Showing posts with label money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label money. Show all posts

Saturday, January 3, 2009

writing and money (2000-2008 stats)

My previous post about money has generated a bit of discussion, one that I'm interested in seeing grow. How much do people earn through their plays and novels? What's the reality of the world of writing, if you're not hitting it big (or even hitting it medium).

So, here are my numbers for this decade so far. At first, I was a bit reluctant to post this, for fear of dashing any illusions I've painted of my wild success. But really, who am I kidding. I've had quite a few productions over the past eight years, and one novel published, and I'm grateful for all of them and for all of my audience and readers. I'll keep working on getting these numbers to grow, and that's about all I can do. No sense grinding my teeth over whether to say I've been successful or not--it depends on how you look at it. I get to write what I want and I get to work with people I like--that certainly seems sufficient. More would be nice, too, don't get me wrong.

Anyway, here are the numbers:

Year Audience Writing Income
20014374 $1504
20023947 $683
20033129 $965
20047113 $1174
20055532 $3129
20064220 $2262
20072138 $1489
20085282 $1538
Total36,509 $13,720

Audience numbers count both attendance at performances and novel/script sales. I always ask producers to give me box office totals after a show. If that doesn't work, I tend to make a guess (very conservatively). (I'm a numbers guy--I have a big spreadsheet that tracks audience and income, for every one of my plays/books, since 1990. (In 1990, 225 people saw my work. I earned $0.))

You can see that the amounts vary quite a bit. This coming year, as I wrote previously, I can already count on two radio broadcasts (though those numbers are hard to estimate) and more than $2,000 in writing income.

On the plus side, since 2000, more than 36,000 people have read, seen, or heard my work, which is pretty cool. On the downside, I haven't earned enough to pay for one year of tuition and expenses for my daughter to attend UMass (I have time--she's only in 8th grade). Lots to think about.

I'm dying with curiosity (I'm nosy) to know how this all works for other playwrights/novelists. Maybe it feels too private to share--we don't want people to be jealous of us, or to scorn us because we're earning/being viewed so little. Personally, I think it helps to have as much information as possible, no matter what stage you're at.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 Round Up, Part 2--the business side of the writing life

Okay, so I had a pretty good year of actually writing stuff. It's worth looking at the business side of the writing life, too.

This past year was about what I expected, in terms of how much I submitted. I was busy with extensive writing projects, so I didn't set any submission records for myself.

This year I sent 17 queries for scripts and 75 actual scripts out, so I guess you could call it 92 submissions.

In terms of productions, it was a slow year, but not too bad. I had 6 productions of short plays in various theatres in New York, Boston, and North Carolina, and 2 readings. Plus I got quite a few productions of short plays via my publishers and about 1,000 students bought my published scripts this year, for use in competitions and elsewhere.

Two of my short plays were accepted for inclusion in Smith & Kraus anthologies, and Playscripts published my short play, Pumpkin Patch. I won one competition, the UMBC competition, which was very exciting. I came up completely blank in my efforts to find productions for my full-length plays this year--they're awfully tough to place right now. I did help produce a new play festival, Six Views, with my Rhombus playwrights group, which was quite successful in many ways and very gratifying.

I sold a handful of books, but Tornado Siren has been out for a while (two years), and like any novel, if it doesn't make a big splash out of the gate, its lifetime on the bookshelves is pretty short.

So in terms of audience, all this added up to a decent year (meaning I met my goals). As far as I can tell, counting theatre and books, I think my worked reached at least 5,282 people this year. (My goal was 4,800.) This was generated by 75 performances (my goal was 52).

So what about the money side of the writing life? What does all this add up to? We tend not to talk about the actual finances of writing, much to the detriment of young writers, I think. They don't really know what writers earn for their work when they get into this.

My goal at the start of 2008 was to make at least $6,000 from my writing work (including freelance stuff). Sounds like a pathetically small number, I know, but my time is limited (I'm the stay-at-home dad for two kids, too, and I do a bunch of other stuff).

This year I made just over $10,000, which is the first time I've beat my goal. However, only about $1,500 of this came from productions and publications of plays and books. The rest was generated by my freelance work doing web work and business writing and editing. Most of the creative writing money comes from my many published short plays (about 34)--these brought in about $1,100. The nice thing about this money is that it's pretty consistent, year-to-year, so I can count on it to help cover my basic writing expenses (paper, envelopes, web costs).

2009 should be better, in terms of playwriting income, because I know I have a $1,000 prize on its way, plus some extra short play publication money (from a production licensed in December 2008).

