Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, October 4, 2010

As I See It: Why Authors Don't Make Money

I'm going to try this scheduling thing that so many of you do. My schedule will be:  on Mondays I write an "as I see it" post where I focus on a publishing-related topic and get snarky. After that it will be out of my system and I'll go back to whatever. That's my new blog schedule.

Today I'll post about writers and money. Oooo that's a sore spot, especially during tough economic times. In fact, I posted about money on my other blog, too. No connection. Back to writers. First, we just want time to write. That's all, please oh please just give me time to write.

After we figure that one out, and at last finish our WIP, comes querying, with the goal being to submit our work, find an agent and get published. That seems to take forever, it drives us insane, but still-- we're living our dream, right? I. Am. A. Writer.

When we get the agent, it is through the roof with joy. We made it!! Got the agent!! Land the publishing contract? We shout it out and celebrate like it's 1999. Time to jump into editing with a passion, start the blog, Twitter, network on Facebook, whatever it takes for that book to find an audience, done and done.

******

Time passes. Editing takes forever. Release dates get postponed. Three years to publish one book, are you kidding me?  I should've freakin self-published!  But we keep at it, knowing it will be worth it in the end. Finally the day comes when we hold that beautiful baby book in our hands. Well, I don't need to tell you what that moment feels like. You've either experienced it or imagined it. Yes, it is fantastic.

More time passes.

******

Dare I mention money?

The sales aren't there, the royalty checks are small to nonexistent. We wonder who to blame-- the system, our publisher, our blog, THE MAN? We might even throw the occasional temper tantrum....

Where is the money? Show me the money! Look at fill in the blank writer. Why didn't it work out for me? My book's as good as fill in the blank book. Waaaaa, why can't that be me???!!!

OR--

We can realize that things of worth in this world rarely get paid what they deserve. Professional ball players make millions while schoolteachers struggle to pay rent. A mom staying home full time to raise her young children gets no pay unless there's a husband with a nice income. Day care workers earn crap.

An author, someone who writes the books that brighten our days and cheer our nights and enlighten our minds, earns-- usually nothing. By the time you figure the hours put in, add expenses like paper, toner, laptop, and don't forget the marketing, sometimes doing book tours on your own dime--- yes, it's nothing. It's less even than the school teacher. Sure, there's a few author superstars out there. You can count them on one hand per decade.

Let's face it. We won't make much money as writers. If any. It's lovely when people pay for a book you wrote, so highly satisfying, but there's a lot of people who have to get paid out of that $15.95. The bookstore, the publisher, the distributor, the cover artist to name a few.

Some of them get paid before publication (cover artist) or upon sales (bookstore & somewhat later, distributor). The publisher gets paid when the store pays the distributor and the distributor sends out the checks, after taking his cut of course. The author gets paid last, twice a year. The system is messed up. None of it would exist except for the authors, and they get their small percentage last. They are the first to do the work, i.e. write the book, and the last to get paid. Twice a year. Oh, and don't forget returns, which are deducted from the author's royalty account. So don't quit that day job.

There aren't really any bad guys in this scenario. No one makes a lot of money in publishing unless there's a mega-hit, or a string of bestsellers, or you've been around forever like since 1872. Otherwise it's a very difficult business to get rich in. If you're doing this for the money, better rethink your career path.

I want to write. I need to write. I need people to read what I write. Call me a needy author, it's true, I admit it. I crave readers for my work. I write because it's my passion, how about you? If financial success follows, wonderful. If not, so what? This is for love not money, right?

Let's be grateful for where we are on this incredible journey and move forward with joy. Never mind the wondering if "I had an agent, or that agent, I'd be doing better. Or if I self-pubbed on e books I'd get more and wouldn't have to split with my publisher. Or if only I could get in Costco, or get on Oprah. Or if I was with a different press I'd have more exposure." Really, none of it matters, because as a general rule, writers don't make money, sad but true.

So don't think about money and just get back to the writing. Anyway, that's how I see it.

