Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

IP Earnings

Cash Streams Most Don’t Know About…

Kris and I try to help writers understand IP, in one way or another, through blogs, through workshops, and many other ways over the years. But two things happened today that just made me shake my head.

First off, I read an article on Facebook that I now can’t find (but I am sure Google will help you) on how much actors make from residuals of old shows like Mash, Cheers, Friends, and so on. The amount for those who signed good contracts is staggering. Sometimes up to 20 million a year.

That’s right, for work they did years ago. (see where this is going?)

I understood this first hand from an actress I met playing poker in the year 2,000. Her name was Phylliss Davis. She was stuck in Lincoln City, bored, so she decided to try to learn how to play poker. She got decent at it over time. One day, in a conversation at the poker table, she said simply, “I just don’t know how anyone lives on only a hundred thousand dollars a year.”

Now let me tell you, that stopped the conversation at the poker table cold. She didn’t even seem to notice. But talking with her later at our place, she explained to me and Kris and a few other friends that her residuals from movies and television shows had been slowly going down over the years. She was sixty and no longer working much.

(A side point that has nothing to do with this, she was also the long-time companion to Dean Martin and was with him when he died. Look up that story. He was the love of her life. And she was an amazingly nice human being. She died at the age of 73 in 2013 here in Vegas.)

Anyway, the second thing that happened today was I got a letter from a newer writer with four or five novels out, a few short stories, and not much else. The writer was complaining about barely making coffee money with writing and was thinking of stopping.

Sadly, I get this kind of letter regularly. Not only does it show a lack of understanding about this business and the time it takes to become a professional, but it shows a fantastic lack of understanding about IP and long-term return.

This person had been working at their craft for just over a year. Now, I knew for a fact this person had a master’s degree, so I asked how long it had taken to make money from the master’s degree. Seven years was the answer before a job came along that paid all the bills because of the degree and using the knowledge from the degree.

So this writing business is an international profession, learning to sell your work all over the world, and this writer thought they should be making a living at it in one year, without paying much for education at all?

I then asked how much the master’s degree cost and got some number that had six figures in it.

I then (being evil) asked how much the writer had spent on education on learning how to write and publish. Books, workshops, travel to conferences, that sort of thing. Answer: Very little, not even four figures.

Not sure if the writer understood what I was saying. If not, I no longer cared.

Phyllis Davis worked her entire life, from the early 1960s in movies with Elvis to a staring role in the show Vegas to a ton of other acting parts in movies and television. She earned those residuals and had the right to complain when they went down.

So there is nothing different in publishing, really. You write a story or a book and create an IP. A copyright. You put it out and the small trickle of money starts to come in, so you keep writing and putting more out and more trickles start. I have short stories earning me money I wrote in the 1980s. Forty years of trickles of money. I earn money to this day from a novel I wrote in 1987.

If you get in a hurry, think you deserve to be making a living after just a few novels, my suggestion is stop and learn how this business works long term. Of course, if you don’t want to do that, if that sounds like too much work and you are in too much of a hurry, go chase a marketing guru who might help you make some fast money and burn you out in a few years, before a real career would ever get going.

I’m here to help you learn a real, long-term career, where you can find yourself complaining you are only making a hundred grand a year because you earned it, not because you thought the world was just going to hand it to you.

(Picture of Dean Martin and Phyllis Davis… Copyright Scott Nunn/Star News)


  • Sharon Joss

    So very true Dean. While I believe that writing isn’t the fastest way to make a buck, that doesn’t mean you have to quit. I invested a lot of time, money and words into learning my craft, and while I’m not a best-seller, and I haven’t put out a new novel since 2017, I am absolutely delighted to see those royalties come in every single month. It’s a far better return than savings account yields, and it adds up. I’m not even running ads this year, but I still get money (from multiple input streams) every month. Meanwhile, I’m working on my next series, and chuckling every time I review the deposits made into my publishing account. I don’t read the reviews or worry about what the big fish in the pond are making. I just tend to the garden and write.

  • Sean Monaghan

    Years (and years) ago, I saw a documentary about the longetivity of Gilligan’s Island. Bob Denver talked about his contract and how it gave him residuals for something like six reruns, and then stopped. He was good natured about it, but was shaking his head over the contract, because, who knew that show would take on a life like that through syndication and so on? Times changed and someone was still making money off his work. I keep his smiling head-shake in mind when contracts come my way, and usually end up asking some questions.