The Stigma Of Writers Making Money Off Their Writing

Introduction

As someone who has been writing/blogging for over a decade now, I have heard a lot of opinions about writers over the years. Most are positive or neutral, but one negative you sometimes hear is: “It’s sad when you find out a writer is just in it for the money.” It’s hard for me to wrap my head around this mindset. I truly can’t imagine anyone writing for money – for one thing, it’s not a lucrative career and it’s pretty famous for being low paying. People who value money above all else aren’t usually drawn to writing. When it comes to writing, it can sometimes be a polarized topic – people either think you’re a well-paid bestseller or you’re just a hobbyist who shouldn’t expect to be paid. I’d like to preface this post by saying I don’t make any significant money from my books and I make 0 dollars from blogging.

So, why exactly do some people think authors should write without ever getting paid for their work? I will explore some possible reasons.

Some People See The Arts As Mere Hobbies

For some reason, creativity and the arts are often deemed as “hobbies” rather than work. They think it’s nice people have a little talent, but they don’t like the idea of them making money off something they love. Perhaps due their own dissatisfaction with their own career, they don’t want to think of people who have it “too easy”. Maybe they always wanted to write a book, but never made the time, so they loathe the idea of someone making a viable income from one. They believe the arts should be for fun and expression only – never mind the time, work, and effort that goes into it. You can see this bias when you change “author” to “dentist”. If you have 5 cavities, most people aren’t going to say “You’re just in it for the money!” Of course, a lot of people choose healthcare professions for the stable income, but you’d have to be a special kind of person to work on people’s teeth all day, and I know most dentists aren’t in it just for the money – cavities need to be filled if you’re a dentist and inspiration needs to be written if you’re a writer.

Authors can get enough imposter syndrome as it is without having the negative voices accusing them of writing for bad reasons like MONEY. We all deserve to be paid for our work – whether that comes right away or years down the line.

They Have Something Against Self-Promotion

This is where the indie authors can feel a little stress at times. Traditionally published authors have a marketing and distribution team who advertise, promote, and send the copies to book stores. Some traditionally published authors are expected to promote their work, too, but a lot of the burden is on the publisher rather than on the creator. People can clap for these authors louder, because the sales aren’t their problem. Someone else will buy their new release at the book store.

With indie authors, all of the book promotion is on them, so they usually work harder posting about their book on social media to get a few sales. I think some viewers feel a little guilty knowing they can’t or don’t want to buy their book, so seeing this indie author promoting their work is annoying. As indie authors can seem to be a little more “in your face” than authors represented by a publisher, they might seem self-absorbed if people don’t know why they’re promoting. I mean, to me it’s simple. If someone has a small business, they market their products. If you’re a self-published author, you market your books. Some people just see a person wanting attention online without realizing that marketing needs to be done when one is an author – and they are not trying to get rich but would be happy with a sale or two that month.

They Think Writing Quality Goes Down When Money Is Involved

Many see making money off art as dirty or evil – they don’t see any art as real if the artist has to promote and sell it. They think people should invest years in their art without making a dime. When we all start out, our work is raw and we don’t know how well it’s going to do. As time goes on, we get better and learn more, and we might start to think our work deserves to make an income. I don’t think it’s wrong when people write work to be seen – isn’t that the point of telling a story – to entertain other people? Of course, write for yourself first so you’ll enjoy the process, but it amazes me that there’s such a stigma to sharing work that was literally created to be shared.

I realize there’s also a stigma for represented authors to be pressured into writing 4 books per year – you can tell their work is a little rushed and it can sometimes kill their original enthusiasm for writing. This is why I personally chose not to get a literary agent, because I wanted all hands off my work. That said, if someone wants to see their book represented, there’s nothing wrong with that – they should just be careful that their publisher isn’t pushing them to produce too quickly. For the publishing business it’s all about the money, but for the author it’s certainly about so much more than that.