65 comments:

  1. The system is messed up. None of it would exist except for the authors, and they get their small percentage last. They are the first to do the work, i.e. write the book, and the last to get paid.

    Yikes. When you put it like that ...

    A strong reminder, if it was needed, that we do indeed do this for love, not for money.

    Great post.

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  2. Karen, I should probably have explained what motivated this post but it was already so long LOL. What gets me is all the stuff out there that promises writers the path to success through their writing, whether it's epublishing, or getting a certain agent and a big advance, or marketing agencies, or just publishing with a vanity press and purchasing all their "services."

    Really, books aren't a hot commodity. I make more selling cookies than I do books. People who can't afford a cookie will buy one for $1.79, they'll buy two for over $3.00 without blinking an eye, but a book for $5? Um, no, too expensive.

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  3. LOL! Karen, that was a fabulous rant re 'show me the money'! It seems like a long hard road to take, but would we have it any other way? ( ok, don't answer that). ;)) Good luck with your scheduled post and happy writing my dear!!

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  4. Hi,

    Oh so true post . . . So why don't we just give our stories away for free? Because, because there's always that little niggling voice that says this might be the one!

    Personally I'm thinking of putting a e-book out there for free - one at least, and then maybe try self-publishing. Money is not the issue for me, so Amazon's publishing plan would suit OK. ;)

    I dunno, maybe we should all set up a syndicate through Amazon and buy each others books = two-fingers to the conventional pubs!

    best
    F

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  5. Argh. Karen, I just wrote a long-ish rant and then it got eaten! All I'm gonna say is that as much as I love writing, I do wish I could contribute something to the finances of the house!

    GREAT POST!

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  6. Karen, I so love what you wrote here. I just said to my hubby last night that I can't wait for my next birthday. Why? Because I will turn 62 and will be able to collect social security, which means, for the first time since I quit a lucrative job to write full time, I will contribute to the household finances. Yikes!
    Karen

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  7. Karen, hooray for retirement!

    Talli, so fun to have you back commenting again. I have missed you!! And I hope you're one of the superstars of this decade. I'm behind you all the way girlfriend.

    Francine, Well you basically just outlined what the new website for authors I'm working on is all about. Only we won't need Amazon to do it. Seeing how they take 55% of print books. And the only reason they give 70% on ebooks is because the other devices came on board and they had to compete.

    Talei, So next Monday I get to rant again! I have to limit myself to one a week, and I have to do at least one a week or it builds up.

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  8. Maybe not a welcome reminder, but a necessary one. It helps to keep us on track with what we love, and not whoring ourselves out to trends. Consider this: when a trend hits, publishers re-release what fits from their back-catalogue ;)

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  9. Karen--I just one-clicked your book. :-) Did you publish it to Kindle yourself or did it go through a publisher? I'm just curious.

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  10. Will, excellent points. "whoring ourselves out to trends" I like that.

    Mary, it went through the publisher. It was the first one they epublished.

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  11. It is kind of disappointing. I'm not sure why people have this notion of writers making tons of money. (They also seem to think architects make a ton of money, which is equally laughable.) But you've nailed the bottom line for me: We write for love, not money.

    There is a perk, though. We get to hang out with other writers and they're a pretty funny, cool, creative bunch. :)

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  12. Well, that scares me to death. Maybe I'll just write and keep it for myself :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  13. Money is such a pervasive all powerful motivation in this day and age it's quite horrifying really.

    I'm all for artists being able to be artists full time so long as they are able to eat and not be hounded out by debt collectors!

    Come the (artists)revolution! :-)
    take care
    x

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  14. Now go read Scott Eagen's post about the winner mentality. It is awesome!

    http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2010/10/separating-men-from-boys-pscyhology-of.html

    The idea of my post isn't to discourage but to put some realism onto the picture. And Scott's post will make you want to be the best writer you can be. Serious. Go read it.

