Keep Money in Its Place

writing for moneyToday I’m going to tell you the quickest way to drive yourself crazy and lose the joy in your writing journey.

You thought I was going to say “Reading agent blogs,” right? Good guess, but no, that’s not it.

The quickest way to lose the joy is to expect that your first book contract is going to solve some kind of financial problem in your life.

Lately with the economy being rough on so many people, I’ve noticed that some writers who’ve been working at this awhile and feel like they’re getting “close” to having something published are harboring unrealistic expectations about the financial end of being an author. Their entire process of writing and rewriting and preparing proposals (etc.) is overlaid with this pressure and this anxiety—this need to sell, and sell soon, because they really need the money.

Now believe me, I know what it’s like to need money. Take it from someone who began a new business right at the moment the economy tanked—I understand things are rough out there.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that newer writers, especially those who don’t have a book published yet, need to keep a clean separation between their writing goals and their financial goals. At least in the short term, keep your writing life separate from your financial anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly legitimate to have long-term goals that include making some percentage of your income from writing books. You may even have the goal of being able to write books full time and quit your day job. But your short-term goal should never be “Get a contract for this book so we can get out of this financial jam we’re in.

I’ve found that when the writing is all mixed up in your mind with a financial need, especially a need that’s fraught with anxiety, the writing suffers. Not only that, but the joy is diminished, because the goal has changed (maybe without your even knowing it) from “write a great book” to “pay off my MasterCard.” And when that fantastic day comes and you finally get your first book contract, instead of being able to experience the joy of attaining a long-held goal, you’ll be asking yourself if the advance is enough to pay off the MasterCard.

A goal is a good thing. Desperation… not so good.

I’ve had this conversation with a few writers lately, and it’s difficult. My advice has been to find other ways to bring in an income, even if it takes time away from writing, so that their writing is not connected to their economic anxiety. I’ve also talked with writers who had some success with a few books published, but unfortunately quit their day jobs before they were really able to support the family from the books alone. The same thing happened to them—their writing life became riddled with anxiety because suddenly there was huge pressure to keep selling books.

I realize that many of you have spent years and probably a lot of money in the pursuit of publication. Many of you also have spouses who are looking for some return on that investment. I don’t have any easy answers. Yes, of course you want to eventually see some financial gain. And some of you will find the answer in self-publishing, if you have a strong platform and ability to sell a lot of books. But I just want to emphasize: Especially when you’re first starting out, you’ll be happier and you’ll probably write better if you don’t allow your writing to be connected to financial necessity and anxiety.

Q4U: Do you think your writing might suffer if you’re trying to write to solve a financial problem? Or conversely, do you think an economic goal can be a positive motivator for your writing?

  1. Very good post to aspiring writers such as myself. Thank you. Its not about “finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (bookstore)” that should drive us to do anything in our lives.
    One thing the downward spiral, or should I say plunge in the economy these past few years have taught me is that I don’t need any more than what I need. What I need is should not be linked to or have anything to do with what I write. With that said, I believe that our perspective as authors of books is to share a dream, a world that we have created in our minds with as many other as we possibly can; to try and take over the world, one book at a time. Our goals need to be more horizontal and broader in spectrum than simply finding our way to financial freedom. This is why I like your post so much. Anything that blurs our focus to the greater cause, in this case sharing a dream or message with the world should be avoided at all costs.
    Paul tells his student Timothy in the first epistle to him that, “the love of money is the root of all evil (also could be said ‘all kinds of evil’)” 1 Tim 6:10a- Society’s focus seems to always be on money or the acquisition of wealth in some form – the publishing industry is not immune from this. It can then be said then, that focusing on writing as a means to financial freedom can become an evil that keeps us from the joy of the writing to begin with.
    It is a joy to create; letting words make blank pages come to life. Then to see it in the form of a book and to hear the report of another finding the same joy in its reading is worth more than all the gold in the world. I know we can’t eat smiles or the feeling of euphoria that our creations make bring, but if that is our focus, then we have lost sight of why we have such a strong need to create. The two should be as separate to us as fine china and a gorilla, or as shiny new cars and muddy, rocky, rut-infested roads. The joy of sharing our opus should be payment enough and if we make some money at it, cool.

  2. Dario says:

    Good post, Rachelle.

    I think if you’re already a skilled and widely-published pro author, you probably can pull this off, but for the ordinary aspiring or young journeyman author, no.

    IMO the point is that for a book to really score, it must be approached as art, and written because it’s a story the author wants to tell, and needs to write. If worries and considerations of returns are foremost during the writing, IMO that stress will bleed over and suck a lot of the joy and life out of the work, turning it into something more mechanical, even cynical.

    This IMO will certainly apply to the first draft. During the rewrite, which we typically approach from a different, more analytical mindset, considerations of money may not be a bad thing, because at this point we’re looking at making the story we already have as good as it can be, polishing, buffing, and strengthening what’s already there.

  3. John Barnes says:

    All things depend. I got through a Ph.D. program by living on the credit card crisis-to-crisis, and resolving each crisis with a book sale. But I was living like a grad student and there were low-end gigs available from real publishers at the time; that’s where my Dan Samson and Mark Strang men’s a-a came from. A couple successful books got me debt free and into a house.

    Then I had an expensive divorce and quit the day job to try to write my way out of the mess. Immediately after, offers on new books started going down instead of up and I started to slide into the first depression (of many) in my life in which I had a hard time getting any writing done. Ended up in a thorough mess that I’m still nowhere near out of.

    Writing without a day job is a gamble. Gambling with other people’s lives is the height of irresponsible. Nonetheless, now and then a gamble pays off; that might be the most unfair thing in life.

