I had the privilege of speaking to several local 4-H clubs a couple of months ago. For the current school year, Agent Anderson is inviting various folks to tell students about their jobs, and she asked me to talk to students about being a writer.
One very practical question asked by a couple of students was: "How much money do you make as a writer?"
My answer? "Enough."
Of course, what these young people really wanted to know was: "Can I make a lot of money quickly/easily as a writer?"
Well, maybe so...but probably not.
My experience (which, according to the little bit of research I have done, is pretty typical) has been that it takes time to develop markets for my writing and to build a readership. This is a slow process. If my goal had been to get rich quickly, I would have thrown in the towel long ago. Thankfully, the pleasure of writing itself is enough motivation for me to keep plugging along, even without substantial financial rewards.
However, the financial aspect of being a writer is something to which I have devoted serious thought. As a writer, do I have specific financial goals? If so, what are those goals? Are they realistic and obtainable? Am I making progress toward meeting those goals? What can I do to better achieve my goals?
Today and in the days ahead - as I have time to write here at the blog! - I want to share a little bit about the financial aspect of my own journey as a writer. I want to look at questions like: Do I really want my writing to generate an income? If so, why? And, how much income is enough?
Why on earth do I want to tackle this particular topic? And why right now? First, several issues related to a personal philosophy of income/money have been percolating in my brain lately, and here at the blog is where I often work through my jumbled thoughts.
Second, as a person identified as a member of various communities (family, church, homeschooler, politically conservative, etc.), I want to clarify and articulate what I believe as an individual, because I have found that others - even those very close to me - can make wrong assumptions about what I think based on the opinions of those around me.
Finally, I truly hope that other just-getting-started writers will be encouraged and challenged by some of the things I have learned thus far on my writing journey. So, let's get started!
A little back story...
Since giving birth to my first child 25+ years ago, I have worked outside the home only when financial crises demanded: to help make ends meet when my husband's job as an intern architect couldn't support a family of eight; to cover medical bills; etc. Everything I earned at these temporary, part-time jobs was tagged for specific bills. I never entertained the question of what to do with any discretionary income, because I never had any discretionary income!
Then I wrote and published and began marketing my first book. No, I was not raking in the big bucks, but, for the first time in nearly 30 years, I was able to ask, "What do I want to do with this $20?" I wanted to answer that question - and spend that $20 - very thoughtfully. After several decades with no discretionary income, twenty dollars felt like a tremendous privilege and a not-insignificant responsibility!
The year I published that first book, I set two modest financial goals: I wanted to support the ministry of my church, and I wanted to buy Christmas presents for each of my kids. (Yes, I know experts advise you to set specific financial goals - such as making $60,000/year - but I simply was not that brave or optimistic!)
The beauty of the tithe is that it is a grace you can enjoy no matter how much you earn. Whether I sold two books or twenty in a given week, whether I made two dollars or two hundred, I was delighted to be able to give back ten-percent to the work of my local church!
Randy Alcorn once described tithing as the Christian's "training wheels" for giving. Tithing helps us to develop a proper theology of material wealth. Tithing gives us a tangible, very sweet reminder that our security is in God, not in our finances, thus liberating us from the tyranny of wealth. Tithing is where we learn to use our income (however small!) as a tool for kingdom work, and it enables us to participate in something much larger than ourselves, something eternal. Tithing also fosters a deep sense of God-centered gratitude.
That first year, I was also able to buy Christmas presents for each of my kids. Nothing extravagant - only about $20 per person - but being able to give even small gifts made me feel rich.
Amazingly, I sold enough books to also help support a couple of young people serving in short-term missions, and I was able to occasionally cover the cost of gas, groceries, and music lessons when our household funds ran short.
Did I make a million dollars with the publication of my first book? No. Did I consider myself financially successful? Absolutely. I finished out that first year as a "paid writer" with just under $200 in my book account, but I felt as rich as Solomon. I had paid all my writing-related expenses, I met (and exceeded) my financial goals, and I still had money in the bank. I was eager to see what would happen in Year Two!
To conclude Part One of Camille's Squirrelly Address on Financial Aspects of Being a Writer:
If you are a beginning writer, I encourage you to set thoughtful financial goals for yourself. Personally, I'm a fan of modest goals, at least at the outset. I suppose my goals that first year sound paltry to some folks, but those goals gave me something to work toward without being unrealistic or completely unobtainable.
I also challenge you to make giving a top priority right from the very beginning. You don't have to be on the New York Times Bestseller List in order to give a portion of what you make. Do not be tightfisted - what resources God places in your hands, hold loosely. Start with the tithe (training wheels, remember?). Learn to ride that bike, and who knows where it will take you!
I can't wait to tell you about Year Two - will try to post that info tomorrow!
3 weeks ago