anyone who could turn out that many good stories that fast might be able to get special rates of compensation, but then anyone with that combination of creativity and discipline would probably be able to make more money in a dozen other fields.

Novels are obviously where the big bucks are, comparatively speaking, but as the typical advance hovers around $5,000 this is all very relative.  Ah, but what of indie publishing, you say?  Don’t talk to me of meager advances given by hidebound traditional publishers, you say (I’m imagining you pounding your fist on the table as you say this, just so you know – you might want to take it down a notch).  Well, as near as I can tell, your typical fairly successful indie author makes about $5,000 per book.  Granted, they may be able to churn them out faster without someone else holding them up on the way to publication, but if they go too fast they end up turning out unedited train wrecks, which presumably cuts down on sales.  Naturally, there are examples of wildly successful indie authors, your Amanda Hockings and so on, but they should be legitimately compared the likes of Susanna Clarke or whoever, not anonymous mid-list authors (and anyway, in either case a little digging usually reveals years of toil before sudden success).

What it boils down to, I think, is that supply and demand are all out of whack.  There are so many people out there who want to be authors that readers have more things to choose from than they could possibly read in a lifetime, and thus have little incentive to pay a lot for it.  That, in turn, means neither self-publishers nor traditional publishers can charge much for any book and it takes wild success to get a something that ends up being decent compensation, when looked at as an hourly wage.  That all really means that the only people who end up being authors, for the most part, are those can’t help themselves and would be writing even if they knew there was no chance of being paid.  I know that personally I used to write without even the notion of getting published, and now I’m more concerned with getting my writing in front of the most people than making money off it.

Of course, if I meet one of those people who blunders into success writing because he thought it would be a quick way to make a buck and happened to luck into a successful formula at the right time, I will still cheerfully punch him in the nose.

~ by smwilliams on July 27, 2012.

2 Responses to “Compensation”

  1. Ah…compensation. The path to riches and fame…not.

    There’s an indie author who is currently riding a popularity wave to publication (Anthony Ryan) and he posted a while back that the secret to writing success was writing a good book. But, I think he is wrong. Writing a good book is essential, but I fear that luck has something to do with it, too. (sigh)

    (Promise not to punch me in the face when I make it big? 😉 )

    • My hope is that persistence can be substituted for luck, to some extent. And I managed to avoid punching a keynote speaker who smugly told us that the key to success in writing was networking with the right people (he didn’t mention the part about starting with a large family fortune), so really, I think the noses of most overnight successes are safe.

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