Most authors earn less than legal minimum wage writing books. Most do so for their entire writing careers. (U.S. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A full time person working 40 hours per week would earn an annual revenue of $15,000 at that rate.)
In fact, they work for free for a long time before getting paid and once they do get paid, the amount earned almost never makes up for the long hours of volunteer work which preceded it.
When I hear from an aspiring author and learn they spent ten years and thousands of hours working on a particular manuscript, my quick calculations indicate they will probably end up earning about $1.00 per hour for their effort, which was minimum wage in 1967.
One of the great mysteries of book writing is its potential to live in the financial extremes for an author. While it could be the aforementioned “dollar an hour” project, you could also earn substantially more if the book sells well.
If you want to be a professional writer, you should start with projects where you might be paid $50 for few hours of work. At least $15/hour is a start.
But don’t think if you work 500 hours on a book you deserve a $7,500 advance. A first book advance might be less than that (it also might be more). There is no correlation to how much you are paid for a book and the hours invested writing it. If it were, quicker writers would be paid less than slower writers.
In general, articles and short-form projects are a great way to begin the process of getting paid for writing. It also helps exercise your writing “muscles” so you can write quicker and better.
If you want to be a professional writer, you will eventually need to create on a deadline and if you are not relatively quick, you will need to give up some sleep and other distractions in order to hit the deadline. Most authors have a “day job” and relationships to maintain, so while they can immerse themselves in their craft here and there, other responsibilities are always tugging at them.
You can still work on a book for ten years, but over the decade you also wrote hundreds of other things, both short and long, plus have a couple other incomplete books on your hard drive. If the book was the only thing you wrote in ten years, it indicates you are probably not a commercially viable author.
The 5,000 hours you worked on your book over the last ten years will yield far less than minimum wage, maybe less than the 1967 amount.
Of course, this is not fair, but few things in life are, especially in a competitive performance profession like writing.
Once an author achieves a certain status, they can slow down, take their time and write, knowing it will result in a big payday. But usually those authors are under intense deadline and performance pressure.
The good news is you wrote a best-selling book, now do it again, and again. Like any performance career field, everyone is one or two bad performances (or book releases) away from a major career decline.
And no fair citing the one exception where someone worked for 30 years and finally sold the only thing they ever wrote for a million dollars. Or the person who scribbled the text of a children’s book on a napkin at lunch and made a career from it.
After all, most big winners in a lottery end up messing up their lives because winning was easy. Lasting success takes work.
An image comes to mind of an open audition for a nationally televised talent show. Aspiring talent lines up down the hall, out the door, and around the block waiting for a chance. If you are not highly talented, courageous and ready to compete, you will give up long before the line moves enough to give you a chance to audition.
Same with writing books. Take a deep breath, set your jaw and be ready to work hard and compete for a long time. If you are fortunate enough to make a good living at it, most likely you will have great appreciation for the success, since you worked so long for so little money.