The many streams of an author’s income

Mar 30, 2023

Real talk time. This comes up a lot, so I thought I’d post about it.

It’s no surprise to anyone that it’s hard as hell to make a living at this gig. Paradoxically, there’s also a well-repeated misconception that always goes something like, “Wow, you’ve got so many books out, you must be rolling in cash!”

Hahahahahaha *sob*


I mean, I’m very lucky, I’ve had great opportunities. I do indeed have many books out and they’re all well-reviewed and all of that is truly amazing, but I would still make more money if I worked at McDonalds. Very few people make a good living as an author – almost all of us have second (and third and fourth) jobs. Personally, we need the income from my kung fu school to survive as me being an author and my wife a professional artist doesn’t pay all the bills yet, even though we’re both pretty well-respected in our fields.

And when it comes to making more money at the author thing, I do a number of things that aren’t actually writing. As this subject comes up a lot, I thought I’d be as open as possible about where my authorly income comes from. Certainly a significant part of it is from books (sales, advances, royalties and so on) but an equally significant portion comes from other sources that are at best author-adjacent. Here’s the general breakdown for me:

Mentoring – I work with a company mentoring autistic people who are trying to develop as writers. It’s rewarding work, pays by the hour, and exercises my writing experience. I also mentor each year with the AHWA, which is a small one-off fee, but every bit helps.

Panels and appearances – talking of one-off fees, becoming established enough to be asked onto panels and to be a guest at festivals and the like is always a bonus. Again, it utilises my experience and the fee is always helpful. Plus, it helps to expose me and my work to new audiences. Of course, there are a lot of events like that which don’t pay an appearance or speaker’s fee (which sucks) and that’s when we need to consider the non-monetary value of going along. Sometimes it even costs me money to be a guest at things (which really sucks) but if I sell plenty of books and get new readers out of it the long-term benefits are there and that makes it more than worth the costs. Of course, it would be awesome to always get paid for everything we’re asked to do, but this is the really real world.

Workshops – this is another fee-paying endeavour that utilises skill and experience. These take a lot of planning, but the more you do, the less you have to plan as the groundwork has already been done. And I plan to start running some of my workshops online soon too, rather than always travelling to writers centres and the like. You can learn more about the workshops I do here.

Patreon – never underestimate how beneficial this is for authors. I resisted for a long time, as it felt like hard work and maybe no one would sign up and and and… But then I relented and I’m slowly building something there. It’s still pretty small, only 30-something patrons and a couple of hundred bucks a month, but that’s a couple of hundred every month that I wouldn’t get otherwise, and that really makes a difference. Patrons get stuff for the their money too – general access to me, but also exclusive fiction, behind-the-scenes stuff, cover reveals before anyone else, and lots more. And they get to know they’re supporting an ongoing career. It’s a massive help, really, and I’m enormously grateful. If your favourite authors and other creators have a Patreon and you’re in a position to spare a few bucks a month for them, I guarantee you’re making a difference. I’d really like to keep growing mine, so if you fancy checking it out, click here.

Ko-fi – this is something that drops a few bucks in the coffers every now and then whenever people are feeling generous. It’s a simple tip system for me but some people use it as their version of Patreon. It, like Patreon, makes a huge difference and people’s generosity always blows my mind.

Merch – I have a Redbubble store here where you can get t-shirts and stickers and pins and all kinds of goodies. This is so weird to me, but like I’ve been saying all along, we do everything we can!

Of course, all these things take time and mental energy, but they’re also necessary. It would be amazing to simply write books every day and make enough from that to live. It would be incredible to not have to split my mental labour in all these various directions. But for me, like the majority of us, that’s just not viable. Mentoring, workshops, speaking, Patreon and Ko-fi, along with teaching kung fu and qigong, are how I supplement my income from books. And even then, I don’t make much, but I love what I do. Other creatives use other methods, but we all do something. This is why we constantly exhort people to talk about our work – nothing compares to word of mouth when it comes to building a sustainable career. But no one owes us anything. No one owes anyone a career. Readers reading is more than enough. It’s up to us to carve out a living however we can.

Of course, for all of you out there helping, we couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And there are a heap of non-monetary things readers can do which also help us enormously. You may not be into the Patreon or Ko-fi thing, or, like us, you just don’t have cash to spare. But if you do want to help, there are so many ways. Word of mouth really works.

  • You can simply talk about our books, in person and online.
  • Share anything we post – just helping us reach more potential readers is huge.
  • Order our books at your local library – that’s a sale for us, but in Australia and the UK we also get paid a little bit for every borrow.
  • Review our books at Amazon, Goodreads, on Twitter or anywhere else – and a review can be simply “I loved this book!” That’s a stellar review.

This is all simply the reality of life as an author. It’s always worth remembering that just because someone has their name on the cover of a lot of books, that’s no guarantee they have a lot of money. Regardless, we’re all doing all we can to survive at this thing and everyone strives in their own way. This is how I do it. One day I’ll make good money from royalties and movie deals. Oh, yes I will. One day. *waves hands manifestly* Meanwhile, I’ll just keep grinding. Good luck to everyone else out there also grinding. Never quit!

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