The dwindling writing market

I get the occasional query from people who say I should promote my blog more, so that I can get an audience and write a book about this or that, and then I read stuff like this. Basically, writing is getting more and more commoditized, and writers are making less and less, not that they ever made much in the first place. And then I heard on a podcast that the average technical book sells 5,000 copies.

Fifteen years ago, I was in the home stretch of writing a book–my first, and so far only book. All told, I made around $13,000 off that book, between book royalties and publishing derivative articles in magazines, all before taxes, of course. I wrote about 20 hours a week for six months to do it, so, perhaps if I’d made it my full-time gig, I might have been able to make $52,000 a year. But that was when computer books were hot and big-box book stores were booming. I’m not confident I could make $52,000 as an author today.

My royalty amounted to approximately $1.75 per copy in 2000. Publishers still have a lot of overhead, so cheap e-books translate into smaller royalties for writers. Even in 2000, some publishers were paying 25 cents per copy–I actually had a publisher very interested in me in 2001 but that was all they could offer me, so I declined.

Do the math on 5,000 copies at those rates. Ouch.

I got out of it for health reasons more so than financial reasons. Writing 20 hours a week after working a regular 40-hour gig is hard to do, and when I had a day job where I was writing and editing about half the time, my wrists didn’t fare well.

But a funny thing happened along the way in my career. As a junior sysadmin, I got stuck with the job duties nobody else wanted, which were mostly security. But by 2009, I had a pure security job that was paying 50% more than I ever could have made as an author. Factor in benefits and lack of self-employment tax and the real value of that job was much higher. And I do have a family to provide for.

For purely egotistical reasons, I would like for this blog to get a couple hundred more views per day than it gets now. But my traffic is trending upward–not quickly, but it’s in the right direction–and I have a good idea why, so it will probably hit that target eventually without me changing much.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen writing as a career option. It’s a career enhancement, because it gives you instant credibility as a subject matter expert to be able to say you’ve published something on a given topic, but if you’re really good at what you do, I think you’ll make a better living continuing to do what you do and writing about it on the side rather than writing about it full-time.

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One thought on “The dwindling writing market

  • December 12, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    I fully agree David,
    Less writers are able to make a living out of just writing and writing is becoming a second job. The gap between the established authors and the creative juveniles is increasing and the path to success is getting more difficult for the younger generation. So, they will end up writing for instance commercial texts as paid work. The trend that less people actually read books and less books are sold are the main culprits. So, I would suggest; buy a good book today and read it!

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