Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Every Little Bit Helps

By R.J. Harlick

Do you strive to earn income on your writing from other than royalties on books sales? If so, what additional income sources do you pursue?

Many of us when we start out on this writing adventure have dreams of six figure advances, even seven. But after endless rejections from agents and publishers we end up being very happy in just getting a publisher. The fact there is an advance, usually no more than four figures, becomes merely the icing on the cake.

According to the Writers Union of Canada, the average annual income of a writer is less than $13,000. In the USA, it is even lower at $8,000 as reported by the Authors Guild. Unfortunately, these meager amounts are falling as publishers are being increasingly squeezed by the large booksellers, such as Amazon, to offer greater discounts on their products. While most writer’s contracts stipulate that the writer will get a percentage of the book cover price, usually ten percent. In reality the writer only gets a percentage of the net of the discounted price, whatever that amorphous net is. This is particularly the case with ebooks. So, when you as a reader are hunting for the best bargain on a book, keep in mind the ever diminishing amount the writer, who has put a good part of their life into writing that book, will receive. But I am no less guilty. I love a good bargain, too.

So, if we have dreams of living off our writing we have to find other sources of income.

Have you ever wondered why so many of us are closer to pushing up daisies than to planting them?  The answer for most is we felt we couldn’t start following our writing dream until we were assured that we had enough income to support the dream. Usually this translates into sufficient retirement income, be it pensions or investments. A supportive significant other with a good paying job also helps. One of the first things I was told by a prospective agent was “Don’t quit your day job.” I greatly admire those writers who are able to juggle writing a novel with a full-time job. I’m afraid I’m not one of them. 

Fortunately for us in Canada, we have a government which is very supportive of its writers and offers various programs to help augment royalty income.  Foremost is the Public Lending Rights program, which is essentially paying a writer for having their titles in a library. So in addition to the one-time royalty from the initial purchase, a writer also receives annual payments for the title, as long as it remains part of the collection.  For many writers, this can surpass the royalties they receive for the book.

Another program is called Access Copyright, which is intended to address those situations where a reader prefers to be cheap and photocopies a book or portions of it instead of purchasing it outright.  Educational institutions are the biggest abusers of this practice, often copying entire books. A writer receives an annual amount for every title registered from a fund that is in part funded by these heavy copyright abusers. Unfortunately, today these institutions are using recent changes to the copyright legislation to opt out, so the amount of funding available to writers is diminishing.

Another government body is the Canada Council for the Arts. It will provide a writer with grant money to help support them during the writing of the book. Unfortunately, this program tends to favour those writers who write literary fiction and not genre fiction, like crime writing. There is also funding available to help a writer in the research of the book. Because of the lead time involved in applying for these funds, I’ve never been organized enough to take advantage of this.

But there is another Canada Council program that I have used several times. Through a partner organization, usually a writing association like The Writers Union of Canada, members can be paid an honorarium for a reading at a library or similar locale and re-imbursed for related travel costs. Thanks to the Quebec Writers Federation’s program, I was able to do a book tour to Vancouver, when Silver Totem of Shame came out.

Participating as a guest author in literary events, like festivals and conferences, can be another source of income.  Usually the source of funding is from the revenue generated by the event, but it can also come from the Canada Council. Unfortunately in Canada, because many of these festivals focus on literary fiction, the opportunities for genre writers aren’t plentiful.

Some writers become educators, offering creative writing courses at libraries, colleges and other educational institutions. Some offer freelance editorial services to augment their income. Paid mentoring programs offered by writers associations or colleges can be another source.

I’ve found selling my books directly at community events is another good source for additional income. I try to participate in at least three or four a year, usually around Christmas time, when every community in Ottawa seems to put on an Arts & Craft fair. Basically, the percentage of the book’s price that goes to the bookseller goes into my own pocketbook. It can add up. I remember hearing a story about Michael Connelly in his early days as a writer, driving around with boxes of his books in the trunk of his car and selling them to whomever would buy. He sure doesn’t have to do that now, does he?

Of course, one of the best sources for supplemental income is from optioning film rights and having the book or series actually made into a movie or TV program. But the author has little control over this. Besides it usually happens to best selling authors who are already collecting their six or even seven figures in advances and royalties.


I am sure there are other sources of income for a writer, but I think the bottom line is, most of us aren’t going to make millions. Nor are most of us doing it for the money. We are doing it because of the pure joy we get in writing.

4 comments:

RM Greenaway said...

Thanks for the helpful rundown of programs and such, Robin. Unfortunately for me, I dread public appearances (one-on-one meetings are great however), suck at social media, and am the worst salesman. I have a day job which I need and am working at keeping, which is getting hard as my brain is so scattered lately by this writing endeavor. And I'm spending more $ on it than I'll probably ever recoup. It's nuts. It's not sensible. The upside is so far I CAN somehow juggle job/writing, and like both. And writing is for sure the most horizon-expanding adventure of my life, so there's that. I do wish I could make some kind of a living at it, but as I read your post, I'm not holding my breath. Well, as I commented on Terry's post, onward!

RJ Harlick said...

I hope you are signed up to PLR and Access Copyright. They help. And who know's you may surprise yourself with one award win and a nomination under your belt. Good luck, RM

RM Greenaway said...

Thank you, RJ. PLR I'm on but not Access Copyright. I'll look into it. Best to you as well, and see you at Bouchercon!

Susan C Shea said...

Ah, Canada. Is there anything you don't do better than we do these days? I'm on the board of an art organization and the already small stream of support available is drying up. We have to rely on private support, as do so many worthy non-profits in the U.S. Maybe if we learn to sing the Canadian anthem...? LOL!