Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Post I wrote for the Wyrdsmiths Blog

My brother was talking about me to a neighbor. He said, "My sister is a respected science fiction writer and sells everything she sends out."

"How much does she get for a story?" the neighbor asked.

"About a thousand dollars," my brother said.

"Then she should write 50 stories a year and sell them," the neighbor said.

I usually get around $700 for a story, and the story is a novelette, about 17,500 words long. (This means I am getting 4 cents a word, which is kind of scary.) So, if I wrote and sold 50 stories a year, I would make $35,000; and I would be writing 875,000 words a year, which is the equivalent of 7 novels. I would also have a story in every single issue of Analog, Asimov's, F&SF and one or two other prozines. Interzone? Realms of Fantasy?

Back in the 1970s, Norman Spinrad said no writer should accept less than $10,000 as the advance for a first novel. That was enough to live on for a year then. I know, because I did it. To live equally well now, you would need around $40,000. The last time I heard a figure, first novels got around $5,000. I don't know what the advances for a reasonably successful midlist author are. Maybe Kelly and Tate could tell us.

I need $30,000 a year gross. I could reduce that figure by not buying coffee out and not taking vacations or buying clothes or cute little thingies such as jewelry or pens. But I am no longer willing to suffer for art, if I ever was. And I need more than $30,000, if I am going to save for retirement, which is getting pretty close.

For me to be a full time writer, I would need to write a book a year and make $30,000 off it -- and do this consistently, year after year. The fastest I ever wrote a novel was 18 months. In order to make a living at this rate of writing, I'd have to get $45,000 per novel.

I was first published in 1973. Since then, I have published 5 novels and more than 30 works of short fiction. Off the top of my head, I would say I have made $60,000 total. I am not adjusting this figure for inflation. $150 for a short story in 1973 would be about $660 now. (The stories I was selling in the 1970s were very short. I was getting 17 cents a word in 2007 dollars, which means my rate per word has declined 76% over the past 30 years.)

Leaving aside inflation, I have averaged $2,000 a year income from writing. Granted, I am a slow writer. I have averaged 27,500 published words a year, which means my average pay rate has been 7 cents a word. At that rate, I could make $7,000 or $8,000 a year, if I consistently wrote and sold 100,000 words a year.

The most I ever got for a novel was $8,500 for Ring of Swords, which was my fifth published novel. I sold it 15 years ago. $8,500 then would be $17,000 in current dollars. If I could write and sell two books a year at that rate, I could live on writing. That's about 250,000 words a year or 2-3 pages a day, which would be doable. I think, at this point in my life, I know enough about writing so I could produce at that level, though it would be a lot easier if I didn't have to work close to full time. But do I have that much to say?

Kelly McCullough added a note to this post. From what he's heard, the advances for midlist writers are in the $10,000-30,000 range. So, maybe, at the high end, enough to get by on... If one can write a book or two a year...


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