Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Many newspapers and blogs picked up and reported the statistics in Forbes’ business magazine about the highest paid authors of the year. Even if you didn’t read the article, as a writer you probably already knew who the top people were and how many millions of dollars they earned.

E. L. James, $95 million, James Patterson, $91 million, Suzanne Collins, $55 million, Danielle Steele, $26 million, Janet Evanovich, $24 million, Nora Roberts, $23 million, Dan Brown, $22 million, Stephen King, $20 million, John Grisham, $18 million, J. K. Rowling, $13 million, George R.R. Martin, $12 million.

Those weren’t all. The article my friend sent me listed sixteen million-dollar authors. I’m going to assume she didn’t mean to imply I should throw myself under a Waste Management truck because my 2013 writing income didn’t come close. Close? Those numbers and mine aren’t even in the same galaxy.

And yet... I’m in the black. The income from my obsession (no, I meant occupation) hasn’t affected our family budget and I may yet be in the rarefied atmosphere of having to pay income tax on it.

And the reason I’m not unhappy (okay a tad jealous) is what I told my friend. That’s sixteen people out of how many million writers? (Amazon doesn’t share its figures with me.) A few people make a lot of money and almost everyone else little or none. But that just means publishing is like every other endeavor. Tom Hanks makes millions per picture, but thousands of other actors wait tables to live. Same with sports and music, for which I won’t bother you with statistics.

Three other recent articles offer perspective, posted in the popular blog, The Passive Voice. One from the New York Times was titled, “Long Odds for Authors Newly Published,” to which one can only respond, “Duh!” and another, “It’s Just Books,” by Lara Schiffbauer. She reminds us that “for every lucky, hard-working, talented writer who found success, there are many who didn’t have the stars align in the same way. Whether I sell a zillion copies or two, it won’t change the important things in my life. I’m still a wife, a mother, a daughter, an aunt, a friend. I’ll still write. It’s just books.”

Finally, “Writing Excuses: Survivorship Bias.” The podcast from which it was taken revealed “Survivorship Bias is the skewing of the data when you seek to emulate successes without considering failures in the same space.” Writers who are jumping into self-publishing study those making money there and listen to what they say as if it’s a formula for their own success. Yet, if you talked to people who won the lottery would you think playing the lottery is the only way to get rich?

If failures become invisible, you’ll be pulled toward the successes. Survivorship bias pulls you toward the superstars in everything. As Mark Coker of Smashwords has said, “We cannot promise you your book will sell well even if you follow all the tips. In fact, most books, whether traditionally published or self-published don’t sell well.”

So I am content to be a little fish in a big pond. I write because I want to and it’s part of who I am. But I’m also a wife, a mother, daughter, aunt and friend. That’s my life. The other is just books.

The Passive Voice
New York Times
Lara Schiffbauer

Mark Coker


  1. Hi Phyllis,

    Psychologists say you don't need millions to be happy. They have suggested $75,000! a year for a family. But I think, as long as the bills are paid, family, friends, ethics, what more is needed?

    1. Bob:
      As you say, as long as bills are paid, the amount doesn't matter. A good word for this is: Enough. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Phyllis, I like your thinking.

    We should educate our children about this. We wonder why child actors take their lives and it may be for the reason you point out. If a young mind thinks that their good luck is all there is, then when the bad comes, they don't know how to deal with it.

    I'm having to deal with so many of my books picked up at once. That doesn't mean they'll get published. Or if published, sell. Or if they sell, sell more than a few. But good luck with publishing makes us addicted to that email, just like a gambler, hoping for one more acceptance.

    I'm a full time writer. Almost think my entire life has amassed to this, to finally get an audience to entertain.
    Maybe I'll never do standup, but, in spite of my love for my family, I still want to make people laugh.

    And don't, my few friends out there, try to tell me I do make people laugh, just not the way I intended.


    1. Susan:
      Thanks for the great comment. I hadn't thought about it saving lives. I, too, am a full-time writer, having raised four kids. This, at last, is MY time and I love it. I used to think that I'd be a best-selling writer if I had just started earlier, but which of my children would I give up for that? So, being an eternal optimist, I think, "it could still happen." LOL


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