    I now return to seeking the turn of a friendly card …

  4. Deborah Ude says:

    A dozen first grade hands wave wildly in the air, bottoms rise from the desk seats, and bodies wiggle impatiently for attention. “Pick me, oh, please, pick me!” Transfer that image to a bevy of query letters, a milling herd of manuscripts all striving to be the one plucked from the slush pile. As quickly as first grade hopes fluctuate, so also do the hopes of unpublished writers. What will get us picked? What encourages us to keep working? Why don’t we simply slouch in our seats and pout sorrowfully in a corner?

    As a former teacher and mother of nine, I understand the wildly waving hands. As a writer milling in the herd, I appreciate their pain. My post, “And the Answer is…” speaks about an issue that confronts disheartened writers: asking the correct questions and thereby discovering answers that encourage and challenge us to persist.

  5. Janelle says:

    As I said earlier, I’m in agreement with the post – however – I see a couple posts that seem to imply that writers who do write for money are somehow not as ‘passionate’ about it or that it’s somehow ‘different’ than those who write because they ‘love it’. Believe it or not, there are a great many money-makers who actually do love writing, and do have a passion for writing. They just happen to make money at it. Absolutely nothing wrong with making money from something you love doing, after all, and I don’t think we want to make ‘class’ comparisons based on payments.

  6. Rachelle,
    I appreciate you and your blog. You always give us a realistic view of the world of writing.

    Thanks so much for taking time to blog!

    Jackie

  7. J. R. Tomlin says:

    Yep, you sure as heck wouldn’t want writers deciding they were professionals and should make LIVING at what they do. That would be terribly inconvenient. Besides, they might start questioning those royalty statements and that 25% ebook royalty rate. Can’t have that!

  8. a-single-moment.com
    (Direct link)

  9. So interesting this topic came up today. I am currently in this midst of pursuing another avenue that would help financially. Once I stopped viewing my writing through the eyes of monetary gain, I was able to freely pour my heart into being obedient to God—His answer was to write. Sure, I would LOVE to be published. However, my newfound perspective is all centered around doing what I’m supposed to do. Putting my experience on paper and release!
    wwww.a-single-moment.com

  10. marion says:

    I agree with you, Rachelle. Thinking about $$ can be a distraction. Even focusing on publication, especially in the early stages, can be a distraction.
    I’ll never be a book-a-year writer, anyway.
    But my book is going to be a runaway seller and generate a movie!

  11. I’m in this long term, with sights set on generating a second income stream. I’m not the type that can stand to worry about where the money is coming from. Won’t be quitting the day job anytime soon, especially since I don’t have any books out yet. Heh.

  12. Elissa Field says:

    Rachelle, I’ve read a few posts you’ve written with this level of financial realism and I think it’s a gift you give writers, to be honest about it. There are so many people in writers’ lives pointing to JK Rowling or John Grisham and asking, “Just get that thing done and sold.” It really genuinely helps when those on the inside of the industry are honest about what new writers can expect. I was close to finishing a draft of a first novel and did take the chance to take on only freelance work while finishign it, with the thought I was “this close.” I did sink lots of money into conferences and research and passing up client jobs to write… And, you’re right: at that point family start askign when it’s going to pay off, the work shifts gears in a way that is not productive. I am a wholehearted advocate of working while you write. Find jobs that fuel your writing, if you can, or at least don’t leave you tapped out — but having money flowing in, not worrying who will feed your kids, does allow you the genuine freedom to write.

  13. Otin says:

    I think that anything pushing me to write is a positive thing. I don’t expect to get rich, but a few bucks would certainly be a help to me right now. I must admit that I’ve been hoping for some sort of payday, but I don’t think my work has suffered because of it. The agent who has taken on two of my projects described my latest one as “mind blowing.” Whether or not that translates into dollars is yet to be determined.

    Truthfully, though, my main goal is to have people read it, no matter how much I make or don’t make.

  14. I think the safest, and probably most sanity-maintaining, thing to do is not to let yourself hope that writing will ever help you financially. Or OK, perhaps you can hope, but don’t expect it. Not until you’re making enough from it that you can sit back and go, “huh, maybe I could quit the day job (or accomplish whatever financial goal you have)”. Never before.

  15. I read in the one of the many writing how-to books (don’t remember which one) that the average novel earns $10,000 to $12,000. I don’t know if that’s still accurate; but it’s enough to keep anyone from thinking that all their financial problems will be solved by publication of that first book. I quote this fact often, to myself and to anyone who starts daydreaming too big.

  16. Peter DeHaan says:

    I suspect that whatever motivates us to write will influence what and how we write.

    Writing to make money or for prestige will result in a different book than writing from our heart or out of passion.

  17. Mira says:

    I think this is an absolutely terrific post, although I am going to somewhat disagree with it. What you are saying – I could not agree more – for me. But not possibly for every writer.

    I read a book once that said there were two types of authors: those that write for a livihood, and those that write as a creative outlet, because they have something to express.

    I’m definitely in the second category, and I need to have money and writing as far away from each other as possible. Otherwise, the desire for money would twist and turn what I was trying to say, as you expressed so eloquently in this post.

    But for those in the first category, the ones who are in this for a profession, I think it can work. These tend to be people who write genre fiction, write for the marketplace. They are not reaching for the stars with their writing, they are trying to produce a product that will be in demand. I’m not in this category, so I don’t know for sure, but I suspect their process of writing is very different from mine.

    But I do have to say, even though I’m not in this for the money in any way, if my books eventually sell, I have no intention of letting the bulk of the money be taken by other people. That’s what makes me so mad about low royalty rates. It’s taking advantage on so many levels.

    I’m not in this for the money, but I know my worth. And I’m not in this to make other people money while I starve in a garret either.

  18. Laura Diane says:

    It would be wonderful if the writing solved the money issues, but I have no expectations in that regard.

