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That Literary Masterpiece Of Yours? It Won't Even Earn You Minimum Wage

05/07/2017 11:45 BST | Updated 05/07/2017 11:45 BST
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Yeah, I said it.

That masterpiece you've slaved away on for years about the orphan kid who grew up on the streets and whose life ended tragically won't make you any money.

It won't earn you enough to take early retirement.

It won't even earn you enough to buy a house.

You might get enough for a new car, or the deposit on a house. If you're lucky.

If you're unlucky, you'll get enough for a couple of months' rent.

There just isn't any money in writing anymore.

Most authors who make their living from writing started before content overload kicked in. Before streaming and downloads vastly undermined the value of creativity.

I'm not saying streaming or downloading are bad things, but when people can consume so much content for free, why would they pay £10 for a book by someone they've never heard of?

I've met so many writers online and in person, in writing groups and on writing courses, who think that if they just sell one book/poetry collection/screenplay then they'll be set for life.

Stop.

Stop right there.

Get your head out of the clouds. It's not happening.

The average book sells just 250 copies a year in the US, and that's the biggest market.

In the UK, the average author earns just £12,500. Minimum wage in a full-time job gets you just over £14,500.

As with everything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. The Girl on the Train is one of them. But with 20 new books published every hour by traditional publishers in the UK, it's highly unlikely your book will be one of them.

If you decide to go down the self-publishing route, the odds are even worse.

You spend months writing your book, fork out a small fortune for an epic cover, write an awesome blurb, host a launch event... and you'll earn bugger all for your hard work.

The average self-published book sells fewer than ten copies.

Maybe when you're established and have 20 books under your belt you might make some money, but there's a distinct chance that even if your first book does well, you'll make a loss.

Poetry collections fare even worse. They sell a few hundred copies at best over their lifetime. Even if they win awards.

And as for your screenplay, even if it does get bought, you may not get everything you were originally offered.

A studio could buy your script and forget about it, leaving you with some money in your pocket but nothing to show for it.

That, or they might decide to use someone else for the rewrites, meaning you'll only get paid for the first draft and your creative vision will be destroyed.

Selling your writing is a lottery.

If you can't handle rejection or the thought of not earning minimum wage from your writing, you're better off choosing a different creative pursuit or saving your writing for your diary.

When you put a price on your creativity, you put a barrier between yourself and your creativity. It becomes harder to write because you're too busy thinking about paying the rent or the luxury yacht you'll buy with your imaginary £100,000 advance.

But the literary world just doesn't work like that anymore.

Focus on writing your literary masterpiece for the fun of it, and you might just write something great.