A Writer’s Pay Day

Kids sometimes ask me (usually to their teacher’s or parent’s chagrin) how much money I make. I respond by explaining how royalties work. They assume that if I wrote the book, I get all the money from the book’s sales so they are often outraged to learn that when they purchase a paperback book for $6.99, my share – a standard six percent royalty – is forty-two cents. I then explain that my agent gets fifteen percent of everything I earn, in this case, six cents. So that puts my share at thirty-six cents per book. I’m considered a business by the State of Washington so I pay a Business and Occupation Tax and, of course, I pay federal income tax, as well.

Why would anyone in their right mind work for such a pittance? Because I don’t sell only one book per year. And because my books continue to sell year after year so that I receive income from them long after I’ve finished writing them.

Yesterday I received a royalty check for $122 from The Dramatic Publishing Co. for a one-act play titled “Cemeteries Are a Grave Matter.” It had been produced by three high schools in three different states. $122 does not make me a wealthy woman. On the other hand, there has never been a time in my life when I was not delighted to have $122 that I didn’t have the day before. The amazing thing about this check is not its size, it’s that I published that play in 1975, which means I have been collecting royalties on it for thirty-five years!

I vividly remember how thrilled I was to open that long-ago letter and learn that “Cemeteries Are a Grave Matter” had been accepted. Now I am thrilled to know that the words I wrote thirty-five years ago still seem relevant to high school audiences.  That is why I write – not to get rich, but to entertain as I offer my view of the world.

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