Artists, Money, and Finance: It’s complicated

by | Oct 2, 2019 | On writing | 11 comments

By Jamie Freveletti

There’s been a lot of talk this last month or so about writers and money. Specifically, about writers and how they lose money or spend it unwisely. And this month while reading a couple of essays about finance I thought the authors did their readers a service by being so honest. Their insights will help countless others avoid making the same mistakes.

One of the mistakes mentioned is how a writer is given advances and other perks for their writing and then, when the future is looking bright and the author begins to relax and enjoy their new career, fortunes change. You can find stories like these in the sports and music world as well.

Author William McPherson penned an essay about finances a few years ago. This writer, a Pulitzer prize winner, journalist and former editor at one of the big five houses, wrote an essay called Falling about his descent into poverty. He bought AOL at the low and Apple too. Then in midlife he handed a financial adviser his account to manage (who purchased more stock on margin-another form of a loan) and hit it to travel Eastern Europe to watch and record the fall of communism. The line in his story that hit me was this:

He writes: “My income consists of a social security check and a miserable pension from The Washington Post, where I worked intermittently for a total twenty five years, interrupted by a stint at a publishing house just before my profit sharing would have taken effect.”
From: McPherson, William, Falling, from, originally published in The Hedgehog Review, Fall, 2014 (emphasis added).

It appears as though he realized later how this timing regarding profit sharing was a financial blow. While I’m not sure, it also sounds as though he came from a middle class family. A worrisome comment came through again in this sentence:

He writes: “There was always enough money. I’d assumed there always would be (I think this is called denial).”
McPherson, Falling.

I read that line and thought, “Uh oh.”

As the daughter of a jazz- singer- single- mom the line in our house was “Where’s your next gig?” The understanding was that as nice as the current gig was, it could all go away tomorrow. I brought this view into my writing career. But while the question is accurate and safe, it makes for a certain amount of insecurity and fear of taking risks. It’s hard to know just when your career is assured so that you can live a little. Balancing risk is an art, that’s for sure. And balancing a career in art is even tougher, because the usual signposts and assurances aren’t there.

Mr. McPherson had a major heart attack, which taxed his already stretched income, and he says he spent some of his years with “magical thinking.” Luckily for him his family helped and some subsidized housing. He passed away a few years after writing the essay, but his insights live on to inform others.

There are some good financial tip books out there as well. The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money, by Jill Schlesinger is eye opening. She pulls no punches, and her explanation of the percentage of your income that you should strive to live on for a year, (while saving the rest), sounds so low as to be impossible, but she will definitely get you thinking. There’s also Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin, which I’ve heard is good.

It always helps to learn. And I think a dialogue about how to manage money in these uncertain times and fields is worthwhile. I’m thankful to the writers who wrote these essays and books and their willingness to help us learn from their insight and experiences.

Perhaps I can reach out to more authors and writers on this subject and  highlight their ideas in a future post. Also, if you have any financial books or articles that you’ve found interesting, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about them!

All the best,


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  1. Rogue Women Writers

    Terrific observations about managing finances, Jamie. One book on the subject that's been out a while, but still resonates, is A MILLION IS NOT ENOUGH by friend, Michael Farr, who is a commentator on CNBC. As for an income for authors, what many "aspiring writers" don't realize is that an often used royalty paid by major publishers is just 10% of the cover price (for a certain number of books sold) — it's a tough business. Thanks for a great post. Karna Small Bodman

  2. Jamie Freveletti

    I love that title! Will look into it. Thank you!

  3. Lisa Black

    I've always thought "I'll just make as much money as I can, that's all I can do." But now as I'm getting up to retirement age, I'm gulping nervously.

  4. Robin Burcell

    I remember when I sold my first book in 1995. I remember telling my editor I wanted to "retire" in 5 years. Looking back, I wonder if she laughed to herself. I didn't mean retire in the I'm-going-to-get-rich sense. I meant leave the police department and write full time. I did not, however, make enough on subsequent books to continue in the lifestyle I was accustomed (as in making the house payment), so I continued working up until I was eligible to retire. I am very glad I did. The income from books is too sporadic. It's nice to have a a secure income from retirement to tide us over when there is no book in the works.

  5. Jamie Freveletti

    Yes, the whole retirement thing seems so far off–until it isn't. Schlessinger is all about retirement planning. At first I kept thinking "I wish she'd talk about other, more general tips," until I realized that was me doing exactly what others did–putting off thinking about some future event. She made me think differently in a good way!

  6. Jamie Freveletti

    So smart! I agree that the book thing is so sporadic that the "day" job has to cover the house mortgage. I'm going to reach out to authors to see if they'd be willing to discuss strategies and tips. Might be good for a future post!

  7. Norma Huss

    You could definitely consider my writing a hobby, since I don't make much money. But one advantage of writing is that you don't have to retire. My first book sold when I was 79. I'm 89 now and still writing (but now self-published).

  8. Sisters in Crime

    I always joke that my husband, Wes, is my day job. But it's really true. I started out with a parcel of kids to raise, a home to take care of and a full-time job. Eventually I went to a part-time job, less kids in the house and college educations to pay for. Now, I have the luxury of staying home and writing full-time, but only because my husband loves his job and he (we) can afford for me to stay home and work. The key word! WORK! My biggest issue is getting family, friends and neighbors to respect my work time. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "But you can (fill in the blank), because you can schedule your time however you want. You don't work." Yes, I just work from my home office, sometimes in my pajamas, but I work none-the-less. Do any of you have that problem?

  9. Jamie Freveletti

    Ten years published- Congratulations! And you're right, we'll never have to retire!

  10. Jamie Freveletti

    Not lately, but at first I found that I would stop and run if the kids wanted something or if there was a call, etc. I eventually got more disciplined about that and the kids followed suit- only interrupting if it was really required. I agree, though, that many people don't realize it's an actual job. They seem a bit puzzled when I talk about "work." Makes me smile.

  11. Dominick