• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Scoop The Pearls Up From The Sea

What kind of money do you expect or hope to make from your writing? What do you feel when you hear about a writer getting a seven figure deal? Have you ever cashed a royalty check? How do you feel about paying your agent 15%? Would you spend your advance before you finished writing your book? Would you take out a second mortgage to finance your writing career? Would you only write for money? Is an advance “symbolic?”  Was Samuel Johnson right? Dorothy Parker? Jonathan Franzen? Keith Richards? Are you thinking about money when you write? Or sex?

47 Responses

  1. Paper money that I can spend.
    I would not pay an agent 15% unless that person worked alone and had no more than six (yes 6) clients, as I don’t believe any agent should earn more than the average amount their authors earn.
    I don’t write for money. I have enough money already.
    An advance is an advance. If one is that way inclined, anything can be symbolic.
    When I write about money I’m thinking about money.
    When I write about sex I’m thinking about sex.

    • StupidHead me left out an answer.
      No, I wouldn’t take out a second mortgage to finance anything.
      The finance industry is evil and I won’t encourage it or participate in it.
      And if you don’t have the ability to finance your writing career without borrowing money, you don’t have the ability to do anything with that money except throw it away.

  2. I want to make $72,000 a year. Last year, I made eighteen. I don’t mind so much when someone I don’t know gets seven figures; it’s when someone I -do- know gets six that I start picking imaginary scabs. I’ve cashed two or three royalty checks in fifteen years. I begrudge my agents everything except the money. I hate them for making bad suggestions–and worse, good ones. I hate them for having steady jobs and health insurance and vacations and children and book-lined offices and Kindles and conferences and Track Changes and other clients. I hate them for not selling my shit. I really hate them for not understanding the urgency. But the money doesn’t bother me. I’d like to make my agents filthy rich. I’d spend the advance, because an advance is exactly as symbolic as an electric bill. I would only write for money if I could.

    • I hope you make at least that much. And stay healthy. Not having health care sucks.

    • Oh, August. I hope you make $72k. Or anywhere between $18k and $72k. I have a steady job teaching middle school kids, but don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. I make a pittance, but it’s a steady pittance. Steady in the sense that as long as those middle school kids need guidance, I have a job. And that’s as steady as it gets. In perpetuity.

      In the end, I’d trade it all for your wit, steady or not.

    • I’m rooting for your 72K but hoping for even more for you A. I’m just hoping that I don’t actually lose money from my writing. Reach for the stars…

  3. I’ve written about this before, maybe here even, but after your post I can’t resist.
    At the age of twenty-three, through no effort of my own, I was handed a sweet publishing deal; small publisher then, huge now. I was told the book idea would make me wealthy and the publisher a lot of money. With my advance, minuscule now, respectable then considering I was unknown and the book unwritten, I put bucks toward a Cadillac and bought a white German Sheppard. All successful authors drive fancy cars and have exotic looking pets.

    I did not have an agent; I was clueless as to my task, and way to enamored by the idea of being an author. I did not deliver, which means, the brass ring which had been given to me was hell bound. The monthly car payment swamped me and my dog bit everybody including me. A new job took care of the car payment, a broken chain and a pick-up truck solved the mean-dog problem. Though I have been published many times, and have made a few bucks with my words, I have never had the pleasure of a title page. My one regret, the dog. He was mean because I was lazy; he died because I was stupid.

  4. When I hear someone got a seven figure deal I think yay. I’m not crazy enough to believe it will happen to me, but possibility is wonderful. I like living in a world with Santa Claus and unicorns. My alter ego might wonder about payback calculations, but hey, I don’t hold P&L responsibility.

    I have no problem paying an agent 15%. It’s a business deal and she’s being paid for her expertise. She shouldn’t work for free. I certainly couldn’t make a sale.

    No, I would not spend an advance before I finished a book. But I kind of wish I would.

    I’d sell my wedding ring or flip burgers before taking a mortgage.

    No, I would not write only for money. I wouldn’t find it a bad deal to write for money to gain the freedom to write my own Painted House every now and then. They aren’t mutually exclusive activities to me.

    Today, I was thinking about sex while writing. The health insurance bill arrived this afternoon so who knows about tomorrow.

  5. Wait. I could be getting paid?

  6. “What kind of money do you expect or hope to make from your writing?”

    Expect–none. Hope–sufficient to purchase my freedom.

    “What do you feel when you hear about a writer getting a seven figure deal?”

    Lucky sucker.

    “Have you ever cashed a royalty check?”

    No. I have so far earned 47 cents in royalties. It went into my PayPal account.

    “How do you feel about paying your agent 15%?”

    No problem. Industry standard.

    “Would you spend your advance before you finished writing your book?”

    I should hope not.

    “Would you take out a second mortgage to finance your writing career?”

    If I had a mortgage, possibly. I’ve borrowed in other ways. Stolen when I had to or I could.

    “Would you only write for money?”

    I would not know how and have never cared to learn.

    “Is an advance ‘symbolic?'”

    Only insofar as it is money, which is always symbolic.

    “Was Samuel Johnson right?”


    “Dorothy Parker?”