    Currently I am unemployed and actively looking for work although it’s been hard to find. While doing the job search I am receiving unemployment which allows me some breathing space.

    I look at this time of unemployment as a period where I can spend more time writing so that when the book is done I can appreciate (without stress) any financial gain from it while also knowing I am moving forward as a writer in pursuit of a life’s dream.

    So, while the opportunity is here I will write. When a job is offered I will take it and have to cut back on writing time, but I know writing will always be an important part of who I am.

    Thanks for the Q!

  19. noveldoctor says:

    My philosophy: Live small. Write big. Enjoy both adventures without apology.

  20. LLKing says:

    That is such great advice, Rachelle. Thank you for this!

  21. Kat Hinkson says:

    I’ve never thought about writing for money. I write becasue it’s the fun part of my day. I’m not saying I don’t like my job, but it’s work. writing is a something I HAVE to do. It keeps me in balance. If money comes with being published, than that’s a perk.

  22. Carol Riggs says:

    Oh, goodness no. I’ve never thought of writing books as a way to make money. In fact, for years, I pretty much FORGOT that I could actually get paid doing it. I do it cuz I love to, period. 😀

  23. Rachelle, did you time this post to coincide with my Visa payment? 🙂

    I see both sides of the coin here. (No pun intended) On the one side, money motivates. And while I applaud writers committed to the craft simply for personal satisfaction, I’m not one of them. But then there’s that pesky other side, the here-and-now- pay-the-mortgage side. Someday – yes, I dream of writing full time, but I’m not quitting the day job and putting all the financial eggs in one basket too soon – that’s a big, messy omelet waiting to happen.

  24. Reba says:

    I had an art teacher who told, “When you start doing this for money, it takes the fun out of it.” BAM !
    So for me right now, I forget all about the money and write the book. = fun

  25. Annie says:

    I don’t think about the money side of writing anymore. I used to dwell on it but I found it did nothing for my creativity. Although money would be helpful, I rarely give it a fleeting thought when I sit down to write something. Maybe I’m sabotaging myself but at least I’m happy in my poverty!

  26. Anna Labno says:

    That’s why I’m working full time. I don’t have much time to write at that moment, but I do what I can. 🙂

  27. My ability to pursue my life-long goal of being a published author has depended on flexability–ie, once taking a job as a guide at a historic house where I could write between giving tours–and NOT expecting my fledlgin writing projects to make money. The trick I discovered was learning to live on very little, thus keeping expenses down so I could continue to write. I also developed a freelance career writing everything from book reviews to hard news stories for regional publications, which supplemented my creative writing and helped get my name out there.

    • Sarah Hershkowitz says:

      Learning to live with less (and sometimes even less than that!)– is indeed the secret. To understand how to live with or without. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  28. Jim Gilliam says:

    To the commentor who said that often good marketing seems to overcome bad writing, you are correct. However, readers will not be fooled for long. Just as you must keep the promise of a great opening line, you must be true to your readers. If you don’t they’ll take their money elsewhere. I’ve given away more books than I’ve sold, because I want people to read them and hopefully like them. So far this has happened. Now that my book is in eBook format the revenues should be better than the hardcover and paperback sales. But shucks, I love to tell stories and I’ll keep at it as long as God lets me.

  29. Sarah Hershkowitz says:

    Keeping expectations within reason is very wise advice.

    I’ve found that nothing kills joy more quickly than when something you love, something you are passionate about becomes only the means to a financial end. Talk about “Meaningless Toil”! But when it’s what you do and the bills need to be paid, it can become difficult to separate, especially when times are hard.

    I was struck today with a phrase from Ecclesiastes 5:20–“occupied with joy.” To remain occupied with something requires undivided focus and attention. Perhaps seeking God’s kingdom first (using the gifts He’s given to glorify Him) will keep my focus where it needs to be (and occupied with joy) so that all the “other things” can be added.

    As Jeanne T. stated–keeping our eyes on the Provider and not the circumstances of the moment.

  30. jack Stecher says:

    Money can be a powerful motivator. True some people can not deal with pressure. If its money you want, then you have to have very clear goals, to write for money. That may mean redefinding what you write, to be commerically successful. Writing what people will pay to read, not writting what you wnat to say necessary.
    If your joy is writting what you want, then you may be disappointed if people are not willing to pay for it.
    In writting, like everything else there is two sides, doing what is fun and making a living. Sometimes you can do both, sometime you can’t.

  31. Brianna says:

    I definitely think my writing would suffer if I were in it for the money. That being said, it would be nice to see some sales on my short stories. I think my writing is suffering because I’m not selling. I’m not looking for a get rich quick thing to happen here, but some acknowledgment of my hard work would be nice, in the form of more than the 35 cents Amazon offers in royalties.

  32. Cindy Regnier says:

    If you know you would write anyway just for the sheer pleasure of it, the money doesn’t matter. It’s just gravy if and when it comes along. For many of us as yet unpublished, the carrot dangling before us is not dollar signs but the feeling of success and accomplishment seeing your name on the spine of a book. I hope I have this clear in my mind – I think I do. My ultimate goal in seeking publication is in obedience to my Audience of One and to touch someone, even if only one someone, for the furtherance of His kingdom and for His glory.

  33. Yeah, I thought the “big money” would come my way. I did self publish and did a couple of small presses and so I get royalty checks. Enough to live on? No. Maybe “someday.” Meanwhile, I write and query and keep going. I write because I enjoy the creative process. Do I wish I was on the NYT bestsellers list? Yep. But, until then (and maybe after) I do what I love to do. Create stories.

  34. Joe Pote says:

    I am so very thankful to have the flexibility of treating writing has a ministry/hobby and not as a career!

    As a hobby, writing is fun! As a ministry, writing is rewarding!