It really is helpful for our family if I can keep bringing in $6,000 - $10,000 a year (and I have a daughter approaching college age at an alarming rate). Luckily my freelance work is helping make that happen right now, though I'd love for my income from plays and books to cover that full amount. Who knows, maybe the new play or new novel will do the trick for a while (though even if they get published and/or produced, it's likely they wouldn't show income until 2010). The best I can do is keep writing and keep submitting (and try to be smart about it).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Last Box of Mac 'n Cheese

You know how it goes in the interviews with the famous writer or actor. "I was down to my last box of mac 'n cheese (or ramen), and on Monday I was going to have to start selling insurance and put writing/acting/directing aside. Then the call came, and the rest is history."

Now, really, we're doing okay. We're not quite down to the last box of mac 'n cheese, but I've been doing a bit of figuring, and the truth is that we don't have enough money. We have enough to keep living in our condo and paying our bills and buying groceries. We've been getting by on one salary for a long time, while I've been able to stay home and take care of the kids and write. It's been pretty amazing. Boston is an expensive city and we've been frugal. Until last year, I was also a landlord and did some janitorial work (and bought and sold houses a bit a few times). But those sources of income are gone.

Basically, I need to find a way to make some money, in order to visit family, pay for kids braces, emergency car repairs (and college tuition isn't quite as far away as it seems). Being numbers people, Tracy and I spend a fair amount of time counting pennies and figuring out where they all go. Our kids are getting older, so our grocery bill has risen. Medical expenses, even though we have coverage through Tracy's work, have risen. Little stuff here and there adds up.

The tough part is that writing novels and plays pays next to nothing (yes, I know I just got a royalty check for my plays this week, but it's not enough). Maybe this next novel will sell, but that's a long ways off. At first, I figured I'd either find an office job or go push a broom at one of the many hospitals near our house.

The tricky part to this is that I have two young kids (2nd and 7th grade) and I really want to be around for them after school, and due to my son's special needs, I need to go to school/teacher meetings and keep up a good level of contact with the school. And I'm the one who takes the kids to the dentist, who stays home when they're sick (like today and probably tomorrow), and all that. And I like spending time with them and my wife. I'd rather not completely gum up our lives, so that means I should find a night/evening shift. Or a half-day job in an office while the kids are in school (8am-2pm)

The funny thing is that I don't need to make a ton more money, even $300-$500 a month would make a big difference. But part-time work pays less than full-time.

My plan, though, is to make a one last ditch effort to get writing to pay off a little more, by writing freelance articles for magazines and newspapers. Writing is what I'm best at, really. (And I've been out of the regular job market for a long time. My experience is all around running theatres and playwright organizations and community gardens.) I've done a little bit of article writing in the past (though mostly for free), and understand the basics of how to do it. If I put in 5-6 hours a day researching and writing article queries (and articles, if I can get some assignments), I think I can earn what we need. (It doesn't need to happen all at once.) I know the reality is that the competition is fierce and the pay is low and slow, but my needs are modest.

The cool thing is that it'll help me improve as a writer, and if I plan it out right, I can use the research for the articles to provide research for some of the other fiction and non-fiction projects that I want to do. (And I don't need to buy a new wardrobe.)

What it does mean is that my new novel will be harder to finish, and that any new fiction/playwriting projects won't get started for quite a while. Spare time and energy will be in short supply.

I've been awfully lucky to have so much time to devote to writing projects that were of great interest to me (and sometimes to audiences and readers), without commercial pressure. I'd be lying if I said that after 20 years of writing, I feel satisfied with how much income my writing brings in (that's putting it mildly). But I wouldn't go back and undo any of the projects I've done or scripts I've written.

Blogging has been a good warm-up for some of this freelance article writing (or so I tell myself). Now I need to see if I really put in the intense effort, if I can get it to work out. I'm looking at it like starting a new job (it starts on Monday). If it doesn't pan out, then it'll be time to get a real job, I guess.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Laura Axelrod on Debt/Costs of doing biz

Laura Axelrod has some interesting things to say about being a writer and dealing with debt on her Gasp! blog. Check it out.

I recently added up the cost of my recent trip to NYC for the American Globe Festival. This is a festival where you have to find your own director and actors and foot the bill. The festival provides the space, tech, publicity, insurance, etc. Which is great. But even with all of that covered, I probably spent $180 on stuff (props and actors) for the show, plus another $140 to go down and see it (bus tickets, subway, meals. I slept on my friends' couch).

Each playwright got $25 in royalties.

Now, I had a great time, and the director and cast did a fine job with the show (which was sold out and advanced to the finals, though it didn't win any prizes). It was the first time the show was produced, so it was helpful for me to see it. I had some good meetings with playwright friends and got the chance to hawk my novel to some bookstores. The people who run the festival are very nice. And it's always cool, at least psychologically, to have a show in New York. Maybe someone saw it who might someday want to produce something else of mine. Maybe. I don't have a sense that a lot of industry people saw the show.

