That was 2017 for me. And before I start, it’s not a complaint. Writing isn’t coal mining (tungsten carbide drills? What the bloody hell are tungsten carbide drills? https://youtu.be/0l6ko5EIHrc). I’m in an incredibly privileged position of being able to earn money doing what I love, something which the vast majority of humanity, certainly these days if ever, can’t say. And, in terms of earnings, I’m well ahead of the curve. The very high-earners at the far end of the scale skew the statistics, but even for full-time writers, I’m solidly in the median.
Despite that, gone are the days when a mid-list author could make it by with one book a year. I could just about support myself, and possibly one cat, but certainly no more than that, and I’d be one of the precariat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precariat). And while no one owes me a living, author incomes have fallen by a quarter during a time where prices have increased (excluding housing costs, which have sky-rocketed) by roughly the same amount, it’s a wonder that anyone’s producing art.
Second and third incomes have become a necessity. The lucky ones teach creative writing, because that’s at least related. Others have regular jobs. Some have turned to crowd-funding through third-party websites like Patreon – although that model had its limitations thrown into sharp relief when they tried to ‘restructure’ (aka ‘chisel more money’) its fees. A lot of artists lost a lot of money, almost overnight, and when it makes up the bulk of a writer’s income (Kameron Hurley being my data point here – pretty much 2/3rds of her 2017 writing income came from Patreon) that can mean the difference between eating and not eating.
And even then, Patreon isn’t ‘money for nothing’. The writer still earns it by offering rewards, services, blogging regularly, short stories etc. Keeping in touch. It takes time – time that could reasonably used to write – so everyone with a Patreon needs to treat keeping their patrons as part of the job. It’s not adjunct to the job. And it’s all the stuff I’m terrible at, so I won’t be doing Patreon any time soon.
Fortunately, I only need one patron. Even then, I still have to remember that this way of life isn’t a free ride. I need to contribute, which thankfully I can. So while I get to write full-time, I still have justify my full-time writing, as opposed to part-time shelf-stacking, or whatever.
Two books in one year is somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million words, which is only 684 words a day. Which is doable. It is, however, every day. Every single day including Christmas and Easter, every Saturday and every Sunday. Every day you’re travelling or doing something else. Because if you don’t do it every day, the next day is 1200 words. You’re ill for a week (or in my most recent case – just a cold – two weeks) and that’s over 4500 words you have to catch up on. It’s relentless, and pretty unforgiving. Add to that the editing process that happened right in the middle of writing the second book, plus all the incidentals of writing, including looking things up, working things out, staring at a blank screen, staring at a cat sitting in front of a blank screen, and yes: it’s not coal mining, but it’s still mining after a fashion. If it’s going to be done, it needs to be done well.
Getting paid justly for the work that I do is part of that. Readers paying justly for the work they receive is also part of that. Publishers working out the economics of publishing is also part of that (see here for a detailed and lucid summary – http://www.societyofauthors.org/News/Blogs/Andrew-Franklin/October-2017/The-Micawber-principle) I’m lucky enough to have an excellent agent who looks out for my interests, and I’m also lucky enough to have an editorial team who also look after my interests (but they’re also looking out for the publisher’s interests, which is right and proper, but there is a conflict, so having someone who’s solely on your side is critical). At the end of the day, though, I’m self-employed. I’m the creator of art, and I earn a living by selling that art.
Two books a year, every year, is going to be really hard.