The Rich and Famous Author and other Myths

It’s come to my attention there is a myth floating around about writers. Actually, it’s not so much floating as super-glued or nail gunned into people’s minds. Actually, it’s not just one myth but several evil little myths all clumped together to make one big nasty furball of a myth. Or maybe it’s a stereotype. Whatever it is, myth or stereotype, I must take to my soap box and take issue with it.

I don’t know why, but there seems to be this perception that once someone actually takes a writer’s words and commits them to a Book, with a Pretty Cover, Real Pages, A Dedication, Acknowledgements and a Price Tag, the writer in question is

  1. Famous, and therefore automatically
  2. Rich.


Let’s just test those assumptions a little with a little basic algebra (I’m a science graduate – I’m allowed a little algebra occasionally – bear with me).

a + b = c

Where a = famous; b = rich; and c = E L James.

In order for this equation to be true, we must accept that there exists only one E L James.

Yep, just one.

For the rest of us, even though we might have a book published and available for sale, JUST like she does, the equation isn’t true. We are neither famous nor rich because we are not E L James.

By definition fame is ‘being known by many people’. I know a few people – friends, neighbours, the occasional family member who will admit to being aware of my existance - but to the Collective Public I’m a nobody. No one stops and points at me in the street (unless I’ve put my t-shirt on inside-out – don’t laugh, it’s happened). No one asks me for my autograph unless they are dropping a parcel or handing me a traffic infringement. No one rushes up with their phone begging for a quick selfie, save for the odd (and I mean ODD) Japanese tourist.

Rich, by definition, means having a great deal of money and assets, and by great deal they mean LOADS AND POTS AND BUCKETFULS of money – hence the term LOADED. Last time I looked my credit card was maxed and my daily account was on death row. As for assets, my car is pushing 15, my partner pushing 60 and still working like a dog to support me, and I don’t know what second hand greyhounds are worth on today’s market but I doubt I’m going to retire on Belle the Laziest Canine in the World.

At last count the sale of my now 12 month old debut book was amassing a massive 10% of purchase price, or .50c - $1.50 per sale, depending on what calibre establishment you purchase it from. You do the math. It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out I’d need to sell a shitload of books to make anything near a half decent full time wage, and here’s the really big news – book sales drop off over time. Yeah, surprising isn’t it? Books released in Australia don’t sell anywhere near 50,000 copies in one year, let alone year in year out. Our tiny population, inundated as it is by vast purchasing choices every month, simply can’t support 99% of our authors in any dignified way.

Wait! I’m not complaining. Just consider this.

Most authors spend way beyond what they make from their books on going to author talks, festivals and conferences because, even though authors are the draw cards at these events, they are OFTEN the last on the pay list and often (OFTEN!) asked to attend for free. Even if punters are paying to attend the festival the volunteers will get coffee money before the authors get a brass razoo. Why?

Because many festival organisers think a + b = c, where c is every author in existence. They’ve got the equation wrong. Or they assume that ‘exposure’ plus a handful of book sales are sufficient payment for an author (and we’ve already done the book sales math so we know that’s a fallacy), besides we’re published, so we must be doing alright – right? The irony of running a festival where the feature attraction luring the punters isn’t paid is just – well – staggering really.

Let’s clarify a few things about this Authors are Rich And Famous myth.

Most authors I know work really bloody hard. They have jobs to bring in a wage because their income from writing wouldn’t support a sparrow. They then spend their leisure time pumping out wonderful, exciting, insightful, uplifting, beautiful, thought-provoking, challenging, heart warming books for you – The People – to enjoy in your leisure time.

Authors spend their time and money on book giveaways, oodles of postage, printing beautiful book marks, creating gorgeous bling and special stuff for swags to promote their books so their ever faithful readers are well rewarded for their loyalty.

Authors are committed to their craft, so they spend their time and money on workshops and conferences to make sure they are delivering the very best quality product every time they send a manuscript via a publisher into your hands.

Authors make lots of sacrifices, but author’s families make more and larger sacrifices. As I write this my partner is wandering aimlessly around the house wishing I’d get off the computer and spend some time with him. It’s Tuesday night. The last time we spent any decent time together was Saturday. My daughter will go without reading time, without paper doll play and board games, my dogs will go without walks, my friends will go out for dinner without me, because I have a deadline for a blog post or a manuscript and I don’t want to let The Publisher, The Readers, The Blog Lovers, down.

Authors make a commitment to writing. For most of us it’s what we’ve always dreamed of doing – capturing our imaginations on paper – and we are happy to make the sacrifices, to work harder than we ever have for so much less because we truly, truly love the written word. But...


Career satisfaction won’t pay my bills. Feeling fulfilled won’t knock off my mortgage, put food on my table, get my child through school, or allow my partner to take a well earned day off. Money does all those things. And authors don’t get much of it.

There is only one EL James. The rest of us are not famous and we’re certainly not rich.

Next time you’re about to down load a book for free, or to ask an author to come to your on-a-shoe-string book event for free, stop a moment and remember how much you love your books. Remember this person has spent months or years at their desk in their spare time creating that story you loved. Remember their children, their partners, their friends, even their pets, went without them for long periods so they could deliver to you that story you loved. Remember they have real lives, with real bills, and just like you, they are trying hard to get by.

Do the right thing and buy their book. At least offer a stipend to cover their expenses in attending your event. We are the people that manufacture your drug of choice, books, and we deserve to be valued and paid for the joy we bring you.

*Image from PaperTrailBiz


you made me cry. Thank you kate i intedn to share widely and hope others, readers as well, do too.

