How Much Are Writers Really Earning?

Of all the questions I get from people who wonder about writing (freelance, novel writing, blogging, or otherwise), is how much people really make.

It can be a difficult thing to answer, mainly because it various widely – and I mean widely – and because sometimes writer’s lie. They don’t mean to mislead (probably) but sometimes they throw out figures that simply are loaded with blarney.

The Blogger Who Makes a Full-Time Income

Let me give you an example. A few years ago I was new to blogging, and stumbled across a blogger who claimed that he regularly made X dollars per month from Google. The figure was pretty impressive, I must admit. And just from Google? I sapped up every piece of advice this person dolled out. I read their blog all the time, and saw a few more references to this X dollar figure. Almost a year later, this person announced that they had hit a new revenue high, and would finally surpass X dollar figure. (And yes, X dollar figure is the same in both these examples.) This whole thing tells me that this blogger was exaggerating slightly on the first announcement of “regularly making X” and might have even been fibbing on the second announcement.

The Lesson: Why would someone do this? First, because I think the point they were trying to make was that it is possible to make good money from blogging. They rounded up, because they thought it was no biggie. This is my guess.

The Writer With the Huge Advance

A second example is this: Another writer announced that she had received a huge advance check for her latest book, and was so excited she couldn’t stop shaking. She regularly blogged about how awesome and cool and huge this check was. I was happy for her, to be sure. She seemed like a nice person (although she was one of those online pals that you never get to meet). But when you talk about a huge royalty check, what figure comes to mind? Your mind races a bit, doesn’t it? The possibility…. but the writer in me likes to get the facts. I wasn’t the only one. People on her blog started asking her “How much is it?” She finally divulged that it was $3,000.

The Lesson: She was excited. This was big money to her. Big, huge, money. Great for her! I hope it continues. But is $3,000 huge? Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to get a book deal and advance, but I guess huge wouldn’t be the term I would use for that number.

Book Sales Coming Out of Left Field

My third example is a writer who said their books were selling “right and left” and also “coming out of left field.” What do you imagine when you hear this? Hundreds? Thousands? Big, respectable, sales numbers. In reality, however, I found out that “out of left field” meant anywhere from 2-15 books a month. At most, no more than 250 a year.

The Lesson: Selling any number of books is a good thing. But using the term “selling right and left” gives me a different impression.

Putting It All in Perspective

The point is, writers get excited, and tell you things that you have to put in perspective. It isn’t that everyone is fibbing, it’s just that sometimes what they think is huge money isn’t going to be what you think it is. Remember how recently I said there is no such thing as the exact same writing career for every writer? That applies to opinions on money, also.

One reason I think writers do this is because they want to encourage people. And that’s a great thing. They want to tell people that writing for a living is a possibility, and I would agree with that statement 100%. But take the facts and digest them. Perhaps the blogger who is successful also sells ebooks and consulting in addition to ads. Perhaps the novelist has a part-time job (or a rich hubby to pay the bills.) Perhaps, for the debt they have and where they live, the number they quote can buy a whole lot more groceries than it could for most everyone else right now. Take all these things into consideration when you hear them.

Finding Out How Much Writers Really Make

So where do you find out exactly how much writers make? After all, it is very helpful to know what others make so you know what’s possible for you. You can’t copy someone else’s career, but you can get an idea of the possibilities.

Here are some tips:

  • When you become friends with writers and develop trust, you can ask them.
  • Read book advance estimates at places like Writer’s Digest or Writer’s Market.
  • Read between the lines. For example, if a writer says they are making $5 per ebook profit, and then a month later says they sell 100 ebooks a month, you have an idea of what they making, even tho they didn’t put these two figures together in the same post.
  • If a writer can prove earnings, that’s a pretty good indicator that they are telling the truth. Paula Mooney, for example, has a video that shows her earnings from one site she writes for.
  • Believe reasonable numbers over inflated numbers. There are actually a lot of writers today posting their earnings, which is helpful. Many of these figures are not high, but I tend to believe them because they are from people who have taken their time to build their business, aren’t talking about crazy get rich quick stuff, and work really darn hard to get where they are. I recently interviewed Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen and she said she makes $3,000 a month from her blogs. I believe this because I remember a few years back when she said she made like $1,000 a month from her blogs. She talks about how she does it, and a lot of it is hard work and time. This seems doable. Her numbers have grown over time. She didn’t come right out of the gate making $3,000, but now she does because she has a system in place.
  • Understand that salaries vary widely for online writers. There are a lot of us writing online. Some writers choose to be arrogant and say we are wasting our time. Some claim it’s the best thing ever. The reality, like most things, falls somewhere in between. Writing sites love to brag about their big money makers, but when you hear these figures understand that it might not be steady (meaning, every single month) and it most likely isn’t every writer on the site. That doesn’t mean you can’t make money that way, it means you have to be smart about what you believe.
  • For everything you read, take it all with a grain of salt. Be a skeptic. We’re writers, for pete’s sake, we’re born to question things and find out more. Dig. Search. Ask.
  • Understand that everything changes.  Rates can change, income sources can fluctuate, affiliates can go away, sites can close… and all of it affects us.  The best thing you can do as a writer is diversify your income so you don’t just rely on one thing (book, blog, client, site).

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1 Comment on "How Much Are Writers Really Earning?"

  1. This is encouraging to me. I’m doing better than I thought if people are selling 250 books a year. Sometimes I believe I’m the only one who struggles for a sale.


    Cherie Reply:

    The point is, Pat, that most writers struggle for sales. That’s why listening to someone who uses blanket terms without proof is a dangerous thing. It isn’t about comparisons, but rather, believing someone who is lying about the money they make.


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