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  15. Great post and I look forward to more on the 'as I see it' theme.

    I used to work in libraries, another occupation that's for love rather than money. What is it about books?

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  16. One of the more troubling aspects for me is "the black box" around money. Everything seems to happen at a remove: When are statements prepared? I don't know. Is there any pattern of place/time and book sales? I don't know. Does being online really have an impact on sales? No one knows.

    I never feel that I have adequate information on which to base decisions. It isn't a comfortable situation for me. Especially since I don't really like money anyway--I prefer other metaphors.

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  17. I have no delusions of making much money as an author. Or as you said - if any money!

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  18. Great advice. I think if writers are expecting lots of money, they will be disappointed. I just want to be a writer.

    CD

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  19. Oh, so sad but true! And yet we're all striving for it...

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  20. I, too, just want to write and yes - I would like other people to read it. Sharing my craft is a big part of writing enjoyment.

    I have actually been doing research into what it would take to run an epublishing business. Since blogging, I have come to read a few authors who really should be in print. I would love the opportunity to be the one sitting on the other side of the desk for a change. I even have a name picked out - "Just Good Reads" - and like the name implies, I wouldn't discriminate on the basis of genre. Oh well, I can dream, can't I?

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  21. A long time ago, I stopped thinking about the money--I think when I owned a Christian bookstore and only took home $100 a week if that. It was a ministry and that is what my writing is.

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  22. I am so guilty of cookie buying. I will not purchase the book for $4.99 on my Kindle, but would go right now and purchase one of your cookies if I knew where to get them. I LOVE COOKIES!!!

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  23. When it come to writing, you are the voice of reason.

    Recently, I got paid for two blog posts to appear on another blog. I was over the moon. Paid for writing!

    You're right. Everyone thinks they're worth more. They should be paid more. That THE MAN stands in their way. Instead of whining, let's just keep writing!

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  24. well everybody can eat a cookie, not everyone can read a book but you are so right about this Karen.

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  25. They say the average author royalty is between $2-3000 - and that's certainly not enough! (That's why I'm a speaker - it pays the bills.)

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  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  27. Diane, And that probably helps sell books as well! Fortunately you are no doubt an amazing speaker whereas I suck at it. However I do make amazing cookies and altho I made a comment about that I decided to remove it and post more on it later.

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  28. I was at a self-publishing conference this weekend, and I am beginning to think that there really is some merit to the idea. Of all the reasons to do it, on the top of the list is (along with no gatekeepers) is that you get to keep the money your book brings in.

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  29. ...great post, Karen! Written by a writer, from the heart, on a painful subject we face each day. Your take on editing hits home like a slap in the face. You've been reading my posts, so you already know that I'm currently in round 4 of edits, entering year 2 since my signing day, for a book I started a decade ago...painstaking. As for reaching financial bliss...at this point I dare not think of it. My goal is to at long last see the damn thing on a shelf somewhere...and to one day receive an email from a complete stranger, informing me that they just finished my book...and loved it.
    That's payment enough for me:)

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  30. My husband loves to remind me that since I’ve become a published writer my inexpensive writing hobby has turned into an expensive pastime! I know I’m not going to get rich, but I am having fun (most of the time).

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  31. I try not to think about money but every once in a while I do have vivid dreams of becoming wealthy and driving my jag down Brigham City's main street.

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  32. Love the new schedule!!!

    Making money...well I can't say it wouldn't be nice, but like you I write because I need to write. I fall into a funk or fog when I am not writing. So as you say, we write because we have to, we need to and we want to. If money follows that is icing on the already wonderful cake.

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  33. This is such a reasonable and spot-on post. It's okay to have dreams, but chances are, dreams of big money don't pan out when it comes to writing. It is a good idea to know the truths of it. :)

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  34. I LOVE this post. I think we can ALL relate. Oh and Aussie writers get paid even less ;) just thought I'd throw that in. I certainly ONLY do it for the love.

