Awhile ago, I blogged about advances, breaking down how big of a check you'd actually see from an average advance, a six figure advance, and a "major" advance of $500,000.
My intent was to give a more realistic portrait of advances than what seems to be floating around in the world.
But, as you may have noticed, I talked only about the advance. And there are many other ways that writers earn income. The obvious is a day job, or a hard-working, successful spouse, or being a billionaire heiress. But let's say you don't have those things, and you still want to BE a writer, not just someone who writes on the train, at night, or wherever you can find 5 minutes and a flat surface to write on.
There are many other ways to make money in the publishing industry.
For one, let's say those advances outlined in my previous post were for World English or North American rights. Well, then you have the opportunity for foreign rights sales. (If you sell in world rights, you still do earn money that way-- but it goes to your publisher first, and is applied to your advance. This means you can earn out more quickly and see royalties...but if the book tanks, you may never see that foreign money. And yes-- it IS possible to earn out your advance BEFORE the book publishes, based on foreign sales alone. I know people who have done it. )
I have seen foreign sales to very small countries go for $300. I have seen them sell at auction for six figures.
Most of the authors I know who sold foreign rights were midlist books, and the rights went for anything from $3,000 to $8,000, with an occasional $10K outlier. (Keep in mind if your book sold in the US for a major deal, its much more likely the foreign sales will be for bigger money. )
Now, foreign pubs take as long or longer to pay out than US pubs, so you may not see that money for months--even a year--after the book sells to those countries. Most authors think of foreign money as a bonus that will show up when it shows up, not an income to rely on.
So, how else, as an author, can you earn money?
*Speaking engagements. Schools and libraries, in particular, can pay well, often in the $200-1,000 range for larger engagements. There's also writer's groups-- most conferences pay an honorarium. If you're going as an author, they usually aren't lucrative-- in the $100-300 range--but for keynotes it's much larger. And the nice thing is, conferences often need people to do the critiques that attendees sign up for. You can usually earn $20-40 per critique.
*Freelancing: Whether it's writing articles or editing, many authors freelance. Some of them, such as Rhonda Stapleton and Bev Katz Rosenbaum, offer editorial services for aspiring authors.
*Write-for-hire: I know a number of authors who make a living writing by juggling their independent, original projects with write for hire projects. Micol Ostow and Kieran Scott come to mind. You may know Micol from her recent books FAMILY and SO PUNK ROCK, but she's written 40 books, including TV-spin offs and A few of Puffin's STUDENTS ACROSS THE SEVEN SEAS books. Kieran writes wonderful YA under her own name, and is the writer behind the ever prolific Kate Brian brand. I am awe of them both.
*Teaching-- this is a little different than the aforementioned speaking engagements, as it's a bit more formal. Media Bistro, among others, hosts classes for aspiring writers. They often run for several weeks, and the teacher/author critiques participants, lectures, and more.
*Subrights: if your book is made into a movie, hell, a theme park, well, you should see a nice payday. Dream big, but don't bank on it.
*Royalties: If you're in the game long enough, royalties for your backlist should hopefully kick in, which means while you're getting new deals (and new advances!) you're also seeing paychecks for books that came out a couple of years ago.
*Ebooks: I am seeing more and more traditionally published authors release "shorts" and novellas onto Amazon to support their traditionally published books and build buzz/platform. It's an interesting avenue for many authors to explore.
*Anthologies: Some authors compile/edit anthologies and bring in some income that way.
So, yes. There are other ways to make money in publishing. It might not fit your dream image of sitting in your pajamas all day, staring at the blinking cursor while sipping coffee, but you could make it work.
PS: This is still meant as an illustration of income in a traditionally published author's career track. I do realize that the whole picture looks much different for a self/e-published author.