I Hate To Burst My Own Bubble

Okay , so I’m not going to get rich from writing unless it’s by some fluke accident, but then I’ve pretty much known that all my writing life. The truth of it is people, you can believe me when I say, most of us don’t write for the fame and riches.

Here in Canada winning the $50,000 Giller Prize or collecting a large advance would be a dream come true. But the truth is, you might have more chance at winning big on the lottery. Depressing thoughts for some, I suppose.

Although these things do happen they are definitely the exception. Most writers do not receive a huge advance or see their book on the bestseller lists. As Canadians— we are always told, ‘ Here in Canada..’— it’s a bit of a sobering thought for some.

According to Statistics Canada, a Canadian writer on average makes between $18,000 and $22,000 annually from his or her writing – and this includes royalties from book sales as well as income from grants, giving readings and workshops, writing reviews for magazines and newspapers, and earning a yearly stipend from the Public Lending Right Commission. I should add monies received from access copyright here as well.

Suffice it to say many authors do not give workshops or visit schools and, from my own experience, receiving a writing grant is no easy feat. In theory it sounds wonderful but the truth of it is many writers find them near impossible to get. Not to mention the fact that not everyone can take a leave from their work in order to write full time. Many of us hold down other jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet. If we had to live off the fruits of our labour we’d starve to death for sure.

One statistic from back in 2005, estimated that 3,000 Canadian authors – which amounts to 11 per cent of the total 27,500 who identified themselves either as self-employed or salaried writers – reported no earnings from their writing. Hmmm. No earnings… Not difficult to figure out why many of us need to work at other jobs, is it? I don’t know any other job where you report zero earnings. Eeek!

So there are all the sobering facts for Canadian writers. Impressive, aren’t they? Some might say we Canadian are a depressing bunch to even be looking at these dismal statistics. The truth of it is most writers here in Canada are more than aware of these facts and if writing was something we did to gain fame and riches we sure as heck wouldn’t be writing. Can you blame us?

But for me, for many of us, writing is more about self-expression than making it big. Most writers write as a means of nurturing our creative minds, challenging ourselves to produce gloriously beautiful prose, and finally sharing what we’ve created with those who are interested in reading what we’ve written. Many of the writers I’ve spoken to over the past year have told me that holding their book in their hands was far more rewarding than any advance or royalties they may have received.

So here I am. Writing because writing is what makes me feel fulfilled, certainly not the meager earnings I can expect to receive from my creative endeavors. Am I optimistic that one day I will be able to retire and write full time? You bet! If a writer didn’t remain optimistic we wouldn’t subject ourselves to the torture of submitting again and again and again.

So while my bubble didn’t suddenly burst, and while I always expect that there are exceptions to every rule—and hey, I might just be that exception. Right?—the statistics speak for themselves. So I’m here, opening myself up on the page for others to praise or to scrutinize, not for fame and riches, but to feed some inner need, to make me feel complete.

How about you, what are your honest expectations as a writer?

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24 Comments

  1. I’m right with you, Laura and don’t write to make big bucks. If I had that attitude, I would have given up years ago. The whole publishing/money side can depress a writer if they let it get to them. I think it’s important to remember why you took up writing in the first place.

    Think of how joyful and magical it is to create a story out of your imagination, the thrill of self-discovery, and the sense of accomplishment when you complete and polish a piece. These are bigger rewards than the money in my opinion.

    We need to remember that when the going gets tough.

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    • I never had the expectation that I would one day quite my job to write full time. Of course there was always that dream that my husband would land a high paying job and we’d no longer need to incomes. 🙂

      Having the time to explore my writing would be a dream come true but it’s not now, nor has it ever been, about the money. Not saying that I won’t accept any money that comes my way from writing with a big old smile on my face because I will. But I continued to write long before I ever received any compensation.

      Thanks for visiting, Cathy.

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  2. I agree with everything you’ve said, Laura…I have made money from writing, but not nearly the amounts you have given in your piece (and certainly not enough to support a family, unless one is talking about squirrels, who don’t eat much!).

    Like you, I write for myself…if I make money from something I’ve written, it’s a bonus. For me, somebody telling me that they like my story is my payment…

    Wendy

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    • Those bonuses are great, aren’t they? It tells us our work has value and that someone is willing to pay for it.

      Knowing that others are reading our work and enjoying it is another bonus!

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  3. You are so right. And for once, the stats are correct. Only I’m depressed now because I don’t even met the normal criteria. LOL. Oh hum. No advance, and my cats make more money catching mice than I do writing. And surprise surprise, Metis grants are near to impossible to obtain. So, good thing I don’t write for the riches and fame. I’m laughing because even when I began back in 1984, I didn’t expect there were riches in my future.

    Great post, Laura.

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    • Oh dear, don’t be depressed, Joylene. 🙂

      I’m pretty sure that being rich isn’t all that’s it’s cracked up to be. We’re much better off writing for others reasons.

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      • I’m positive you’re right, Laura. The freedom to write when I want and what I want is a wonderful gift. I watched the interview between Rowling and Oprah. What happened to J.K. is totally abnormal and not without many problems. Yes, I’ll just keep telling myself that. LOL. Seriously, having no expectations, limitations or guilt trips has be uplifting for this next book.

