I have been a writer since I was about thirteen years old and spent the summer hammering out a fantasy adventure novel on my Mom's old Underwood typewriter. And I started submitting stories for publication at the age of seventeen.
My first fiction sale happened a few years later, in 1992, for which I received five US dollars and a contributor's copy of the small press magazine the story appeared in.
Since 1992, I have either made money or the "payment in copy" equivalent of actual payment that I, as a young and desperate writer seeking to build a "name" was willing to accept in the very early days. Of course, as time went on, the pay I was willing to write for moved upwards towards what is considered "professional rates."
Along the way I have always had a day job in order to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. This came from the oft-given parental advice I received when I said "I'm going to be a writer." My folks reminded me of the importance of having a good day job so that I wouldn't go hungry while pursuing my dreams. So I sought a "day job" that would keep me as happy as writing makes me. Hence, my ongoing role as "bookseller."
In terms of "day jobs" I've been extremely lucky - always working within my field. And, as the Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo via Kobo Writing Life (a role I've had since October 2011), it continues to be a rewarding and fulfilling career.
So while I don't yet make enough money from writing to support being a writer full-time I must pause to admit that, even if I did earn enough from writing, I'm not sure I COULD leave the fulfilling and satisfying career and role I play.
But with respect to looking only at that "writerly earning" I just finished putting together the numbers for my writing earnings and expenses for 2015.
And, even though my "day-job" involves supporting thousands of authors who are able to earn enough money from self-publishing to be full-time writers (something I'm extremely pleased to be assisting them with), I don't yet fall into that particular bucket myself. In fact, though I'm a huge advocate for self-publishing as a viable option for writers, I personally earn more than half of my writing income from "traditional publishing."
Here's the breakdown of my writing income sources for 2015:
Income from Traditional Publishing: 52.75%
Income from Self-Publishing: 36.10%
Income from *Mixed Sources: 11.18%
* Mixed Sources refers to income that doesn't come directly from publishers or from direct self-publishing royalty sources. It includes other writer-related income from things such as Public Lending Rights (mixed titles), direct sales of print books, speaking and writer appearance honorariums, etc.
I should add a few caveats to this pie-chart, of course:
First, my numbers show that in the previous year almost 60% of my income came from self-publishing, while only about 35% came from traditional publishing. So it's interesting to see how, in a single year, things can change. This, to me, highlights the importance of being OPEN to all opportunities available as a writer. You never know WHERE the income might come from in the next 12 month period.
Second, if I were to break the income down and only look at eBook sales, self-publishing still leads with almost 90% of my income. The Traditional publishing game, for me, is all about PRINT books. Fortunately, my non-fiction books continue to do well in traditional print venues. However, I barely earn anything from the digital sales of my traditionally published books.
Third, if I were to look only at non-fiction sales, traditional publishing accounts for about 95% of my income. When it comes to fiction, the exact opposite is true. About 90% of my income from fiction comes from self-publishing.
All this is to say that there are pros and cons to each side and I benefit from being open to both.
A few take-aways for this particular writer:
1) Traditional publishing continues to be a good experience for me, particularly with respect to non-fiction titles that are distributed to print retail markets. I'll likely work on at least one book per year for that market.
2) I will continue to self-publish in both digital print formats (using POD - print-on-demand) for projects that earn me decent income but are not likely to appeal to a traditional publisher. Niche market material, etc.
3) Being open to new opportunities and new revenue sources remains a focus for this writer -- I have begun the process of getting books converted into audio, and will continue to be open to new opportunities as they present themselves.