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  35. Karen, you nailed it. Yes, we'd better be writing for the love of it, and not for the money. I'm grateful every day that my husband earns the real money, which allows me to stay at home with our boys and write while they're in school.

    I love writing anyway, and if I earn money too, well that's the cherry on top. Thanks for this amazing post.

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  36. We must all love it...because we desperately try to find time to do it...in between the hours we work at jobs that actually pay.

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  37. Very cathartic read, thanks Karen!

    But, true, we might never make a living from being authors, but it is possible to make one from being a writer - you just have to diversify, get fingers in a few pies and maybe do a few boring writing jobs.

    Or that's what I've been told...

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  38. I like your idea of a Monday rant allowing you to be in a more zen space the rest of the week. ;)

    I have been getting so many questions about how sales are going for my book, and I think people assume that I'm suddenly wealthy from getting published. *laughs* Good thing I have my day job!

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  39. It is so true, there really is no money in it - certainly not what you could make with that time doing almost anything else. Except you wouldn't love it as much. :)

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  40. Thanks for this honest post, Karen! We need more reminders to focus on the passion and not the paycheck:)

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  41. This is a a very thought provoking and timely post for me. I have been exploring the self publishing route for my cookbook, recommended by a blog friend who has already gone down that path, with much success. She says "it's the only way to go", at least for non fiction works. I would be very interested in hearing more about your website and your cookies.

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  42. I really do believe the publishing industry has to evolve in order to survive. I personally think authors must look to more publishing outlets than the Big Six. Yes, we all want to win that big book deal with one of the giants, but even if you do get one with them, your advance is likely to be small and you'll be on your own in terms of publicity. So, why not think about other avenues to publication - small presses, e-presses, self-publication. Because in the end, we just want to write.

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  43. money? time? what are those things? i wouldn't know...

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  44. Too many of my published friends say the same thing. Just don't worry about the money, do it because you love it.

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  45. What you say is so true. A friend recently self-published, and while she is struggling with everything, she realises she is happy because at least the book out there is the book she wants out there.
    BUT, she does say she often ends up spending more on publicity than she makes from book sales.

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  46. Artists and writers should be better paid for sure - for without them our lives would be bleak! Thanks for visiting.

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  47. Karen,

    I loved this post and I look forward to reading more of the world as you see it. It's a pretty stark message but an important one - I must admit I see any money I make as a bonus. Wish that wasn't the case but there it is.

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  48. Which is why self-publishing has taken off recently.

    I see your point, I do. But I don't think the industry is any more messed up than banking. How is it that banks take your money and use it for all sorts of things but then attach all kinds of rules for you to follow? Minimum balances, delays between deposits and when you can access your money, monthly fees.

    At least those in publishing who are taking a portion of the pie are offering services that most authors aren't capable of providing for themselves. Professional editing. Professional cover art. Access to brick-and-mortar stores.

    I'm not arguing with you. On the surface, it looks like authors are getting screwed over. But if you think of it like a business...authors are just paying their 'staff' for services rendered...and like any good business owner will tell you, their own paycheck comes after all the other bills are paid.

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  49. So very true, Karen. We should always write because we love it, regardless of any profit.

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  50. When I got my first royalty check, I thought I had made the big-time. Then I figured my time and expenses into it and found out I was making about 30 cents an hour. I briefly thought about giving up.

    Briefly. I got up the next morning and continued to work on my next novel.

    I discovered that I had a passion for writing. Once that passion is found, it is hard to put it aside even if logic tells you how inefficient it is as a way to make money.

    I have the same frustration with my main career: music. I have two degrees in music, yet I can't make as much as a plumber or construction worker. Nothing against them, but I spent a lot of time and money studying my craft. It's so aggravating that people would rather hire a DJ than a live band that charges less.

    But that passion thing. I wouldn't change what I do for anything. I love both of my careers.