What I do know is that I can't afford to take a $300 hit for a ten-minute show (and the trip to see it) very often. It's a tricky thing, to figure out how much money you should invest to get your work out there, and knowing when the return just won't be there (and the intangibles count, too).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Things I've Done for Money (copying Malachy Walsh)

Malachy Walsh did this on his blog, and it's the kind of list that I love to make. So here goes:

(in no particular order) (also like Malachy's list. I'm a complete copycat.)

Jobs I've Had/Stuff I've done for money:

1-hour photo shop clerk (in a mall in Staten Island. I lasted one week.)

Pet sitter. (mostly for dogs, but I also watched my neighbor’s livestock. Feeding a frisky bull made me find out how fast I can run. Pretty fast.)

Lawn mower


Computer programmer

Janitor (part-time, really it was freelance cleaning, but I like the sound of janitor better).

Turnkey (the guy who has the key and gets paid to open up a place while contractors do work there)


Stage hand (without this job, I wouldn't be a playwright today)

TV news cameraman (internship)


Snack bar worker

Cafeteria server

Brick washer/sealer (one of the most fun summers ever)

Filmmaker (For my first gig, I got paid to make a short film on Super 8 for some international students conference while I was in college.)



Editor (for a play publisher, not for a film)

Theatre producer


Producer/director for radio dramas

Subject in medical experiments (only little ones. But I did have to give blood for one of them.)

Publisher (of Market Insight for Playwrights, which actually meant doing lots of other jobs in marketing, layout, research, etc.)

Circulation manager for medical journal

Computer network administrator/consultant

Office temp—helped design some of the early catalogs for Dell Computer, worked in law office and other places.

Word processor

Office assistant

Researcher for headhunter company (lots of lying involved)

Community garden coordinator (I didn’t really get paid for this, but it was a job. Rewarding, but lots of work.)

Playwriting instructor

Night watchman

Front desk worker at dormitory

Marketing consultant

Real estate developer (sort of)


Ski Instructor

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thoughts on theatre and money (started by Adam S.)

Check out this thoughtful post by Adam Szymkowicz on class and theatre (and follow the links).

I have many of the same concerns about trying to make a living from theatre, and also about who, ultimately is my audience. Do I relate to the wealthy, white, upper-middle class patrons who pay big bucks to see the more commercial productions in LORT and Off Broadway theatres? Will they be interested in what I write?

Hard to say. This is something of a concern, if I want to make more than a tiny bit of money from theatre. Much of my work is more suited to smaller venues. But smaller venues mean smaller audiences, which means smaller paychecks. Not that I expect to make a full-time living from writing plays, but more than a pittance would be nice.

I worry about theatre sometimes. Even at the bigger levels (above where I currently operate), there doesn't seem to be enough concern about making sure that playwrights can earn a living wage by writing plays. There has been an incredible building boom around America, in the construction of new spaces over the past ten years or so. Sadly, it's easier for a big theatre like the Huntington to raise a few million dollars for a new theatre space, than it is for them to, say, fund an endowed position for a resident playwright or two.

The Huntington's made a big deal about its Calderwood Fellowships, which are great. They offer four writers $4,000 and development time, over two years. $2,000 a year? That's not going to get a writer very far. Now, if they offered $40,000 over two years, that would be something.

If theatre doesn't find a way to pay playwrights better and to financially support developing writers, they're going to have a lot of very nice theatre spaces, and fewer and fewer great new plays written for them. How many full-time administrators work at a big LORT like the Huntington? What theatre needs is a more organized farm system, really, to allow people to write plays and earn enough to support themselves and their families. That's right, families. What happens to playwrights when they start having kids? Good luck. Go write for TV, if you live in NYC or LA.

The economic issues of theatre extend to the most basic level. Ticket prices continue to rise out of reach of many. Hell, I can't afford to pay $35 or $45 to go see a play. I have to shoot for free tickets. (Thank you StageSource!) Compare this to film--I can get all the movies I can watch for a month from Netflix for $20. I can read all the books I can carry, for free, thanks to the public library. Any writer needs lots of exposure to new and exciting work in their form. For playwrights to improve as writers, they need to see lots of plays and get lots of productions of their work, simple as that.

Wouldn't that be a cool program--if all the major U.S. theatres started a "playwrights passport" program, where legitimate playwrights (say, Dramatists Guild members who have been produced) could attend any show for free? It's not offering huge fellowships, but it would make sure that they keep writers coming in the doors. Just a fantasy, I suppose.