    I shudder to think what my outlook would be if I had to rely on my writing to support my family…at least at this stage…

    Thanks, Rachelle!

  35. This probably sounds cliche, but it’s really not about the money to me. It would be nice, but that’s not the reason I write. And I’m so glad, because you’re right…I think the pressure would get to me. I’ve already figured that any advance I do get for a first book will be probably used on marketing, website, photography, etc. So I’m not really counting on that money at all, which is a good place for me personally to be.

  36. Well, I’ve been around forever, watching people get published, watching them sign three-book contracts, and watching them give up after a five books, or so, because of poor sales.

    I think that when we are writing we should write as if money doesn’t exist (and parents and preachers and judgmental friends don’t exist). And then, once that book is published, we should think about making money. I’ve seen bad writers outsell good writers, because the bad writers knew how to market.

  37. As much as I have financial anxieties, I would say no to both those questions. I guess as an artist who occasionally sells a painting, my reality as an artist is; The sale of a sporadic single painting is not going to do much for my personal economy. At this point in my life, I really paint because I love to. I’m a bird. “Are Birds really free from the chains of the sky?”-Bob Dylan

  38. Jim Gilliam says:

    When I first started learning (a lifelong labor of love) one piece of advice that I encountered over and over: “Don’t quit your day job.” For the sake of argument, you’ve written a great book, had it professionally edited, found a great agent who is as passionate about your work as you are, and he places your book in a traditional publishing house. Your advance (somewhat less than six figures) will not get to you for several months, then you have to pay your agent her 15 percent and give the IRS their cut. Now your publisher has made back the advance (probably not) and you start receiving those royalty checks. Great! Guess what, the industry standard is that they pay those quarterly and the amount you receive depends on sales from which the agent takes her 15 percent and the IRS gets their cut. This income is about as stable as Nitroglycerin on a hot summer day. You might as well go to Vegas.

    If you go the Indie route there is no advance, but better royalties. These depend on sales and sales depend on how much time and money you spend on book promotion. You could have written the great American novel, but the noise in the forest when a tree fall paradox applies here. If readers don’t know about you and your book, they won’t buy it. Unlike the promise in Field of Dreams: “If you build it they will come.”

    However, you can make a decent living, or supplement your income as a freelance copywriter. Magazines, e-zines, blogs, and newspapers are willing to pay for your words. If you don’t want to freelance you can sign on with one or more of the many companies out there that the information industry relies on to furnish copy for their format. You get paid as you write. Write more get paid more. In between writing articles and short stories you can work on your novel.

    Writing is a lot of fun for me, especially since I’m retired and don’t have to rely on the income. Bottom line writing is a business, and should be run like one. If you must give the IRS a cut of your writing income then the IRS allows you to deduct your expenses. Writing software, paper, postage, review copies of your book, contest entry fees–the list is endless. The good news is that your writing income is pooled with your other income and likewise your writing business deductions are pooled with your other deductions like medical and dental. So while your writing income may be in the red, it may have income effect in that it reduces your overall tax bill. I registered my writing business, opened a business account at my local bank, and acquired a business credit card. There is no way that the IRS can say that my writing is just a hobby.

    Ways to make money from your writing is only limited by your imagination and that should be limitless.

  39. Janelle says:

    Frankly, I recently realized that even the goal of getting published was starting to wreck my enjoyment of writing. Suddenly it was “Will this idea sell? Will this story find an agent?” instead of “Do I like this story and where it’s going?”. So adding financial desperation to the mix – forget it!

    Now, I can afford to work part-time anyway, being older with the house paid for, but the idea of making money from my writing does do one thing – allows me to tolerate the part-time job that I really don’t like. I can keep telling myself, one day I’ll be able to walk out the door and not come back!

  40. I write an op/ed piece for our newspaper. This has taught me two huge lessons. A)I will never ever get rich in the newspaper industry and b) holy cow some people can misinterpret just about anything!
    I do not write because I want to get have my name and picture in the paper. I sorta have that, but there are also alot of birdcages with my picture in them. How’s that for perspective? I write because I have stories to tell, and writing them is alot better than acting them out at the airport.
    I don’t think I’ll ever tell my husband to quit his job, or buy my kids an NHL team. God has blessed me with a gainfully employed husband who can speak “tree” and keep a roof over our heads and Reebok 11K sticks in the van. I am blessed with arthritis and nerve damage in both feet(think fire and ice) and cannot work outside our home. Other than with using my brain, there is little I can do to help us finacially. God is good. He is bigger than pain. He is bigger than rejection. He is bigger than wayward children. I thank Him daily for the chance to escape a bit, and one day I will be able to put a book, MY book, in someone’s hand and say “Off we go, hold on to your hat, I’m taking you on quite an adventure.”
    I could write for economic reasons if I had to. And I could be moved along if finances were in direct proportion to my work.
    But, it has never been about money for me. It’s about the story and who will be changed by reading it.

  41. Thanks for this reminder, Rachelle. You have no idea how much I needed to gain some perspective today. Financial pressure can be crippling. But writing shouldn’t be. It should be joyous. 🙂

  42. nankilmerbaker says:

    Frankly, writing is my undying passion and if necessary I would probably pay someone to allow me to express myself in words. I am blessed with financial security so money does not enter my mind as I pursue the publication of my memoir, “Naked Joy”. Not that I would deny earning some big bucks, but honestly, I’d give it to some charity like “St. Jude’s for Children” or “InsideOut Writers” in L.A. That would make me almost as joyous as seeing my book on the front shelf at B&N…

  43. Actually, I believe the answer is yes to both questions. I can see the need for financial help going either way. Thanks for reminding me to keep it all in perspective.

