Friday, November 07, 2008

honesty time... money talk

Maybe I can make this a new column. Honest talk. People either lover or hate me for it. But it's fun to read anyway, isn't it?

So here goes. This is about money... income... and the fact that it's a constant stress for freelancers.

First thing: Without an agent, and sometimes even with one, payment to authors is all over the place. It's not about who's more deserving, whose books have sold more, and so on... it's about who asked for more money and was stubborn enough to get it. I'm comfortable with where I'm at now. In fact, if I got paid more per book I’d be uncomfortable because I'd be too afraid that the sales wouldn't reflect my advance--no one wants that!

So I'm going to do something that I don't think any author has done before. I'm going to tell you all where I started. I'm going to list my advance. For my first picture book I got paid 8,000 dollars. Now a lot of non-published folks may say "Well, hey, that's great for a start... can't you be happy that you were published at all?" That's all well and good in theory but think of it this way:

I was living in NYC. My rent was 800 a month. I did one book that took A TON OF TIME. How on earth can anyone live off of 8,000 a year??? Suppose I did two books a year (which I didn't do at first). Then I would get 16,000 a year. Also NOT POSSIBLE. So of course I had a full time job. Full time job, and then I did a book on top of it. That equaled NO PERSONAL TIME, NO TIME TO WATCH TV, NO TIME TO RELAX, NO TIME TO EVEN EAT FOOD!!! I was a mess. I was VERY stressed. I had to put my rent on my credit card several times (still paying it off and that was about 6 or 7 years ago!!!). When I finally went to a doctor my blood pressure was 170/105 or something crazy like that and I was in my early 20s!!!

Okay, so of course for the most part I'm in better shape financially (thank god). BUT not right now. I have a ton of medical bills and because my fall 09 book was postponed I have literally no income for the year. My bank account is down to nothing and I am in the same place that I was 7 years ago. This sucks. I'm sick. I can't go back to working full time at B&N because of my illness, and I'm expected to be out there promoting my product.

So here's the other thing I don't think some people understand. I get requests from schools a lot, asking me to come do talks... only they don't always offer to pay! They think just me coming and getting to talk to kids is enough. Some don't even offer to order my books. Perhaps teachers don't realize that my income (despite the fact that I know theirs isn't great) is less than theirs. Would they go to schools and teach for free? I doubt it. I don't want to sound snotty. I would love to do some pro-bono stuff once in a while but I can't right now. My schedule is crazy; I'm stressed and broke, and feel well about 20% of the time or less.

So there's my bit of honesty for the week.

On another topic, I’ve discovered some really cool art books. I may start a "recommended art book" section on my website if I have the time.

The first book is called URBAN RECORDINGS and it's amazing--Tiny pen and ink drawings of urban landscapes--chock full of cars and buildings and amazing details such as every branch and leaf on a tree illustrated to its fullest.

The second book is on my wish list--Christmas maybe? It's 200 dollars. Yikes! But it's the coolest thing. It's a huge book that will barely fit on bookshelves (if at all). CHARLIE HARPER - AN ILLUSTRATED LIFE. He's a kids' book illustrator but I'm most intrigued by the medical illustration that's in there. It's done in a simple, kid-like fashion, which I find very, very cool.

Lastly, I've added some fun stuff to my website. In the astronaut section I'm adding coloring pages. In the Seabiscuit section I've added a video of the match race, a coloring page, and if you scroll to the bottom you can make your own Seabiscuit paper doll. The links at the top don't work yet but they will when I organize the page, so stay tuned!



Frank Dormer said...

Thanks for the honest talk, Meghan! I will keep you in my thoughts.


Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks for your honesty--I think it helps a lot of us who are also struggling. I hope things get better for you soon, especially your health. Take care,


Kimbra Kasch said...

Sending positive energy your way - hoping you feel much better soon.

MotherReader said...

Thank you for being so honest about money. It is hard for people to share but by being such a secret, makes it that much harder for new people to know what is possible.

And I haven't said anything before -though I have been reading your posts on your health - and I just wanted to say that sorry that you are going through all this and I hope that it gets easier.

Nicole Tadgell said...

Thanks for being honest. It's sad that this is the truth for so many freelancers. I've illustrated about 14 books and I still have a full time job!


Wendie O said...

You are depressing me. Your advances are so much larger than mine. I still get only $3,000 a book advance, even though my writer friends keep telling me I should have been getting $5,000 a book years ago. (But the illustrator gets a larger advance than the writer, so I don't stress over the fact that my illustrators get twice or more than twice what I get.)

I still have to work full-time, too. To support my writing habit, I guess. Since my writing isn't supporting me.

Sorry to hear that you are still having health problems. That makes things so much worse all around.

Just remember that your books are face out in my library. We love them.

Laura said...

Thanks for the openly honest post. I like honest.
When a school inquires about a visit, are they saying it is pro-bono? When I receive that question, I send them my current fee sheet.
I work with four classes, 45 minutes each for 950-per day. Since my workshops are hands on, I am usually in a school for 3 or 4 days, + travel 7 expenses.
I have been booking schools in my area, or my sister's area since I can stay there and the school doesn't have to pay additional expenses.
you can email me if you want to chat about it.

Christine Tripp said...

Meghan, why in the WORLD are you doing free presentations???
I'm no body and I'm paid. You may not want to do them, or love doing them, I'm not sure if you feel physically up to doing them (and of course, your working so you may not be able to get the time off for them) but hell, you have to charge. Your a WELL published author/illustrator. Lady, that is just nuts, start replying to their reqests with, "Thank you so much for inviting me, certainly I would love to come to your school and speak, my rates are from $350 per a 45 minute session (plus travel, plus meals) and up, thank you" (and that's on the LOW side)

Meghan McCarthy said...

I'm sorry if I depressed anyone! I didn't mean to depress anyone or make them think that they couldn't earn a living doing books. I get enough of an advance that I SHOULD be making an okay living--it took 5 or so years to get there though! What I AM saying is that the life of a freelance is very risky and unstable. If something happens (like me being sick) everything can just crash down. Employers can cover you for sick days, etc., but not when you are the employer and employee!

There are easier and more sane ways to make money.

Meghan McCarthy said...

I should also add that I am no longer doing any talks for free and have hired my sister to deal with all of my visits/scheduling. I'm hoping that will relieve some stress. I have found that some schools will pay a lot for me to talk (did one talk a few weeks ago for 600 - that's for ONE) and did another school a while back and got 2,000 for 3 talks in one day. Not bad, eh? The problem again is that I'm sick a lot and when I'm not sick I'm prone to catching viruses VERY easily so schools are not good places for me to be!