Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

My Reality Check Bounced

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Well, 2015 was a pretty crappy year for me in terms of income, and 2016 doesn't look to be much better. But hey, should I be pleasantly surprised on that front I won't complain.

I have some goals for this year, and they're modest. One is to earn more money. The other is to increase my writing output. I have to temper that with the fact that I have some commitments for this year that I need to fulfill. I anticipate another busy year filled with stress. But hey, maybe if I have low expectations I don't be so bitterly disappointed.

And speaking of bitter disappointment, I've been seeing more and more stories of readers pissed to the gills when writers don't deliver the next book in a series in whatever time frame those readers expect. Holy crap, people. If you knew what a creative deals with on a day-to-day basis, you might think again. (Here's a piece I wrote a couple of years ago about that.)

Most writers are independent workers. Because we get to set our own hours and have the freedom to accept or turn down contract work, we're not covered by wage and hour rules. That's a two-edged sword. Hey! I can work when I feel like it, and in my bathrobe if I want! On the other hand, no one is obligated to offer me anything approaching a minimum wage for the time I put into a project. Hey! I'm free to negotiate a better rate! On the other hand, for every writer with talent and drive, for every writer who has paid their dues and worked their asses off to produce quality work, there are about a hundred people who think that because they learned to string two words together in school that they can do the same thing. And they're willing to take a pittance to get their names "out there."

The fact is that many - if not most - people writing fiction these days have other streams of income. Maybe they have a day job. Maybe they also freelance ad copy or work their tails off during tax season as an accountant. Some of us are fortunate to have a spouse who has a job with a decent wage and benefits. Maybe that writer is also caring for small children. Or an aging parent. Or a disabled relative. Yes, people with full time jobs are doing those same things, but virtually all have the security of a steady paycheck. 

Writing fiction is not a steady wage. And not every one can be at the top of the sales heap. What would you do if your boss told you that you had to work for three to six months or longer to help develop a new product, then wait until the sales staff went out and sold it before you saw a dime in wages? You'd tell them to take that job and place it where, you say? 

This is what we deal with every day. When you're flipping burgers you get a paycheck. When you're working on a retail floor, putting together cars, fitting pipes, exploring for oil, working for someone else, you get a paycheck. Writing and art are speculative businesses. It takes anywhere from three months to a year for most writers to produce a book length manuscript. Once that manuscript is finished, the author goes back through to check for obvious problems. Then it goes to beta readers. Then the writer produces another draft based on that feedback. Then, and only then, does it go out the door. If that writer isn't under contract for that particular book, then she gets to send it to their agent or submit it to publishers and wait. During that time she can start another book. But it's often several months before an acceptance - if there is one. Hooray! A contract! An advance! Depending on that contract, 1/3 of the advance is probably paid on acceptance, another 1/3 after edits at the publisher are completed, and another 1/3 on publication. 

And check out what authors get for advances at most major houses. That's not a lot to live on. And out of those advances we get to pay taxes, and those of us who have agents pay them a 15% commission. A good agent is worth every penny. But if I get a $10,000 advance (and that may have been paid in installments), I get $7500 if I have an agent, and then I get hit with the double tax whammy. You know that 7.5% you pay for Social Security and Medicare taxes? That's split with your employer. If you're self-employed, you're responsible for the entire 15%. I get to set that aside along with what I anticipate will be income taxes. I get to pay income taxes quarterly. And if that $10K is all I make in a year and I happened to be single, I'd probably get back the income tax portion of what I sent to the IRS. I'd still be on the hook for the employment taxes.

So what does that have to do with the next book in a series? Maybe nothing, but perhaps a lot. It depends on the author and their particular situation. If that series is from a first time author and they only got $10K for the book and they're single, I can pretty much guarantee you they've got a day job or they're off scrambling for other sources of income. 

So what can you do? Well, buy the damn book. Don't get a pirate copy. Encourage them, but don't demand. Extra pressure isn't going to help. If we were all able to produce brilliant copy on demand, you wouldn't be waiting for that next book. Support authors you like. How? Buy their books. Recommend their work to others. 

And speaking of reality checks, it's time for me to finish my yearly taxes. I'd write up a taxes drinking game, but then I'd be too drunk to do the paperwork properly. But that begs the question: Could I write off the booze? Hmmm....

Filed under: Life            


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