In the April 2020 LOCUS, Kameron Hurley writes about the difficulties of maintaining a reliable income stream as a freelance author:The Tricky Finances of the Adjunct Writer
Starting with the unusual problem of several thousand dollars popping up in her bank account from an unknown source, she muses on the balancing act a full-time writer who doesn't produce mega-bestsellers must perform to survive from month to month. She mentions such phenomena as different publishers paying at various intervals and on different dates, royalties received months or years after the publication that earned the income, payments that arrive long after the contract promised they would, and the difficulties of enforcing contracts when their terms aren't fulfilled. Not to mention the impact of that "boom-or-bust cycle" on income taxes. "Trying to explain how writers get paid to anyone outside of the business is difficult, because as you’re saying all this out loud, it sounds absolutely unsustainable and bizarre."
The "hustle," she says, "isn’t about balance. For many of us, the hustle is about survival." Hurley has a day job, which, as she emphasizes, most writers need not only for a reliable income stream but most importantly for health coverage. It was a slight shock to me when I read that half of her monthly Patreon support goes to cover her health insurance and mortgage. My reaction was, "Wow, she receives enough from Patreon every month to equal twice her mortgage and health insurance?!" And yet with that income and proceeds from sales and royalties, she's still struggling. Aside from the first full year after the release of my one Harlequin/Silhouette vampire romance, in my best years I generally earned enough from writing to buy a family dinner out once a month. Maybe twice, in good months.
Fortunately, all my adult life I've enjoyed the kind of support Hurley recommends at one point in her article—a well-employed spouse with excellent health-care coverage (from a thirty-year Navy career, followed by a secure retirement). We have never needed my writing income to live on. That's a good thing, because we would probably be sleeping in the car! Still, sales are gratifying even if one doesn't "need" them, because royalties equal readers, and writers create in order to be read.
Mercedes Lackey often points out that fewer than ten percent of writers make a living from their vocation, and most who do have a nonfiction income source (e.g., journalism, writing ad copy, editing, etc.) as a basis for financial security. Holding a day job doesn't constitute an admission of failure. She advises the aspiring novelist to get qualified in a field for which there's steady demand but which doesn't exhaust one's brain, thus supporting oneself while leaving time and energy for writing. Plumbing, for instance. Marion Zimmer Bradley was fond of reminding young writers, "Nobody told you not to be a plumber."
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt