Have you ever asked anyone you've just met 'how much do you earn?'
No? Well, I haven't either but you'd be surprised how many people feel it's okay to ask an author how much he/she earns. Crazy, huh?
In society, it's impolite to discuss wages. We just don't do it.
But I'm here to give you a bit of an idea about author wages, for I believe it's a burning question for unpublished writers and newly published trying to work out whether they should give up their day job to pursue their art.
In a nutshell, asking how much an author earns is like asking how long is a piece of string.
The variables are many: author (Joe Bloggs might write 2 books a year, Nic Nac might write 4), publishers, advances, available slots, extra opportunities (eg. anthologies, novellas, short stories), reserves, returns, exchange rates (Joe might get paid in US dollars, Nic in UK), distribution, print runs, countries published, translations...
Getting the general idea?
It's impossible to compare all these variables between any two authors.
So here's my brief rundown of an author who started writing for Harlequin Romance.
You get paid an advance (Brenda Hiatt does a feature on 'Show me the Money' where the average advance for different publishers/series is outlined.)
An advance is exactly that: an advance on money the publisher needs to earn back before you get paid royalties.
So if your advance is $4000 for Book A, you need to sell X number of copies before you start earning money on that book.
Your advance may be paid in increments: on signing the contract, on acceptance, on publication.
Once your advance is earned back and Book A continues to sell, you start earning royalties.
In my first year (2004) I had 3 books on the shelf. The first one in March, the next August, the next Oct.
I didn't see any royalties for the first period (Jan-June 04) and that's normal.
Your publisher will wait to see the number of returns on a book, will hold money in reserve, money you will get in your next royalty statement.
With Harlequin and the extensive translation and distribution into overseas markets, you can receive royalties on books years later. I'm still receiving royalties on my first book, 5 years later.
But remember, every author is different and you can't bank on royalties (no pun intended!)
Royalties are nebulous, can be fabulous, can be downright depressing and being paid twice a year, you need to budget. Well.
So back to the eternal question...should I give up my day job?
Speaking from experience, it took a few years and continually producing 2-3-4 books a year for a steady, regular income to kick in.
I need to work.
I need to pay bills and school fees and mortgage.
Other writers may have the luxury of only needing a part time income, in which case you can give up your day job sooner.
You may have one of those billionaire playboys I write about helping to support your household, in which case, ditto.
Know your budget.
Know your earning potential (eg. how many books a year can you produce realistically, building in holiday/sick/family time?)
Know how much you need to earn to maintain the lifestyle to which you're accustomed.
Then go for it!
I hope this has helped a little.
Feel free to fire off questions...as long as it's not 'how much money do you make?' ;)