KateBelle.X's picture

Cry? I hope it was a happy cry not a sad cry, Jenn. thank you. X

Oh hear, hear! Brilliantly well said Kate!

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Lily. It was an issue getting under my skin this week, so I hope the message those I it's intended for.

Well said, Kate. I'm yet to have a book out there and have to admit that I'm struggling with the knowledge that if I'm to give my books the best chance of success by reaching the right audience, I won't break even on the marketing costs, let alone make any money from the book. And that leads to all the associated guilt of spending time on something that will not support me financially, that my partner has to work when he'd rather retire so that I can pursue my dream. On the upside, I'm a much better person for pursuing it and my partner certainly benefits from that. All the best.

KateBelle.X's picture

Oh yes Rowena, I didn't mention the guilt did I? The guilt is a persistent companion.

AWESOME. That is all.

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Wendy. x

Too darn true ... but to add to your blog are the expectations of readers that authors are expected to give you their books for free...

KateBelle.X's picture

Yes, Shirley, I did throw a reference in about that at the end. This arguament also applies to people who pirate books and consistently download pirated books for free (of whom i know several and none of whom seem to think its particularly wrong because 'everyone does it'). Everyone does it has never been a good defence for anything much in my experience.

I hear ya sister.

KateBelle.X's picture

Amen Karen.

You are awesome, Katie. absolutely awesome. Love your work, mate.

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks M! Xx

Very well said...

KateBelle.X's picture

..and needed to be said Amanda!

Dead right. if I added up the cost of the writers conferences I went to to learn the craft, the costs exceed the sales of the book.

KateBelle.X's picture

Yep, Richard. If I added up the cost to conferences, workshops, marketing, time - including late nights and weekends - I'd be working for less than a cent an hour I reckon!

Great article Kate - thanks for writing it. I notice on Harlequin's FB page today, under a post about an author talk Cathryn Hein and I are doing, someone asks when they'll be giving these books away or something. GRRR!!

KateBelle.X's picture

Just goes to show how pervasive these attitudes to literature - and ESPECIALLY romance - are Rach. I love something for nothing as much as the next freeloader, but if I really want to read something I will let the moths out of my wallet and buy it. People just don't understand what the whole 'free book' thing means to the author.

Great blog Kate.

I wonder does the industry do us down (meaning we as authors) by offering free books? In the other world offering something for nothing is exactly that - free because it has no value. At least buy-one get-one-free has added value for both author and purchaser.

What does an author derive from offering their work for nothing? Er .. nothing. We need to stop doing that. It doesn't generate sales, or awareness I might add, and it doesn't get our name out there. If we offer our work for little or nothing, that gives it the value ... little or nothing. Are we doing it to ourselves?

How many other books by the same author are then paid for because of that freebie? Hard to tell. When digital prices are so low, I don't understand why anyone wants to offer free books.

I don't download free books, it feels odd to me. I might not be the World's Greatest Author, but for all the reasons you cited, I enjoy my $0.squidgyc per book or whatever it is when I get it.

And I'll even keep writing. :)

KateBelle.X's picture

Good on you, Darry, keep writing.

It's true what you say. They've done studies to show that if people get something for free they value it a lot less. There are loads of people out there who just download free books because they are free. They have no intention of reading them. So free books defeats all purposes really. They don't earn us an income and they don't get read.

All so true, Kate. Every word. Very difficult to convince pirates that they're doing anything wrong.

KateBelle.X's picture

I still don't get what joy pirates get out of doing what they do. It's not like they are getting any money out of it. Just website hits and effectively stealing people's wages. Where's the benefit in that I ask you?

Excellent post!

I couldn't agree more, Kate. You've put the case most eloquently.

A 2003 report for the Australian Council of the Arts by Throsby and Hollister found the median (or average - I can't remember which) annual income for authors was $11,000. I know that's almost a decade ago but I wonder whether things have changed much in the meantime. By the way, the report was called 'Don't give up your day job'.

Thanks for airing this important issue, Kate.
Best wishes,

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks for commenting Deborah. I doubt much has changed in a decade. It would be interesting to see if that figure has even kept up with indexation!

Loved this! (So true!) And if other professions had to market their product the way writers do? see

KateBelle.X's picture

Yep, I think publishing books is one of the industries that continues to devalue and exploit the producer of the product. We are all so busy trying to get our book read we don't think of pooling our resources to lobby for a better deal. Mind you, there are only a few who work in publishing who make any real money.

Spot on, Kate, as always! And I think it's about time that organisers of events learn that literary festivals and such events won't happen if authors don't attend and authors shouldn't attend if not offered some remuneration since they are the drawcards and the backbone. Love of crafting wonderful stories won't feed our families.

I might add that I've never been happier than making time to do what I love. And I'm working on achieving a balance between writing and making more time for my husband. To continue your math reference: I'm happier=he's happier; I'm less stressed=he's less stressed.

KateBelle.X's picture

Yes, Susanne. It's been said 'Do what you love and the money will come.' It's not true. Some money might come is more true. and the balance between being satisfied and earning a living continues to hound everyone I suppose.

The sad part in that is family hovering around the house waiting for a piece of a writer's time. The anger inducing part? Festivals expecting authors to roll up for free. Astounding.

KateBelle.X's picture

Yes, Julie, but usually only the very small or very new ones. I don't think organisers consider the implications of their request too much. They are often volunteering themselves, doing it for love and expect writers to feel the same way. The reality is organisers are putting in to one festival, where writers might be attending many. People forget that.

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