  44. I’m one of the ones who works to support my writing habit. The market I’m writing for is a very small niche market, so I have no real expectations of ever making a fortune – or even a living – off of my writing, but I’m okay with that. It keeps me free to write for the joy of it without worrying about the bills my novel will pay.
    Great post, Rachelle.

  45. Wow! Great topic and excellent advice. This is why I have kept my full-time job in spite of having 2 published books, 2 published novellas, and 4 contracted books due out 2013-2014.

    My experience has been that my writing income has provided some decent “cushion” money or “emergency” funds that I otherwise wouldn’t have. What I mean by this, is I keep working to pay my portion of the family bills, so that I have med insurance & I’m still building up my retirement. My writing income pays for writing conferences, writing research/vacations, car maintenance, a few unexpected medical expenses, Christmas, and on occasion adds to my daughter’s college fund. It’s a part-time income & I can’t fool myself into believing it will take the place of my full-time job–yet.

    I do have the long-term goal of eventually quitting my day job & either working part-time or making ends meet from my writing/speaking income. My hope is that I’ll be able to do this b4 retirement age–I think 4 my generation it’s now estimated to be 68. I’m targeting age 55-60, if I can do this sooner, even better-like 50. I’m currently 40. This means my daughter will be thru college and I’m hoping I’ll have 20-30 published books by then. My hope is to have put enough time into my writing to have a solid readership by then.

    If God provides an instant break-through to make these goals happen sooner, I’ve soaked heaven with plenty of prayers making this request. It’s my hope/faith that God might bless my faithfulness & hard work sooner. But I’ve learned about His timing. After all, it DID take me 14 years to get my 1st book published.

  46. I think in this economy, when so many of us are scrambling to make ends meet, it’s easy to take our dreams of writing and magnify them. I’m only at the starting line of this writing marathon, but even so, I find myself starry-eyed, lost in my imaginary future as an author. You know, the future where I’m on the NY Times bestsellers list, take trips to Hawaii (for business, of course), have movies made out of my books– the practical kind of dreams.

    But in some ways, that’s OK — an entrepreneur of any sort has to dream. Without the dream, the risks seem too high.

    The key is to know the difference between a little healthy dreaming and the truth that strength and excellence are built slowly.

  47. Sue Harrison says:

    Like Krista Phillips, I can totally speak to this one.

    When I began writing my first novel, monetary reward was the last thing in my mind. I was shooting for possible small press publication, and publication was my goal. However, God had a very different future in mind for me.

    My first novel because a national bestseller and eventually was sold around the world in every inhabited continent except Africa. Both my husband and I were able to quit our day jobs and dedicate our lives full time to the writing business. A dream come true.

    But then the rainclouds! Distant relatives and even people we didn’t know, began asking us for money. One man called and told our teenage daughter that his wife would commit suicide if we didn’t buy her a new car. And we had guilt. In the first years of our marriage, like many people, we were poor. I mean “Do-we-have-enough-money-to-buy-milk?” poor.

    Now we had money. Why us?

    We gave a lot of money away. Most of it to Christian causes, but we also made some very ill-advised loans, and we dug ourselves into a financial hole because of those loans. We also gained some wisdom, like learning to say ‘no,’ even to family.

    During the stress of those years I had to really remind myself that my writing wasn’t about money. It was about the joy of using a talent that God gave me.

    I don’t expect the novels I write now to bring me great monetary reward. I have the same goal I had at the beginning of my career – the hope of someday having the book I’m creating earn publication. Not money. It’s about serving the Lord.

    And yep, that eliminates a lot of pressure.

  48. After reflecting a bit on this valuable insight, I kept thinking about a particular optical illusion and how it relates to expectations. Not sure whether or not you’ve seen the sketch that can look like both a young and old woman. But stay with me. I think expectations (whether with money, timing, acclaim, etc.) can play on our minds this way. One minute we can think we’re seeing it a certain way and the next moment everything shifts. It’s important to regularly assess how we’re pursuing our goals and the expectations we cling to (better to let go) along the way. I’m learning a decent amount about this right now, but not on the financial front (never been about the money for me).

    Thanks for inspiring these thoughts.
    ~ Wendy

  49. For me, I have learned that inspiration and obedience are the only positive motivators for my writing. I would love to be able to write full time and enjoy at least survival standard of living. Unfortunately, I have to concur with the adage that, “It takes money to make money.” Pens, pencils, computers, paper, postage, internet service all cost money (not to mention food and shelter).
    However; when other employment unexpectedly falls through, I have made it a practice to return to my writing with increased focus; make use of the downtime to practice my craft, shore up my platform and social network, and learn all I can about writing and publishing – without paying for conferences and consultations. Hi Ya’ll! It’s so good to see you today!
    Rachelle, thank you, thank you!

  50. Ann Bracken says:

    No, I don’t expect a book contract to solve financial problems. Which, thanks to blessings from the Lord and a husband who knows what he’s doing, is something we don’t have.

    It would be nice if a book deal created some financial problems, however. Something like ‘What are we going to do with this extra money?’ sounds like a nice problem to have. Oh, the lists I could make! 🙂

    Of course, I’ll consider myself lucky if I earn enough to buy gas for my car.

  51. Jeanne T says:

    You bring up some great points, Rachelle. Having a couple of friends who have achieved the dream of publishing their debut novels, I’m learning that advances don’t go as far as many might think.

    I think if I had the pressure of having to earn an income to help my family, it would make me a stressed-out mama. I’m thankful that I can write for the joy of writing and take the time to learn craft and learn to write well. If, someday I do get published, I’ll consider any extra income an added blessing.

    • A friend wrote a book that was published a while back by Z-n. I asked what he was going to do with all the money. He said, I’m going to Pizza Hut! 😉

      Great attitude Jeanne!

  52. Lisa Jordan says:

    Getting a book contract does not guarantee financial success, especially when you need to use a portion of your advance for marketing and promotion. However, I do believe strategic career planning and specific goals in place can motivate a writer to strive for a career as a full-time writer.