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  4. Yes, Laura, I agree with you about expectations, and for the reasons you stated above, it is nice to have a blog. If I am never published, I will have had the privilege of tossing something out into cyberspace that came from my heart. I’m not sure how USA statistics compare with Canadian stats, but I doubt there is a significant difference. We write because we were born with the innate desire. So why not write?

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    • It is nice that you post your work on your blog for others to read, Carol Ann. I enjoy reading it. 🙂

      “We write because we were born with the innate desire.” For many of us, Carol Ann, that is our reality. So very true.

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  5. I think the biggest disillusionment for me was the discovery that no matter how good your writing may be .. it has a very slim chance of being published, unless you want to pay big bucks to do it yourself apart from the traditional publishers. So, that leaves very few of us who will have that thrill, and whatever dollar supplement that comes with it. Count your blessings, Laura. Your work has been well received.

    My honest expectations are now that I will have to work beyond what I ever dreamed to even find a place for my writing to be viewed by anyone. I also have realized that I have to adjust my opinion of what I can do and what I expect from the experience. So, you see, I have some serious inner upheaval starting here as I am mentally preparing for NaNoWriMo.

    I think that should I receive any monetary compensation for my writing it would be an exciting day for me. 🙂

    Blessings as you write on.

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    • You’re right, Lynn, good writing isn’t always enough. Being as good as someone else will not necessarily make your work stand out. I do believe a certain amount of luck is involved and hoping that your work finds the right publisher, one who connects with what you’ve written.

      Best of luck with NaNoWriMo. Time is closing in.

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  6. I didn’t start my “serious” writing with any monetary expectations. It was all about communication and sharing. Devotionals and book reviews were contributed. A memoir was for family. When I received a cheque for my first magazine article I was elated, and to this day whenever I get one I still feel it’s a bonus.

    Maybe that kind of start is why I don’t think much about what a published novel might earn. I’d like to have publication contracts as a reason to write full time, but since I don’t have to earn a living at it there’s no disillusionment about not making a lot of money. It’s still more about the journey than the destination for me, although maybe I’ll feel differently if and when I get that first contract! 😉

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    • I so agree with you, Carol about it being about the journey.

      It seems as though most of us began writing because we did feel a need to communicate in some way and we weren’t spurred by false illusions of money.

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  7. I had a long discussion with another writer about this and she felt that it’s demeaning for writers to not demand decent money for their work. For instance, she said she would never submit to a magazine that didn’t pay. I understand that for a profitable mag, but most of them do not make a profit. Most online mags make no money at all.

    Of course, it would be very nice to be paid well for writing, but for me that would be a bonus, as Carol said. I write to communicate, to share, and if I could make that connection with readers, that would be the real value.

    However, if I should ever get a traditional book publishing contract, I would certainly expect to receive fair compensation for my work.

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    • Absolutely, Linda. Once a contract is offered it is only right to expect fair compensation and there would be no reason for us to expect not to receive fair compensation. Our work does have value, after all.

      For a writer to “demand” decent money–I’m not sure what that means. Having a set fee for services might work well for some freelance writer who are working at making a living from writing. It has been my experience, however, and I’m not saying this is the norm, but some places have set fees for articles and stories and it’s more of a matter of take it or leave it.I’ve never written for any high paying magazines, however, I can only speak from my own experience.

      I suppose in a perfect “writing” world, writers could slap their own price tag on their work and wait for the money to flow.

      Let’s keep our fingers crossed!!

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  8. So…publish in America first. 🙂 That’s my goal. I’ve heard heads of Canadian publishing houses call Canadian publishing a non-profit business. That’s certainly not the case in other countries.

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    • Wish I had thought of that. 🙂

      Seriously, I’ve never even considered publication in the US. I’m sure that would entail getting an agent, etc. and I’m not so sure that’s where I want to be at the moment.

      I wish you good luck in your quest, Holli ..

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  9. Miss Julie

     /  October 7, 2010

    You can win the lottery, though, if you don’t buy a lottery ticket 😉

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  10. I’ve made a little from magazine articles and one short story, but not enough to consider writing a source of income. I simply write for my own enjoyment.

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    • Writing is a good past time. For years I’ve made a little money here and there. but even with a published book, which don’t get me wrong is totally wonderful, I know I won’t be quitting my job anytime soon. Still, I couldn’t imagine not writing.

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  11. I’m not going to be satisfied ’til I earn enough to own 2 yachts – a mansion on the rocky coast of Maine, a penthouse in NY, a villa in Monaco & an estate with a hayooge boathouse here in St Augustine.

    So far, the checks I get in the mail ain’t gittin’ me there. That’s okay. I’ll try out bein’ a mobster next.

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    • Wow! high expectations, Dave! But I love your attitude and sense of humour. (You were kidding weren’t you, Dave?) I don’t think I’ve even dared to dream that big.

      Think I’d reconsider the whole mobster thing if I were you!

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  12. Jan Coates

     /  October 10, 2010

    Hi, Laura: On the upside, if we could just write a GG-winning novel, like Red Deer Press author, Caroline Pignat. Her second novel, Greener Grass, won the GG last year for children’s literature, text – in writing that book (which is part of a trilogy), she’s received two Canada Council grants of $10K, and now one for $25K to write the third book. Unfortunately,that kind of success is soooo…rare, but sweet for her. She’s a high school English teacher as well as a fantastic writer, BTW…Happy Turkey Day!

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