I can't know if there ever was a better time for authors than today. Judging from what I've read, I guess no. In the olden days those authors and artists who did fine financially came mostly from wealthy families, whilst artists like Van Gogh or Modigliani, or authors like Edgar Allan Poe or Henry Miller struggled with poverty. Life is seldom easy materially for those whose calling is in the arts or literature.
Today some writers have made fortunes with their fiction. Good for them. But others struggle with financial difficulties and must exercise other professions in order to survive. This means automatically less time to dedicate to one's fiction. O tempora o mores.
I am one of those. My fiction has earned me no more than €500 for the time being (one novel published in Spain and a few short stories and poems published in magazines). So I write journalism and do other little things to maintain my daughter and myself and to collaborate with my husband in the expenses of our extended family. I don't complain, though, life is fine just as it is. I accept my condition, and I am most conscious of how much a writer's success depends on luck: being in the right spot at the right time.
Bestsellers are the key to wealth for a writer. What makes a bestseller? Hah, mystery!
There are bestsellers, which make you want to cry, so badly written and such. But others are excellent, like Duras' 'The Lover'; J.K. Rowling's The Harry Potter series; Twain's 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'; J.D. Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye', or Michael Cunningham's 'The Hours', to mention some. So I can´t fully agree with the opinion that bad literature makes bestsellers. It is not always so.
Can an author decide to write a bestseller in order to free himself or herself from financial difficulties? It would be madness, as it is impossible to know ahead of time what book will turn into a bestseller; publishing houses and readers are whimsical. Most of the times, in my humble opinion, bestsellers are junk-literature; but other times, excellent masterpieces make it to the commercial top.
But what infuriate a writer are the impoverishing prejudices that many publishers hold, at least in Spain. If your manuscript is not a historical or a crime novel, forget it, nobody's going to publish it, unless of course you already are famous. I find this attitude ridiculous. You can never know what the readers will end up loving. It seems to me that commercial success is too much of a guideline to most publishers. This petrifies them into judging new manuscripts according to what has been selling lately. So there's hardly any innovation or space for variety and a personal voice.
If you are a Scandinavian female writer and you want to succeed, you must definitely write a psychologically disturbing novel about murders and the police. How boring!
Literature published today is very similar to malls: it's all the same all over the place. And it takes big effort to find something different. So let's all look the same, like the same, write the same, read the same. Fashion hardly gives you any choice to dress up as you want, because all you can buy looks the same. Well, literature suffers from this sameness-disease too. The only way,almost, to read something that is not a historical or a crime novel, is reading the classics. How depressing!
Don't get me wrong. I love the classics! It's almost all that I read. Taking up a freshly published book scares me. Besides, with the classics time has done its job by eliminating all the bad literature, so there is no risk of starting a bad book when you grab one. But it is kind of depressing that 95% of what is published today looks so uniform. And this is not the authors' fault.
Such strict standards in publishing houses are very constraining to an author. It cuts our wings. Unless, of course, you decide to give up the idea of making a living with your fiction and you just write for the pleasure of it, even if it means writing less hours because you need to make a living somehow else. And who knows, you might get lucky and end up writing by mistake a bestseller.
P.S. Oh, one more thing, read my book in Spanish ;-) http://www.casadellibro.com/libros-ebooks/laila-escartin-hamarinen/139827