  53. I’ve learned that the money that comes with writing isn’t as much as I’d like it to be, it never comes at the time I want or need it, and working toward a check doesn’t spur me nearly so much as an approaching deadline.
    We’re all different–our circumstances, our goals, the way we do things–but fortunately our ultimate driving force is more eternal than material. At least, I hope so.
    Thanks for talking about this elephant in the room.

    • nankilmerbaker says:

      Dr.Mabry: You always have such wise words to share. I keep wanting to read your books but have a stack taller than I–(5’5″) to devour. Happy Monday…

  54. Fascinating conversation and great points. God is fully in control of whether or not I sell a book and how much money it makes, so I try not to worry about that aspect of it. I think of writing as a very expensive, very time-consuming hobby for which I hope, someday, to be paid. So I work at it like it’s a business but expect the financial reward of an expensive hobby. It’s a balance.

  55. Lisa Marie says:

    “The quickest way to lose the joy is to expect that your first book contract is going to solve some kind of financial problem in your life.”

    Oh, I do feel that for some people, it may be tempting to suffer this particular delusion, especially if finances are extremely tight or one has a great amount of debt or financial responsibility.

    But … I do think that it’s possible for *some* writers to make a living off of their first book contract. That said, it takes a frugal soul to be able to do this. Sometimes I read a blog written by a certain successful indie author who couches things in terms of a book selling “ONLY … (insert livable yearly wage in many parts of the country).” And the figures I’m seeing are on par with what most employers are paying for a full-time position in my area. If a book contract replaces one’s income penny per penny (with a little padding to pay for health insurance), then it writing full time might actually be feasible.

    So … can it be done? Yes, I believe that it can! But under very extraordinary circumstances. 🙂

  56. Janet Smart says:

    I think it can do both. I love to write, but I’m not looking to get rich with my writing, never was. I’ve been a stay at home mom all my life, not working outside the home since I got married. My husband is now retired and I would be happy just earning a few hundred dollars a month to add to our income.

  57. Leah C. Morgan says:

    What a surprising perspective. I’ve scolded myself for years and felt malformed because I’m not motivated by money. I’ve tried reasoning myself into caring about it more, making it a goal, certain it’s my missing link.
    When I think I need to feel ashamed for my lame life interest that requires me to pay dearly in time, energy, and resources, I say things like: “You need to get more desperate! Wait till some calamity comes to your life! That’ll teach you!”
    On the other hand, I’ve just learned in a recent study of my sanguine personality that we are not a task oriented group of people, a potential weakness for any endeavor.
    So, I most likely do deserve scolding, just not for failing to be money grubbing.
    Great. More revisions. Have to rework my self loathing speech.

  58. Lori says:

    I would be lying if I said I just wrote because I enjoyed it as a hobby. I immensely enjoy writing and it has always been a dream for “writing” to be my career. Guess what? It almost is. I ghost and copy write. But my true dream is for what I write “by” me to be my “j-o-b”.

    I realize it is not a “write one book, get the contract, live off of royalties and movie deals” (hey, it’s my dream and I can dream big, right?) I realize it is write the book, polish the book, market the book, write another, wash rinse and repeat.

    I think if you want it bad enough and are willing to put forth the effort, it will be a reality.

  59. Ohhhh…. I can totally speak to this one!!

    My husband and I’s long-term goal/dream had always been for him to go back to work, and me to stay home w/ our 4 kiddos and supplement income by writing. (At the time, I was working full-time and he was watching kiddos at home, working part-time in the evenings.) I knew it’d be a while off… and that I’d have to write for a big while working full-time to build up enough revenue to make the switch.

    But last year, my job ended. My daughter was in the hospital, and I’d been working a reduced schedule, and they basically said, “come back full-time or we need to part ways.”

    Family is more important, hands down. Regardless of financial security.

    I let my job go.

    And one month later, I received my 1st book contract.

    While it did NOT solve any financial problems long-term, it certainly helped in the short-term. And I absolutely believe in divine timing.

    The thing is, I wasn’t planning for that to happen. I wasn’t, and still am not, plannign for my writing to solve my financial problems, and let me tell you, since I’m still unable to work due to my daughters super special needs, there are definitely problems.

    But I rely on NOTHING for my financial security except for a really BIG GOD who promised to supply all of our needs at the perfect timing.

    If he chooses to use a well-placed writing contract to do so, then more power to him.

    Am I trying my best to get my next manuscript polished and sent to my super wonderful agent? Yes! Do I hope that it sells and lets me stay home just a little bit longer? Yes! But I’m not sitting here stressing over it bringing us an abundance of money, or any really.

    In the end, I trust God to provide. End of story. How He chooses to do so is up to Him!

    Oh, one other point to add to this super long comment:

    I’m a big believer in dreaming big, reaching for the stars as they say!

    However I’m just as big of a believer as setting realistic goals. Goals and dreams are two very different things.

  60. Timothy Fish says:

    No, I don’t think my writing would suffer if I were trying to solve a financial problem. I think that would be unrealistic, but it wouldn’t hurt my writing. I would probably focus more on things I knew had a better chance of selling, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It would also change my priorities, so some of the things I do instead of writing would take a backseat and I would spend more time writing.

    But really, there is more quick easy money to be made by charging to publish authors’ crummy first drafts than there is in writing books. If I were looking to make money, I might consider doing that, but I prefer to sleep at night.

  61. Janet says:

    I suspect my writing goals are more likely to CAUSE a financial problem since I’m retiring from my day job to be a full-time writer. However, I’m trying to establish writing goals that will at least allow my work to be self-sustaining. The only financial expectation I have for my first book is that I will sell enough copies to cover the hard costs associated with getting it published, marketed, and in the hands of those who may benefit from reading it.

