Admit it. You’re here for the headline. How could anyone ever be upset about getting paid to write? About getting checks (PayPal deposits) by (e)mail to compensate them for their work, their time spent, their art?
I’ll answer those questions, don’t you worry, but first—an exercise.
Your book is published (yay!), and everyone on social media and IRL loves, loves, loves your book (double yay!).
And then it’s time. Royalties time (triple yay!).
The email with your royalty statement hits your inbox and you fly to open it, stoked beyond belief that this is it, the big moment.
You hover over the email. You prepare yourself to rejoice, to bask in this next stage of success.
Now pause. Don’t open the email, not yet.
What, exactly, are you expecting to find inside?
Uh, cash money, r.r. What kind of question is that?
Okay, but quantify it. Are you expecting ten dollars? A hundred? A thousand? What would any of those values even mean, really?
That final question is the one that makes royalties day the worst of days. The focus inevitably lands there, on the effect your book’s most recent sales will have on your bank account, on your ability to get some decent cat food for your kitties or pay off those lingering medical bills or save up for that trip to see your ailing grandmother on the far side of the country.
After seeing what kind of cash your statement has in store for you, it’s easy to cycle into “Well, how much does this come out to on an hourly basis (yikes!)?” and “If this is coming in consistently, I’ll only end up with how many dollars over the course of the year (double yikes!),” and “OMG WHAT AM I EVEN DOING WITH MY LIFE (triple yikes!).”
Yes, the angst can get real in a hurry, mostly because unless you’re a chart-topping wordsmith or someone whose bibliography is expansive enough to bring in cash that, when taken in sum, adds up to a living wage, you’re probably not able to retire just yet.
Nope, not even close.
In fact, most (read: nearly every) writer I know isn’t getting by on their book income alone (yours truly included, trust me), and royalties day can far too often become a reminder of how you’re not “in that class” or “worthy” or “good enough” or however else your runaway brain might choose to frame it.
But that’s a problem, isn’t it, because none of that is (hopefully) why you started writing in the first place.
Simply put, royalties day inevitably quantifies something that is better left unquantified: your art. It shifts one’s focus away from the joy, from all of the great words you wrote since the last statement came in, from all of the wonderful readers and writers you’ve met. Royalties day liquifies the beauty of it all before reconstituting it as a single number, one it’s all to easy to let our passion become governed by.
And it’s a truly miserable feeling if one succumbs to it (as I myself often do).
Though the focus above is on royalties payments that don’t make one’s every dream come true, imagine if you did get a check (or series of checks) that did that very thing.
Money! Yes! Yippee!
Yeah, until you’ve got that pressure bearing down on you when you take to the page.
Hello yes uh it was a dark and stormy night and then our protagonist and their love interest shared a big sloppy smooch and oh god this is trash I’m going to let down all of those people who bought my last book, aren’t I?
Royalties day really is the worst regardless of how things shake out.
Now look, there are folks who will read this and grumble about a lack of gratitude, about a disconnect between a writer (me) and pre-published folks in the writing community at large.
That’s a fair criticism; it really is a big deal to get paid for one’s passion, but rather than look at this is as an r.r. plays “woe is me,” what about a yeesh, we’re all in this together, aren’t we?
Because we are. Whether you’re yet to be published, waiting to earn out your advance, scraping by with marginal royalties disbursements, or sitting on a mountain of cash, every one of us is part of the community.
It’s important we support each other, and part of that support is preparing ourselves for this stage of our careers.
With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this.
We’re here because our stories delight us and, hopefully, others. We’re here because we believe in the power of storytelling, of empathy. We’re here because there’s magic in what we do, and it’s an honor to be a part of that.
So look forward to royalties day, sure, but never let it become a royal pain.
Like what you’ve read here? You can find more content like this on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and my newsletter. Or, hey, you can pad a fellow writer’s next royalties statement by nabbing copies of my books on this site, my publisher’s site, Amazon, or by requesting them at your local bookstore. And I’m on Goodreads over here. Come say hi?