One of my books, Stray Ally, released by a small press in Ireland, is in several libraries, including the British Library. This is not because I am a famous author in Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter.

It’s because of a law called “Legal Deposit.” This a legal requirement that a person or group submit copies of their publications to a repository, usually a library. In the Republic of Ireland, the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 specifies that one copy of every book published is to be delivered to the National Library of Ireland, Library of Trinity College, Dublin, the library of the University of Limerick, the library of Dublin City University, and the British Library. Four copies are to be delivered to the National University of Ireland for distribution to its four constituent universities. Further, on demand in writing within twelve months of publication, a copy is to be delivered to the Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland and the National Library of Wales.

Since my book was physically published in the Republic of Ireland, it falls under this requirement. Very flattering, but at the same time I don’t know that anyone has “checked it out,” pun absolutely intended.

Having a book in these libraries is not how I make money. Honestly, neither is selling fiction books. It helps, certainly, and I would never turn down sales. I get paid by writing for websites and companies, ghostwriting, blogging, and creating articles. I also get paid to edit all kinds of writing, and to format ebooks for various websites (such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more)

One of my primary purposes in writing for sites like this one, which is no longer able to pay writers, is not only to enhance my brand (buy my books or hire me, please) but also to write about issues that matter to me, and one of them is how and why writers get paid.

This is about more than just libraries and ebooks, and it speaks to what David wrote recently about TeleRead Posting Less. Here’s how it works, and why making a living as a writer is so tough.

Libraries and writers

As writers, we don’t make a lot of money from library books, and getting them placed in both physical and digital libraries is tougher than ever. This tactic used to result in a lot of exposure for the author, but in the sea of books available, the results are no longer the same.

While, as an author, I write to be read, I also write to make money, and the two things do not always go together. Libraries want as many books as possible to be available to their patrons, and digital libraries make this easier for them, but in the case of indie and small press authors it is hard to make the case for a library to “carry” your book, even digitally, unless there is a demand for it.

And that’s the kicker. Libraries are a place for patrons to discover new authors and for authors to be discovered. This depends a lot on book placement, both physically and electronically.

Selling books

So what is the deal with selling books anyway? Depending on how an author is published, traditionally through a publisher or self-published, they earn a different royalty for each book sold. The percentage for ebooks is different than hard copies. It is not a lot per book.

Revenue from ebooks is usually greater overall due to volume. A typical author sells hundreds of e-copies of a book for every print one purchased. The majority of income from those ebooks comes from  Amazon or iBooks. If you want to learn more about the breakdown, you can visit and study for days.

If you have written a number of books, keep writing new ones pretty regularly, and you have a reasonable number of sales, you can make some money selling books, even a living wage. It’s hard work, and you have to constantly market yourself.

Freelance writing

Usually, a writer has to make money other than what they make from selling books. A number of authors I know have day jobs, some writing, some not. Others do a lot of freelance writing, which consists of a number of things.

Ghost Writing. Companies need ebooks, white papers, blog posts, and other written materials created, and they do not always have the talent in house to create those things. So they hire freelance writers to create them for them.

They don’t necessarily want that author’s name on the material. Often, the name of a staffer who is an expert (who can’t necessarily write well or doesn’t have time) is listed as the author, or more often simply the company name.

This also, but less frequently can include fiction, where someone has a story idea they want someone else to write and publish under their name. This is a tricky area and one I recommend any writer study more before they go down that path.

Technical Writing. This can be an area where the writer has expertise, or can get it, or simply understands a subject well enough to write on it as an “expert.” This also sometimes includes things like procedure and policy manuals and can be boring and mind-numbing.

It usually pays well, primarily because no one really wants to do it, and big companies actually save money by hiring out this work rather than having one of their well-paid employees sit and write a manual.

Content Marketing and SEO. All of the material you read on the web (like this article) have to be created by someone. Usually, that someone is getting paid in one way or another for their work. Sometimes the pay is in exposure or name recognition, which enhances other aspects of their business.

This is similar to the reasons that giving away books on Amazon can actually make you money. Increasing ranking and name recognition has a certain amount of value, and it is the same for writing on the web. Exposure is currency, to an extent.

This can also include creating content on a website for a company or individual who “does not have time to blog,’ the most common excuse, or simply has no idea what to talk about. This can also pay well, depending on how quickly you can write, and what you write.

Other Stuff

Some writers also work as editors if they have the proper training. Not every writer can be an editor, nor can every editor write well. Editors do tend to specialize too, by fiction, non-fiction, technical, and academic editing.

Some also own publishing companies of one kind or another. Some formed those companies to publish their own material and moved on to publishing other author’s work. Either way, owning and operating a publishing house, even a small one, is both time-consuming and comes with a certain amount of aggravation.

Having writers work for you and trying to get them to meet deadlines and even market and promote their own books (even with your support) is a bit like herding cats. It’s often a thankless job.

Finally, some writers run marketing companies for writers and offer everything from blog tours to SEO, book advertisements, and other promotional services. Many of these sites also offer great advice to authors, like Bad Red Head Media and others.

The market for books that offer authors advice from writing to marketing is huge, and many fiction authors make more from content they have created to help other authors than from their own fiction work.

No matter how they are going about it, many writers who want to make living from their words are turning to the “gig economy” and working from home offices for the most part.

Home office myths (busted)

Writing is a business and must be treated as such. So for a freelancer making money in the digital age, hare are a few myths busted.

Writers Get Dressed. Like most of the working writers I know, I need to get dressed every day. While working in your pajamas sounds appealing, what you wear does affect your attitude toward what you are working on.

Besides, you have to go out, meet with potential clients, even talk to them in person or via video chat, so combing your hair is not optional either.

Writers Need Professional Tools. A writer needs a desk, a comfortable chair, a good computer preferably with a large screen, a simple home office phone system (yes, you still should have a landline), You may need to fax documents, as, believe it or not, plenty of your customers will still use them. It is also pretty likely you will be working with some clients overseas and will need to make international calls. You can do this with your cell phone or via Skype, but it can be expensive and you lose a certain professional edge. It’s usually inexpensive to add a line through your Internet provider, and the boost it gives to your credibility is well worth the investment.

Dependable Internet, a good router, and a decent webcam or device that has one other than your phone are essential. As a freelancer, your name is your brand, and you need to be seen as one whether video conferencing, taking calls, or otherwise communicating professionally.

This includes printed materials, business cards, and a website. Anyone who thinks a writer can be lazy in any way is fairly naive.


All of those things cost money. So we, as writers have to spend our time doing one of two things: either we need to be getting paid or doing something marketing or brand building wise that will lead to us getting paid.

So David is right. You won’t see us writing as much on sites that can no longer pay. We too will have to target where the readers are, the big name sites like the Washington Post and Forbes that pay their contributors. We’ll have to focus on selling books.

Because words are worth something. Exposure. Money. A trade for some kind of services. I’ll continue to write for sites like TeleRead because I care about authors and try to write from the heart about issues I care about.

The next time you read a post for free, the next time you balk when a website asks for money or an ebook seems too expensive, just take one moment to think about the writer on the other side of that content. He’s got bills to pay too.