by Mike Knowles
James Ellroy posed this question in a recent online interview. Watch it: here. He mused that maybe the current publishing scene is survival of the fittest. Most of those who write in these times are having to do so even though they are underpaid. They are writing because they love to do it, not because it makes them money. This dedication, he says, gives people a leg up on those who are just out for the dollar bill.
Listening to a dude spout off about how he writes for the love of the act and not for the money is always kind of interesting. Everyone loves a badass who does what he wants to do regardless of what anyone thinks, but the words never seem to have as much meaning when the person who says it isn’t really living the struggle.
Ellroy says he’ll write no matter what he gets paid. Good for him, but I don’t think his world will change if he takes a paycut. He is no stranger to being a bestseller. The guy has written around a dozen books and four of those books have been adapted to film. That kind of track record means he’ll make money if he fingerpaints his next book.
That being said, his heart is in the right place. Most of us writer’s, especially crime writers, don’t make the big bucks. Ellroy said he “got” (which I think means made) thirty-five hundred bucks for his first novel. That doesn't sound like much when you think of James Ellroy, but that was in 81. I used the internet and came up with this stat:
In 2007, $1.00 from 1980 is worth:
$2.52 using the Consumer Price Index
That means Ellroy’s first book would have made him something like $ 8, 820 by today's standards.
Up yours, Ellroy, I made $1500. Back in 81 that would have been something like $595.
Even though it kind of annoys me to hear him whine about how tough it was that he made two grand more than me on his first novel almost thirty years ago in a time when Snickers cost thirty-five cents, I do have to admit I agree with him. Publishing is survival of the fittest and those who write for money are the first to go.
If you’re reading this blog and thinking about picking up a pen to make some money in your spare time let me tell you what’s what about writing.
I have written two books that have been published. To date I have made $2, 500. I have another book that will be edited this year, and two with my agent. That is a total of five books. Let’s say for the sake of argument I starting writing novels in October 2006. I spend on average two hours a day working on books seven days a week. That is 14 hours a week 52 weeks a year. That works out to 728 hours. Multiply that by 3 years and you get 2 184 hours. Now if you match that against the money I have made, it works out to about $1.15 per hour.
I pull in a big two bucks everyday for what I do, and payday is annually so there’s no splurging for a cup of tea with my big weeks earnings. Writing is about one thing. Love and dedication. I can’t speak for everybody, but I figure we all feel like we have something to say, and we’re not to bad about saying it on paper. We love creating something out of nothing and seeing it turn into something tangible. But nothing is overnight, everything takes time. Time to think, time to write, and time to re-write. Nothing about writing is cost effective.
When I really think about it writing seems less like a job and more like a way for people to punish themselves without having to put on little leather outfits and dog collars.
Whatever reason I write, I don’t do it for money. I do it because I love it. I’m sure James Ellroy, up in his mansion, feels the same way.