Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DREADED AUTHOR QUESTION: Are You Rich? Have you made any Money?

By Isabo Kelly

In this monthly series, Isabo talks about the often uncomfortable questions every author gets asked, and how to handle those dreaded inquiries. If you have gotten any of these “dreaded” questions, please share them with us here. If you have an answer, all the better.

When aspiring writers ask about the money involved in publishing, they’re asking a reasonable question. After all, this is a business as well as a passion. It’s important to learn about the business end, and part of that includes standards for advances and royalties in the various markets.

The trouble comes when non-writers ask about the money.

“Are you rich?” In other words, how successful are you? This is a tricky set of questions that all artists face at some point in their careers. Because most people in this country equate money with accomplishment.

Unfortunately, becoming rich is not the natural end product of writing, mores the pity. If all you had to do was publish books to be rich, a lot more people would be trying it.

You can make a living, though, so “Have you made any money?” is a little more realistic. If you’re lucky, the person who asks this question is simply being curious. If you’re not having a lucky day, the person who asks this question is getting a nasty satisfaction from the fact that, though you’re pursuing your dream, you’re not a “success” at it because you haven’t made much money.

This attitude implies that “making money” is equivalent to “success.” Not so to a writer. Following a dream, finishing a full manuscript, actually selling that manuscript, having people outside your immediate family read the book—that’s success in this business.

The truth is an awful lot of authors have to supplement their writing incomes with outside jobs. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, having that “day job” actually helps keep you focused and productive. Being forced outside the house to go to work with other people several times a week can keep a writer from getting too bogged down in their own thinking. The full schedule makes them hungry for those moments of isolation when they can create. And having to organize your days around a job forces a degree of scheduling that can encourage productivity.

The dream of most writers I know is to make enough money that they can write full time. But more than one of them has admitted that they think they’ll need something, even part-time, outside the writing just to keep them sane. So even if the books earn enough income to allow you to quit the day job, that might not be the best option for you.

The one thing making money does allow a writer is the knowledge that people are buying and enjoying your books. It’s not so much an indicator of success as an affirmation that you have readers. So it’s fair enough to want to make money as a writer. Most of us aren’t turning away advances and royalties checks! But making money in this industry isn’t the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is writing books that readers will stay up all night to finish. That is success.

So no matter where you are in your career, pre-published, small press, mid-list or bestseller, when asked these questions, you can comfortably say, “Oh the money isn’t the point. The point is to write a book readers can’t put down. When I do that, I know I’ve done my job.”♥

Isabo Kelly (aka Katrina Tipton) is the author of multiple science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romances. Her Prism Award Winning novel, SIREN SINGING, has just been released in paperback from Ellora’s Cave ( For more on Isabo’s books, visit her at


  1. Wow, it never occurred to me that the, "are you published" question may be followed by the, "are you rich question." The former seems reasonable, the latter falls under, how old are you (doesn't apply to kids) and how much do you weigh, which I hope are still no no’s. Isabo, thanks for the insight.

  2. A wonderful response to hopefully satisfy the nosey folk who ask (as Anne pointed out) a rather crass question. And if it doesn't exactly satisfy, it should at the very least clue them in that it is a line of questioning not to be pursued.

    I also agree that, as with any art, the joy in the act of creation is why we do what we do. But as RWA National, and any other writers' organization will stress, we are also professionals and as with any creative business we are also "judged" by those in a position to make - or break - a career, by our success in the marketplace. A frustrating dichotomy, to be sure.