They Think Paid Writers Are Rich

Another common misconception is that paid authors are rich or making more money than the average person. Even some traditionally published authors have to work a day job until their book gains popularity. You have to sell a LOT of books to make a living income. (For example, your average e-book will give you a $3 royalty. If you sold 50 of those in a week, that’s $150. That’s a nice little extra money, but you won’t be buying a new car with it). In reality, most authors make a supplementary income from their writing. On the lower end, you’ll make pocket change every month ($2-$40). Mid-range successful authors might make a few hundred dollars per month that helps pay some of their bills. The rare highly paid authors might make anywhere from $20K-$100K per year. Less than 1% of authors will be rich.

If you see an author promoting their work or celebrating a sale, please know they aren’t bragging, they’re genuinely happy that their work is being read. Most indie authors aren’t in it for the money; they promote to be read.

They Think Making Money From Writing Is Too Easy

Some people hate the idea of others making money doing something they love. I get it – life is hard. It’s not always fair, but sometimes it’s nice when we get a break – shouldn’t we be happy when others get their break, too? If you meet someone who is one of the few authors who makes $80K+ per year off their writing alone, know that they are a unicorn in the literary world. The book market is saturated and few people are able to quit their day jobs to write.

Even if someone was making a good yearly wage off their books, they deserve it. If someone makes an extra $400/month from their writing, they deserve that. All work is deserving of being paid if it’s good quality. And if someone loves creating even if they’re never paid, that’s wonderful, too. As long as they’re happy, that’s what matters. I think a lot of writers are fine to write for decades until their work “makes it”, believing one day it could pay off. It’s totally okay to have that mindset. If you do good work, it does deserve to be bought. So, if you see a writer growing their following or boosting their marketing efforts, please don’t be harsh with them – chances are they just want to get their work out there more and potentially make a second stream of income. The chances of them getting rich or famous are quite low no matter how hard they’re working.

Conclusion

People will say all manner of things – perhaps out of envy, bias, or misinformation. Others simply have a moral issue with any work of art making money. In the end, you as an author need to define yourself and your own values. Objectively, it’s not wrong to want to make a supplementary income off your work. A modest income is very different from becoming rich. Many bloggers make a few dollars per month (It’s harder to make money blogging than it seems). Experienced professional bloggers can make great extra money to help pay the bills. It’s no one’s right to tell them it’s wrong for them to write for money. I believe no one ever writes “just for the money” as there are far more lucrative ventures one would get into if that was all they cared about. Writing takes a lot of time and emotional energy so you couldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.

As an indie author and blogger with a small following, it’s definitely creativity and people first for me. If it were able to make me a supplementary income down the line, that’s an added bonus. For the past ten years I’ve gotten used to working at a day job and creating on the side and it’s a balance that has worked well for me. I know my reasons for writing and I’m aware of my values – any assumptions that I’m in this just for money are false. Sometimes as we grow, others might feel some competition with us and snide comments can happen. That’s okay. Just keep being you and doing what you love – then the rest will follow. ❀

Thank you so much for stopping by today! ❀ Happy writing.

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27 comments

  1. I think it’s the same mindset that thinks all music should be free – because it’s possible to listen to it for free therefore one should never have to pay.

    • Yes that’s such a good point! Indie artists put so much work into what they do and they should be paid. At least if they’re on YouTube they’re making money off their channel.

  2. As you know I published a book, my first, back in July. Before that I did not know much about the publishing of books, traditional or self publishing. During this process I’ve learned that if you self publish you have to promote your book. You can’t just create the book, publish it, and then let it sit and hope that people will see it and promote it for you. No one will find your book unless you are famous. You have to get the word out. Before this experience I came across several friends who self-published books but I never had a problem with them promoting their book, and I was supportive, and I really enjoyed reading their books. However, not everyone feel the same. Now I understand how tough the business is. It’s certainly a lot easier to make a living being an Engineer (my profession).

    • That’s such a good point. Yes having a traditional career is certainly better for stable income. My Dad was an engineer then moved to being a sales engineer and it’s kept him busy. Thanks for your comment. πŸ™‚

  3. Boom you said it Sara. Such a very enlightened post about the stigma of writing and writers making money out of it.

    Personally I believe writers deserve to be paid for their work even if it is not a lucrative career as you mentioned here. I also love that writers are actually working too because writing is not easy as seen on the surface, it is hours and even years of preparation.