    While my primary writing goals focus on getting my books ready and published, I set a secondary goal of writing two articles a week to pitch to magazines and online publications. I’ve had magazine articles published before, so I know a little bit about what that requires.

    Bottom line, if I find myself looking for a way to solve a financial problem, I’ll take a part-time job. I can flip burgers with the best of them.

    : )

  62. Some of the best magazines to write for are the nonpayment ones. Often a writer gets to speak with the Editor. I remember calling and expecting to speak with a secretary when the editor answered the phone. We had a great conversational and I got another assignment! It is all for the joy of writing and using the gifts God gave you.

  63. Oh, I don’t know. Writing is a very personal thing; I bet no two people who read this blog do it the same way or for the same reason. Motivation is also a very personal thing. Me, I only ever listen to one song in the “rap” genre, and that’s only when I need to get myself worked up to write: “Lose Yourself” by Eminem–how many others here find your motivation that’a’way? I suppose that if I were sitting at the keyboard seeing dollar signs on the screen instead of commas it might harm my writing, but I don’t see a problem being motivated by money. True, I’m not “desperate”…but that’s, again, a rather personal thing with a rather subjective definition.

    Read Stephen King’s (the other one) account of his writing career. Read Dan Brown’s. Those two men, just to pick two examples, were strongly motivated by financial reward.

    Will I ever be as famous or as wealthy as either of those two gentlemen? Maybe. I won’t assume I will, but there’s no reason to assume I won’t, either.

    “It is better to shoot for the stars and miss than to shoot for the gutter and hit it.”

    • Well said.
      I write out of inspiration and obedience. Still, I must take responsibility for daily financial needs. This, too, takes constant revision.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Nicholas Sparks was also motivated by financial reward. He looked at his writing as his job, the means of supporting his family, from very early on. However, I don’t think he did what I’m cautioning against here: expected his first book deal to solve a financial crisis.

      • Okay, good example. I’m still up two to one, though. 🙂

        But seriously (or as seriously as I get), I’ve come to know many authors, both local and from out of town visiting the conferences I’ve helped run, here in Richmond. I’ve come to believe, in my own rather jaded way, that there are two kinds of novelists: those who admit they started with unrealistic financial expectations, and those who forget/lie about the expectations they started with. I think the only difference between “desperate” and “not desperate” is the fiscal condition we find ourselves in when we begin to write.

        • Good point.

          Everybody needs some or of motivation to write, but if the pleasure of writing is the sole or main motivating factor then judging by the small number of people I’ve met who write,I would say those that talk about their love of writing, their desire to write the best book that they possibly can and how they’re never satisfied with what they’ve actually committed to paper or hard drive are those who will never be published. Perfection is always just out of reach. Being somewhat cynical rejection tends to burst a few bubbles and striving for perfection gives the excuse not to risk rejection.

          Those who enjoy writing but see it primarily as a tool or means to supplement an income/pension are those who will actually finish a book to an acceptable standard, but who hasn’t written something then thought ‘I could have expressed myself better?’ Those who resist the temptation to endlessly ‘tweak’ are those who have the tenacity/patience to see a work published.

  64. Jared De Roo says:

    I can see this draining a lot of fun out of writing, and if you’re gonna be a writer fun should be a pretty big goal. But having a problem like solving a financial problem is a fantastic motivator. While you may get more done, the quality would likely suffer. I know that if I’m writing on a deadline I get a lot more done, but what I get done is usually fairly awful.

  65. Cindy Huff says:

    Excellent truth. It also sucks the joy out of writing if its all about dollars and cents. When you do get paid its frosting on the cake rather then the meat and potatoes.

  66. I couldn’t agree more with P J Casselman… I write because that is what God has called me to do. When I start looking to my books to provide me with the income my family needs, I begin to wring my hands (and stress blocks the creative flow for me). When trying to get a new book finished and “get it out there,” as you recently addresssed in another post, then I tend to slack off on quality. Thinking about the book being available for Christmas shoppers, for instance, can cause me to forgo one more proofreading in August. Maintaining another source of income while spending all the time I can at the computer is the answer for now, or maybe for the rest of my life. As long as I do what I am supposed to do with my life, I count on God to provide in whatever way He sees fit. More than hoping for my books to pay for my child’s education, I hope my books will leave some type of lasting footprint on the Earth.

  67. Angela Brown says:

    A goal period is a good thing. What you set as a goal, well, that’s all a matter of self.

    I fall under the category that trying to write to solve all of one’s economic woes isn’t the best goal. Try the lottery. Got some of the same million to one odds.

    Truth be told, with all the changes going on in the publishing industry, I’m not sure what to expect if I ever get an agent then have that agent work to get me a book deal. So I write to tell my stories, the ones that may not be perfectly new or brand spanking original under the sun but told my way, from my viewpoint, or rather, the viewpoint of my characters.

  68. Pam Halter says:

    Sooooo many people have such high expectations when they come to me for editing. I edit children’s books, which don’t make much money in the first place. I can’t tell you how many would-be writers tell me they NEED to publish their children’s book to supplement their income. One gentleman told me he had no intention of marketing his book in any way. He wanted to do the basic writing and get an agent or editor to clean it up and sell it for him! He only wanted to make some money. ACK!!!

    I think it comes down to celebrities writing and selling books. Everyone believes because a celebrity makes money, every writer makes money. It’s just not true.

    Thanks for a great post, Rachelle.

