Scary Numbers

I read some scary numbers recently in a BookEnds blog posting by Ellery Adams, who describes herself as a “mid-list cozy mystery author.”

It wasn’t bad at first. Adams wrote that, based on e-mails she receives, people are fascinated by what constitutes a writer’s life, and that she wanted to share her perspective using the “uncompromising language of numbers.”

Sounds good, right? Absolutely.

Here are some of the snippets that Adams began with:

“Number of books I’ll have published by the end of 2011 — 15
“Average page count per book — 300
“Average word count per book — 87,000

I’m nodding along. Everything’s looking great.

“Average advance received from publisher — $6,000 per book
“Average amount paid for large print or foreign rights — $500 or $1000

Yeah. We’re rockin’ and rolling’ now. I’m impressed. It’s validation for any writer who strives to be published. See? It happens! It can be done!

Then comes the first bomb:

“My writing income based on my 2010 tax return — $18,000

Followed closely by the second bomb:

“Days per year I work — 360 (This is not an exaggeration. I consider promotion work, and unless I am sick or am forced to be away from a computer, I find time every day to write, edit, promote, or research.)”

Whaa—? Wait a second. All that work—almost every day of the year—for $18,000? Can that be right?

I scroll back up. Maybe I missed something. But no—I read it right the first time. And I want to cry for her. Hug her neck and tell her it’ll be okay. And then I want to hug my own neck, because Adams is one of the lucky ones. She’s been published! Multiple times! She has an agent and a publisher and all those things that seem about as likely to happen to me as a unicorn strolling into my office to offer me pancakes.

Then I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. What’s the point? Why would anybody work that hard for so little reward?

But I already know the answer. We write because we have to. We have day jobs to pay the bills, and we write at night or early in the morning or whenever we can because our characters are real to us and their stories have to come out. It doesn’t even really matter if we get paid at all. There’s just nothing like the thrill of finding the exact right words that say the exact right thing we wanted them to say. It’s its own reward.

At this point, I can’t even imagine being published. It seems like too remote a dream, too separate from real life. Whether it ever happens or not, I’ll keep writing, just like I’ve been doing since I was little.

And the number of years it’s been since I was little? Now that’s a scary number!

Ellery Adams is a national bestselling author. Read more about her at and
Adams is represented by agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC, Literary Agency

Stuff to keep me out of trouble: The numbers and quotes above are all courtesy Ellery Adams and/or the BookEnds blog. I’m not trying to take credit for anything, people! 🙂

This entry was posted in July 2011 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Scary Numbers

  1. Tema says:

    I felt exactly the same way when I read that list of numbers; but you hit the nail on the head, we do it because we have to. Writing and sharing the stories of our characters is it’s own reward.

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