Author Lynn Viehl has, for the second time, posted her sales and income figures for her novel TWILIGHT FALL on-line (http://www.straightgoods.ca/2009/ViewBrief.cfm?Ref=187&Cookies=yes). TWILIGHT FALL was a paperback original that spent a few weeks on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list in the paperback division. It has now gone through two royalty periods, and Viehl has posted both actual statements. She's brave to do this, since most writers do not share their numbers and would feel more comfortable discussing their sex life, drug history, or criminal records than their incomes.
Viehl is not just brave -- she's disgruntled. Her initial advance for the book was $50,000. Sales so far are about 61,000 copies, with the publisher holding back income against an estimated 7,500 more returns. She figures that after taxes, agents' fees, and "expenses," she earned about $25,000 for the year it took her to write the book.
However, even though this is an accurate depiction of why most writers have day jobs, it is not the whole story. Viehl says that she sells overseas copies through her blog, and has not yet had foreign-rights sales. For many authors (including me), the foreign-sales income eventually equals the advance for a book. It can be a very long "eventually;" I just sold Korean rights to a book published ten years ago. But if you keep on slogging, eventually you earn as much from overseas markets as from the English-speaking one.
In addition, authorship -- and I should think most especially NEW YORK TIMES bestseller authorship -- brings offers to teach workshops, give keynote addresses at writers' conferences, and speak to a variety of groups from schoolkids to old-age homes. This, too, generates income.
Finally, writers vary tremendously in how long it takes them to write a novel. Viehl gives the impression that she writes full-time, and needs a year for a book. Many of us (including me) are a bit faster, and manage to fit in short stories and/or articles as well in the course of a year.
Writers are all over the map in their incomes. Viehl's story is honest and interesting -- but readers should not assume it's universal.