  69. Excellent blog post. I’ve seen my own writing suffer when saddled with unrealistic expectations. Thanks.

  70. An economic goal COULD be a positive motivator for your writing – for a short period of time. Imagine pushing yourself to finish that book, hoping to make a sale just to get some income. Then, imagine if that book does not sell. Granted, you’ve finished the book because you’d imagined getting some money, but, now, you may be faced with a big let-down and bills that still need to be paid.
    I think it’s best to keep finances out of the equation until you’re selling books regularly. Granted, the goal of the financical gain may compel you to finish the book, but, the disappointment may outweigh the motivating factor.
    (not sure if I’m making sense, I’m still not fully awake yet!) LOL!

  71. carol brill says:

    When I started writing fiction 12+ years ago, I worked 55-60 hours a week, had a great salary from a good job that I did not love. I dreaded the thought of doing it until retirement.
    Oprah still had her book club, and I dreamed making it “big” was attainable.
    so looking back it was an unrealistic goal, but it motivated me to sacrifice, earn an MFA, and write many hours a week to find a way out from my demanding day job. Writing gave me a new kind of passion in my life–and once I felt what it was like to be passionate about your work, I found the courage to step off the career ladder, take a pay cut, and do work I love.
    the moral – sometimes unrealistic goals help us attain what is realistic 🙂

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      “Sometimes unrealistic goals help us attain what is realistic.” Excellent, excellent point.

  72. I think it is important to create a balance between the need to earn money and the love of writing. The love must come first, but at the same time it is not good to sacrifice financial need in order to write. Develop a strong writing presence and voice and enjoy what money it brings in, but the love of writing must come first.

  73. Great post. I think a financial goal is fine but when it’s motivated by desperation…nope. Not good.

  74. Catherine Hudson says:

    Great post. Another reason to leave money in the hands of the One who clothes the flowers of the field. They pretty good-lookin too 😉

  75. Financial problems? What are those? I am a pastor who, when one breaks down the complete salary package to a forty hour work week, makes fifteen dollars an hour. That’s not bad for a three year masters degree and twenty years on the job.
    Sure I can’t sell the house in the town where I previously pastored and so I make two house payment. Yes, my daughter goes to a school that costs more per year than I make. And sure, there are no overtime possibilities on a salaried position. But I don’t have financial difficulties.
    Some are thinking I’m being sarcastic, no? Nah! I followed the call and God takes care of the details. He provides the means for everything. I live within my means and he supplies all my needs.
    Sorry, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to testify that God rocks!

    Would my writing suffer if I did it to solve financial difficulties? Well, go ask Abraham and Sarah how that Ishmael thing turned out. That’s what my venture into self-publishing was, to be honest. Not yours, mine. I took the reins and steered right into a ditch. Now I have this self-pub’d Ishmael begging for an allowance of time and energy. Nah! Let him get a job.

    I believe that writing is a call. When God wants a writer to bust out, then he/she will get the contract. In the meantime, follow the call, learn the craft, be a faithful steward and chill out. No, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to me. You’re just overhearing my personal pep talk. 😉

  76. M says:

    You have a great point, Rachelle. Expecting that first contract to fix all your financial problems is only setting yourself up for disappointment. We hear about the six- and seven-figure deals through PW and buzz, but the vast majority of contracts are much, much lower than that (and a significant portion of those huge contracts never earn out, causing financial anxiety as well). But for already-published writers to not factor in financial anxiety at all is a lot to ask and, in a way, irresponsible.

    The stress of writing professionally is enormous. The time commitment is insane, especially for those who have a family and/or a full time job already. When you reach a certain level, you can argue that it’s best for your writing career if you do go from a full time job to a part time job, or quit altogether, even if the finances are iffy. How can you do your best under such crazy deadlines when your plate is already full? It might take some anxiety and adjustment, but that should be a personal decision. Sometimes it’s flat-out best for your career, and sometimes quitting a creativity-crushing job is a risk you have to take.

    Writing professionally is a job like anything else, and it should be treated as such. Jobs aren’t always fun and stress-free, and to expect writing to be a cakewalk is setting yourself up for disappointment as well. It won’t be fun for many reasons – deadlines, financial anxiety, bad reviews, etc. But whatever it is, accepting it is essential to doing the job the best you can. I daresay financial anxiety could even act as a motivator. For some, it will stop them in their tracks. For others, it will force them to push themselves beyond their comfort zone, potentially creating something incredible.

    The money may not always pay the bills, and sometimes you have to keep your day job out of necessity. But the money is also a reminder that this IS a business. That we ARE writing for other people. That our books, our words on a page are a product, and we have a responsibility to deliver that product to our publisher and readers. The money reflects on how well we’re doing our job – whether only a few people are buying what we’re selling, or if we’re hitting the market the way we want to. And whether it has anything to do with paying the bills or not, it is still important to factor in.

    It’s great to be financially secure, and it’s important to curb your expectations. But once writing is your job, you have to consider that treating it like a vital source of income might help your career, either through motivation or simply taking it seriously enough to do your best.

  77. Dean K Miller says:

    Money is a poor motivator cleverly disguised as “success” and “freedom”.

    Having been paid only once (so far) for any parcel of writing I’ve done, the lasing impression:

    The money has come and gone…but the writing piece is still there. To me, that is what makes it worthwhile.

    I couldn’t imagine trying to support myself on writing alone. I tip my hat to those that do…and still enjoy the daily creation of words to page.

    • I have been paid, a minuscule amount for several pieces of writing. So small that it did not, at any time make a dentin the financial need. I could not agree with you more: “The money has come and gone, but the writing is still there.”
      And that is very reassuring, humbling and motivating.

  78. I imagine it would be very difficult to deal with the pressure to write as a means to financial stability, for all the reasons you mentioned. I’m a full time stay at home mom and my husband and I own a small business, which provides for our family of six. I dream about the day I can supplement our income with writing, but I don’t harbor any unrealistic expectations that I could sustain our family on it. It’s best to go into publication with our eyes wide open and understand the reality of every aspect of the business.

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