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  51. Oi! You've really hit home. I have delayed sending a BIG BILL this month until my advance comes... the agreement happened in June. The contract was signed in AUGUST. WHERE IS MY MONEY? I mean it's a pittance ANYWAY, but I've been counting on it since the verbal agreement was made and it still isn't here.

    The way though, that I try to justify all this is: The writers do the work up front (other than promoting)--so we are AHEAD of the curve. And if the books stay in print, theoretically EVERY BOOK can earn us money indefinitely. So I figure, if starting next year, I publish 2 books a year (which I think I can if I get serious about cleaning up stuff (I have written 7 books, only one of which is toward this contract, so that is 6 to work with that are already WRITTEN)--then in 15 years, I could have a nice income stream for my retirement (and not have to WAIT for retiring at 65). Once you are IN THE CYCLE, eventually I think it can be okay (not a lot, but okay)

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  52. "sigh" Disappointing but I keep slaving over the keyboard. Good thing I like writing...sometimes more than others.

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  53. I have a belief that I've held to for the past five years. Whether you traditonally publish or self publish, don't let your motivation be money. Do it because you love it, because you have something important to say, because you want to connect with others but don't do it for money. Otherwise you'll be dissatisfied. Even if you do make money you'll say: "why didn't I make more money?" That would be really sad considering the true accomplishment of writing and publishing a book.

    Jai

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  54. I was in our library today, and there are so many BAD books! Why were they ever published, and why then don`t the GOOD books get paid well? I liked that idea of us all buying our books. If you send me yours, Karen (of course I have Farm Girl but you wrote a new one?), I will send you the money!

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  55. Oh dear!
    It is disappointing to think the rewards, beyond the esoteric, can be so small.

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  56. I always wondered why writers often only got a small percentage of what each book sold for; I thought they should get a bigger portion since they're the ones who wrote the book after all.
    It'd be nice to make some money from writing, but you're right about how we should just focus on writing. Besides, if I did want to make a lot of money, I wouldn't be working as a college teacher right now. I can't even afford Frappuccinos, sniff, sniff.

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  57. NW, I'm pretty sure you make more as a college teacher than most of us make at writing :)

    Angela, You're a sweetheart! And how many of us have looked at those bad books and wondered "what the- ?"

    Jai, Well said, well said. My whole point exactly. And you took a lot fewer words to say it than I did.

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  58. I was a nurse in the UK, no money there. I choose to write, no money there. My conclusion? I am not meant to have money but do what I love in life.

    Great post!

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  59. Alas. *sighs* Still, can't stop writing, so I guess you just have to learn to cope.

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  60. I like your new sort-of-a-schedule-schedule. I'm looking forward to the 'as I see it' posts.

    We love writing - it builds us. We don't do it for the money, fans, followers, etc. But it sure would be nice, huh?

    Have a great week!

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  61. I found my head nodding as I read your post. So true. Don't quit the day job and celebrate the little things that happen along the way. It's the only way to keep sane. Oh, and keep writing!

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  62. You're so right that people won't drop money on books the way they will for a cookie...or an overpriced coffee or an i-app. And the way you framed this post was terrific - because most of us aren't motivated by money at all but by wanting more time to write. Unfortunately, in this world, the only way to get more time is to make mo' money. Dammit.

    P.S. Just want to add that in these parts, teachers make a pretty good buck. Plus tenure. Plus pension - who else in this country gets a pension anymore? But that's a whole 'nother rant.

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  63. I look forward to your Monday rant-fest - I was nodding in agreement as I read your post.

    I gave up my day job to write and now my savings are pretty much gone and I'm looking at part-time work to enable me to keep writing. I don't think I'll go back to what I was doing before (law). I'm happier and more content now, even if I can't always afford to buy a cookie!

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  64. that seems like sound advace! thanks.

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  65. Great reminder! It's easy to get caught up in the success stories and forget about all the writers scraping a couple dimes together hoping for a coffee, I mean cookie. ;) I figure I'll be one of those with a bunch of tiny income streams that'll still let me write. McDonald's, anyone?

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