    “Jonathan Franzen?”

    No idea.

    “Keith Richards?”


    “Are you thinking about money when you write?”

    Only when I’m writing about money.

    “Or sex?”

    Only when I’m writing about sex, which I write about much more frequently than I write about money.

    • Tetman, I am proud to have feathered your PayPal nest with one or two of those cents. Your book rocks.

      • Thanks. Those royalties were actually from one of the poems Vagabondage Press published in one of their sexy romantic anthologies. I haven’t seen a penny from High Street yet.

  7. When I got my first check from the publishing name that I’d raised to the heavens as a writerly ideal, a big-ass life goal, an achievement I’d like my kids to mention with reverent tones when they sprinkle some dirt into my hole in the ground, I scanned that motherfucker at high resolution because while I’m not stupid enough to not cash that check, I wanted proof. Proof it happened once.

    From here on out, it’s all gravy.

  8. Everything I’ve made is gravy. My outlay has been $9.99 for a Getty Image that didn’t work out very well. Amazon coughs up regularly. Smashwords takes for ever, but it’s bigger chunks. Of course I’d like more, but, to me, it’s the same as selling afghans I crocheted. Only I don’t have to buy yarn.

  9. I hate it makes me sign in with wordpress instead of blogger. Why is that?

  10. If i ever make another cent from writing I’ll be stunned. 

    When other people especially those I know make money doing what I love at first I’m happy for them and then I want to kill myself.

    Have yet to cash a royalty check.

    15% to an agent who supports not just the product but also my career seems like a deal.

    Spend an advance? Probably not.

    Mortgage my house? Never.

    I would never do anything only for the money because everything is symbolic. Absolutely everything.

    • I’m with CJ on this. I don’t expect to ever earn a dime. If I did earn a dime, it would feel insulting, in fact, considering what I put into it. I’d rather say I was never paid than I was paid $32.78. I can think of more interesting symbols than symbolic paychecks.

  11. I’ve sold a few biographical monologues, but I don’t get royalties for them and the flat fee usually covers dinner for five at Culver’s, because you don’t tip there. So far, my royalties for fiction have been paid in feedback, which I’m not knocking.

    But if someone does decide to pay me for a novel, I’d kind of like to pay off my credit card and put a decent down payment on a new(ish) car—maybe a hybrid with a MP3 port.

    No, wait—that’s what I’m hoping to get.

    What I’d like is enough so I can drop my library hours to part time and concentrate on writing the third book and editing the second (which will be in the hopper before the first is released, ’cause this is my dream) without losing the house or going without health insurance.

    Dream big, that’s me.

  12. I think about money when I wake up, eat my cereal, go to work, look at estimates, think about the real costs of my future home…
    While I write? Yes. That too.

  13. I never think about money when I’m writing. And sex only half the time. But I do think about money when I’m reading. Like, I wonder how much the author of that crafting with cat hair book made? http://www.amazon.com/Crafting-Cat-Hair-Cute-Handicrafts/dp/1594745250/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335326115&sr=1-1

    • That’s cool.
      From the description of the book… “Got fur balls?”

    • I sort used books for our library booksale, and there’s an entire 225-page book out there on the history of the color mauve.

    • That is funny! Cat hair felt. And just think, she can hold her head up at any dinner party. She’s a published writer.

      • She can hold her head up at the bank too. It’s not an ebook, paperback only. That book is spending its time between about 3,000 and 7,000 on Amazon’s list of best selling books. That’s a lot of sales, and a lot of dollars.
        I think I’ll start work on 50 Shades of Pussy Fur.

  14. I’m now wondering: should I mention in future queries that I can’t wait to sign over 15% to the daring agent willing to shepherd my manuscript to the top of the charts?

    Meanwhile, since the Day Job occasionally allows me to charge a nice deposit against certain projects, I’ve become fairly adept at rationing out those funds over the life of that contract – and beyond. The art of living “well below” one’s means has been the only way I’ve survived the years of the five-figure business losses. I’d love to demonstrate how responsibly I’d handle an advance!

    Can’t say that Keith is right: my friend’s encounter with him was quite odd. Dorothy, on the other hand, is always to be trusted.

  15. I have three kids and a mortgage so yes, the money is critical to me.

    And I’m happy to pay my agents their hard-earned 15%. I’d have no career without them.

  16. Been thinking about this since last night.
    When I hear about a six figure advance I cry a little inside for the DREAM that seems to slip a little farther away as time travels on. I don’t begrudge other writers their success I just WISH it was me. I WORK very hard at this. My husband, without complaint, says my DEDICATION is outstanding. I WANT the money, I WANT the success; I will gladly pay my agent, if I had one, 15%, plus a hefty bonus, (any takers) and that question about sex, what the hell is sex anyway but another form of communication.
    Would I only write for money? Only writing for money would scare me to death. I’d be afraid I’d go bankrupt.

