I got an invoice [from my lawyer] yesterday for $72, a charge for the time it took them to read and respond to an email of mine about a particular matter. I was not at all outraged or whatever by this – merely bemused. All we have on this earth is time, really, and when you take up people’s time, there’s a charge for it. What I found amusing is how many of us, as writers, don’t value our time at all. The value of our words themselves, words we spent hours and hours and weeks and weeks and months and months and years and years worth of time on, are, we feel, often worth nothing. Very few writers would charge you $70 for a blog post, let alone $70 for responding to your email.
–Kameron Hurley on valuing time.
I just did some rough maths and worked out that, if I was getting an hourly rate for my fiction work equivalent to my hourly day job rate, I’d be getting book advances approximately thirty times what they are currently. Meanwhile, what I’m actually getting for books works out somewhere below $2 an hour.
Or, to put it another way, debut genre fiction is the white collar equivalent of being a waitress in an area where almost no one tips. (“Tips” in this admittedly somewhat classist metaphor being equivalent to royalties and… yeah. This is where I stop. Ahem. Moving on.)
Fiction writing is an odd beast like that. Particularly since, as Hurley alludes to, as a writer you’re not “supposed” to complain about any of this. Because, I guess, most of us are writers because it’s a compulsion, something we’ve always known we’ve had to do. We have day jobs and drawers filled with manuscripts, and everyone’s dream is to quit one and live off the other. Hence the current race-to-the-bottom situation wherein publishers and platforms alike can take their pick from the desperate masses.
Hurley also laments the lack of a true author’s union, similar to the one that exists for screenwriters in Hollywood. I’d second this but, admittedly, I’d do so because I have skin in the game (no matter how small that skin is). I have a kind of… interesting relationship with unions, because while I support unionisation in theory, I also work (day job again) in a heavily unionised, yet still white collar, environment. Which means I also see some of the downsides. In a nutshell, this tends to be providing tenure for people well-past their prime/usefulness, which can inhibits the ability for the young and talented to be properly recognised and remunerated for their work.
So… yeah. I don’t really have an answer to any of this. I don’t really know that there is an answer, other than hope maybe I win the lottery (the actual state lottery, not the horrible metaphor lottery), invest the winnings wisely, live off the dividends, and write full-time.
Short of that happening?
Well. I guess I won’t quit the day job.