A friend sent me an essay she found in the Telegraph, by Toby Young . His 2001 memoir, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People", sold a quarter of a million copies and was turned into a movie, but he still needs his day job. He says a writer these days needs a substantial private income to be a full-time writer, and he cites British statistics of writers' low incomes; it's similar in Canada. I remember reading that the average writer's income is lower than that of a corps ballerina.
As a similarly underpaid playwright, I have long been quoting the Canadian playwright, Bernard Slade (Same Time Next Year): "You can make a killing in the theatre but you can't make a living." In other words, there are no guarantees.
Years ago, when one of my early plays was being produced in Waterloo, Iowa, I was brought down to help with the publicity. One of my talks was to the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The JayCees wanted to know how much money I made on that play, so I tried to figure it out. I had to tally the hours of writing (and rewriting), plus marketing, plus paper and postage, and so on. It was a ballpark figure, give or take, but I pegged my income at about 10 cents an hour, not quite a living wage. Mind you, I had a husband who supported me but my day job was quite time-consuming: raising four children. Alice Walker (The Color Purple) has said that it's possible for a woman to write with one child but more than that she's a "dead duck". Okay, so Danielle Steel has 9 children. She says she had her first child and her first book at age 19. She held down three jobs and wrote at night. I guess that says something.
Anyway, Toby Young concludes that writing is a rich man's hobby. One writer I read said it helps if you have a wife who will support you. What about women? (See above.) The few, male or female, who consistently write best-sellers and get asked for their laundry lists (and get paid for them, too), only add to the mystique and the difficulty for lesser-known authors. People learn you're a writer and they ask "Have I heard of you?" I have another writer friend who answers, "I don't know. Who have you heard of?" And you know the names without my telling you.
Well, they're right, I guess. I haven't heard of me, so why should they?