    Those who critic writers are doing so out of envy, dissatisfaction of their careers and other negative reasons.

    A writer is not just a person who has a talent but it is a person who shares their thoughts and can even convince the great people to Transform and change. Writers are a priority because they can move or break a people’s hearts.

    Have a great day and keep these posts comingπŸ‘ŒπŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ™

    • Omg I love your thoughts and insight on this. It’s awesome you think writers deserve to make some money off their work and that you recognize the work we all put into our craft.
      Thanks for the kind words and hope you have a good day too! πŸ™‚

  4. Well put Sara!
    Do you think that quality also goes down not only with deadline pressure, but when you are in a position to sell, you have to write to the sale, and not what you may feel or want to write?
    I would think of working on deadline or to a specific audience or publication, you would self edit for time and content without truly expressing how you feel or want a work to proceed.
    My first love is music. But not what is popular, but what I like to listen to when I study or write for church or school. If I were to write music that I listen to (New Age Classical Solo Piano) and try to sell it, I would starve, but die happy.
    Just a thought

    • Yes the quality can go down for alot of people if the author writes what a publisher wants them to write or it may be too rushed due to pressure to have it on sale soon.
      I just write what I want to write and then see who connects to it. If I was writing to sell, I honestly wouldn’t have written anything I have. πŸ˜‚ Of course, all stories are meant to be shared, so editing is fine. My process was always to write a crap first draft then refine it with every edit.
      For me it’s really more about being read, as the sales just cover my bank fees.
      That’s lovely you enjoy creating music. Solo piano is really beautiful. Would love to listen to what you play! I’m sure your music would stir people.

  5. I have absolutely no problem with anyone trying to profit from writing. We all have to pay the bills somehow. Everyone who provides a service should be paid. Unlike many, I also don’t have a problem with entertainers (athletes, singers, etc.) being paid a lot of money. The law of supply and demand determines what people are willing to pay. I am more likely to support those who give back to their communities. Would I like to see certain professions get paid more than they do? Absolutely!

    I just don’t want to be bombarded with sales pitches by disingenuous people who act friendly but have ulterior motives.

    • That’s fair indeed. As a book blogger, I love hearing about what people are working on – as long as they’re not pushing their books every day. WordPress has some pretty kind people on here who love connecting and I’ve rarely come across those who act friendly for their own gain – every so often you get a bad apple who loves spreading negativity, though. It can be blatant or a little more subtle.

  6. Very true what you’ve explained here! πŸ™‚ I know I’m never likely to “make it big” as an indie author and I baulk at actively promoting as it seems way too pushy, but it was satisfying to start this as a minor side hustle that I could express my inner voice, point at and say ‘I made that myself.’
    Thanks for re-emphasising the hidden weeks/months that it takes to prepare our work – most outside viewers just see the finished book and think “that must’ve been easy” when it took time and effort with little obvious payoff.

    • I like how you see it: a minor side hustle. I think that’s pretty much how I view mine too. It’s nice theres no pressure to meet deadlines or market unless you want to. I really prefer reading indie authors just because I know how much work we really put in with little payoff as you say. Thanks for your insight.

  7. Great post! In addition, I think that this statement is made sometimes as a way to criticize a writer’s POV without doing so directly. “He sold out.”

  8. I think it is absolutely important for creators to generate income from their work. I am very mindful of income-shaming. My former career was in Mental Health. There was a stigma in requesting a raise. There was a stigma in asking for glasses and other property to be replaced(at the company’s expense). We were expected to be more concerned with complete altruism. I worked very hard for my Masters in Psychology, so I would never do the work from less than a set number.

    • You raise such a good point. It’s interesting how a field like mental health helps so many people and oftentimes can save lives yet there’s a stigma against mental health professionals getting a raise or making good money. There can be burnout in any health care field so the workers should be well compensated in my opinion. And like you say, you’ve put the work in.

  9. Writing and/or the creative arts are not for the faint of heart. It can be very hard to make a living and overcome our fears/mindsets. I mostly have opted for art as hobby and support myself other ways.

  10. The goal for me is to one day make money. Writers should definitely be paid just as other creators. Writing brings a form of entertainment, therefore give us the money! LOL

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