I'm a published author with three novels out and over twenty novellas and pieces of short fiction published in anthologies and literary journals. Yet my last royalty cheque from my publisher was for $16. My total earnings across all these publications is less than $400.
Now, I never thought I'd earn a living writing fiction, but I've spent way more than that $400 on publicity and marketing, copies of my own books to give to libraries, advertising and just paying the electricity bill so I can keep writing. At what point should a writer give up this gig as a bad investment? I'd probably make more baking cupcakes and selling them on the street.
Do you have any advice? Should I quit and find something else to do with my spare time?
I hear you. I can be discouraging when you spend all those years polishing your words until they shine and then it seems like no one reads them.
At the end of the day, it really has to come down to why you write. If you're writing to make a living, then the return you're getting isn't working for you. But that's the case for most writers, even ones that seem wildly successful. There are very few writers out there who are supporting themselves on their writing income alone. And certainly not those with families to support.
If you write because you have something to say, stories burning to get out of your head and onto the page, that's different. Not all writing has to be for publication. Sometimes it's fun to write something just for yourself without the pressure of thinking about your audience.
I write because it's the way I make sense of the world. It's how I explore different facets of humanity and the different ways people react to events and emotions. If that writing turns into something I can publish, then so be it. But it's not the reason I sit down to write.
Whether or not you quit is up to you. Yes, there are other ways to spend your spare time. But would those other things be as rewarding to you? Would they give you the same sense of achievement?
Maybe try it out. I love to bake and often feel as much joy when completing a batch of cinnamon buns or cupcakes as I do when I type 'the end' on a manuscript. Maybe your spare time would be better spent with confectioners sugar and a piping bag. Maybe that will make you happier (and potentially richer).
But you're not going to know until you try.