Taking Stock

Happy New Year, everyone. Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, starting 2019 the way I always do, by going back over the records I’ve kept during the previous year. Yesterday, I set up a tray table in the living room and watched the Rose Parade while tallying business income and expenses for 2018. I also recorded a few additional totals, such as how many books I read—one hundred and forty-one. Some were for research, but the majority were for pleasure.

Why do I do this, other than the fact that I’ll eventually need most of those numbers in order to file my income tax? The short answer is that it gives me a sense of how much (or how little) I’ve accomplished and what my goals ought to be for the coming year.

Sadly, it also told me that I earned less than I once did, although still considerably more than I made when I first committed to being a full-time writer. Could I live on my income from writing alone? Maybe, but not very well. I’m above the official poverty level, but not by a whole lot. In case you’re wondering, that’s $12,140 for an individual and $16, 460 for a two person household. I’ve been writing since 1976, with the occasional part-time job in the lean years. For most of those . . . well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I had (and still have) a spouse with health insurance.

The more pertinent question every year is whether or not I was able to pay all my writing expenses from my writing income. The answer to that one for 2018, thank goodness, was yes. That hasn’t always been the case, either.

I’ve never added up the total number of hours it took me to write a specific book, although I do daily tallies in my Brownline Planner. For the majority of fifty-nine traditionally published books, however, I think I can safely say that if I were to divide the total advance and royalties earned to date by the total time spent on research, writing, and promoting a given book, I wouldn’t come close to having earned the minimum wage.

Sitting down once a year to evaluate statistics keeps me grounded. I suppose if I weren’t an optimist at heart, I might be discouraged by my failure in 2018 to A) earn a lot of money, B) make a bestseller list, or C) win an award. The thing is, I can’t not write. The ideas keep coming. Characters demand their voices. Plot twists beg to be explored. What I take away from this annual exercise is that I’m still hanging in there as a working midlist author. As long as people keep reading my books, I’ll keep writing them. And, at tax time, there’s a bonus. As long as I show even a miniscule profit, I can claim almost any book or DVD I buy as “research” and deduct it as a business expense. That always makes me happy.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at www.TudorWomen.com

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10 Responses to Taking Stock

  1. Lea Wait says:

    A-men, Kathy! Thanks for sharing facts authors know .. but few readers do!

  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    Thanks, Lea.

  3. You are an inspiration in so many ways – your prolific, steady writing of fine books chief among them, but also your self-accountability. Glad to know 2018 was a good year, on balance.

    Happy new year to you and Sandy!

  4. Barbara Ross says:

    I do this, too. Not the New Year’s Day rituals, but the running tallys. Perhaps because you so generously sent me yours when I first started to give me an idea of what the important numbers are. Every time I get a royalty statement, I sit down for an hour or more drawing circles and arrows until all the numbers make sense. I’ve caught more than one mistake that way.

  5. Judy says:

    Keep writing. I enjoyed the last book.

  6. I wrote a blog post a few years ago called Can You Afford to be a Writer? We’re supposed to maintain a happy profile and be relentlessly cheerful, but the truth is that not only is writing hard, even though we love it, but it can be expensive.


    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I’ll share a little secret (something you already know about me, Kate)–one way I keep expenses low is by not doing much in the way of promotion. Does this reduce my potential income? There’s no way to tell, so I’m inclined to think it doesn’t make any difference, but that could just be me rationalizing because I come from a long line of penny pinchers.

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