  17. I’d like to make enough money to contribute to the household income WITHOUT having to work most of the shit jobs I find myself doing. Some of the jobs I like; I’ll keep those unless I make a bunch of money. Realistically, I don’t think I’ll make a fortune unless there is a market out there for books about stumbling stoners trying hard to figure out the world through a purple haze. 15% is alright by me. Second mortgage, never — I work the crap jobs to stay out of debt. Happy sex life, so the writing is mostly because I like to write and making money from it would be the icing on the cake.

  18. I don’t expect anything when it comes to my writing. That’s why I like doing it.

    • The Zen master speaks.

      • I’ve just now opened Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Frank commented on it the other day so I picked it up, realizing I had never read it. I can’t help but smile at the quote that begins the book. “And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

  19. If I could make one plea to the writers out there: NEVER write for free! It lowers the value of everyone else’s writing, plus, people: you are worth it. If you don’t care about being paid, keep it in your journal.

    “Paid in copies”? Screw that crap! If my story isn’t worth some $$ to you, write your own damn story.

    We need to stand up to this free content garbage. People used to be able to make a living at this; soon, only people with independent incomes will be able to afford a writing career. It sux!

    • RE makes an excellent point.

      Please everyone, and if I may ask, Betsy chime in, when writing is what you love and someone in the business offers you space and a byline, but cannot pay, is being published enough?

      Do tear-sheets count because they become part of your resume? I am wrestling with this very thing right now, today actually, and I would love feedback.

      • Golly gamma-ray, I think this battle was fought and lost a long time ago. I’m like just about anyone else who chases the scribbler’s dream, I’d love to earn enough from what I love to write. But I don’t know that that’s ever going to happen. Despite that, I’m sure as shooting not going to keep my written words to myself. They are my gift from god, whatever that is, they are my blessing and my curse, they are my communion and communications. I will craft them and I will share them in any manner I see fit. I’m not an idiot, I know what world I live in and I both need and want money, but I will not worship at the altar of Mammon.

        I’m not an idiot. I know what world I live in. We writer types are not valued in this world the same way mechanics and doctors and teachers and cops and investment bankers and myriads of others in their professions are. So. Fucking. What. This did not just happen. Look to the history of writers and their writings. See how the vast majority of writers worked for either the state, the church, or the academy, and sometimes for all three, given that sometimes they are all pretty much the same thing. And that I have not had the good fortune of being protected by fortune from having to engage in the working world has, despite the distractions and demands, enriched my writing in ways that staying in my study all the scrawling day would not have allowed.

      • The readership is glory enough only if you don’t need the money. I’m poor but comfortable so a little extra is nice. Emphasis little. A nice review beats money hands down.

      • Tetman and V,
        It’s a curse, being able to weave words, to move hearts, to make people laugh or cry or feel when feeling is the last thing they want to do. I ache to write, I live for it. The kind of writing I do is very personal so when they want to read me but not pay me I feel devalued, as if my words and how I plait them are worthless.
        It is such a conundrum – there are wealthy writers who scribble shit and there are word masters who live on Ramen. What kind of art is it that puts such a low price on ability? That you can be admired for what you do and not be paid by the admirer astounds me.

      • If no one will pay you for it, that means no one wants it that much. Publications will say they “can’t” pay, but what they really mean is, “Why should I buy a cow when I can get the milk for free?” Why pay when there’s so much free blah-blah-blah floating around?

        If they can afford an editor, a web domain, a bunch of paper, they can afford to pay writers. But as long as they don’t have to, they won’t.

        I will go a step further and say that any publication that doesn’t pay its writers is probably not worth reading. There are probably some exceptions — a couple lit mags that pay in prestige — but shame on them.

  20. I tip wait-staff 20%. So I’m going to begrudge my agent 15? When my agent finally sells my work she will have earned every penny and then some. I want her to make a shit-load of cash off me. Since I’m getting the remaining 85% that’s a damn fine deal. As for the advance? Pish–of course I’d spend it about as fast as I cash the check. I write with money in mind. Absolutely. I’ve earned a living through my writing in years past as a journalist/advertising/public relations guy. I expect it. Where does it say a writer who writes for money is a hack? Oh, wait–look at the writing conglomerates that are Patterson, Clancy and Cussler. Those guys are printing money, right? In the great scheme of things I may revel in my work, but I’d love to wallow in the lucre. There is art and there are guys who see the light like reformed literary writer Justin Cronin and his The Passage vampire opus. Money talks. In tongues and any other language you can dream up.

    • Your comment prompted me to think about a glass artist I know. He runs a little shop that sells a bunch of mass-produced cast glass pieces and some simple blown-glass bowls. It’s a niche market that brings in steady income. But his real talent is only occasionally hired to create some spectacular cast-glass tile walls and one-of-a-kind art objects. I admire how he’s figured out a way to support his true artistic focus with a less-than-real-art business. Don’t know if the authors running those writing conglomerates are secretly penning odes at night, but this guy seems to have the best of both worlds.

  21. I write because I talk a great deal and when I write, no one has to listen.

    I would like to make some money, a little. I would like to be financially independent. I get by on very little.

    When I was married, an abusive, horrible marriage, I never had access to my money. I had to ask her to buy me socks or underwear. I made good money at the job I had, but I never saw it.

    I wrote a good book based on it.

    Help get it published.

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