The Relationship Between Writing, Art & Money

As author Richard Ford said in this article about money and the writer, “It mattered a great deal more that my novel would be read than that somebody paid me.”

When you’re a writer, sentiments like this seem so romantic. You do it for the love. You do it for the passion. You do it because you’re writing about something that matters and you want to shout it from the rooftops so everyone can hear.

Especially when you’re a visionary driven by a mission, talking about money with regard to the writing you do about your mission feels almost like heresy.  A mission is a spiritual sort of thing, a calling of sorts. Getting paid to realize your calling verges on sacrilege. It would be like Jesus asking for a $10 cover charge for his sermon on the Mount. Or the scribes of the Bible asking for a million dollar advance for their book that was sure to be a bestseller.

Money and The Writer

Notions like this one espoused by Richard Ford perpetuate the idea of the starving artist, one who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of her art.  And I get it – really I do. When I sold my first book Encaustic Art to a small publisher over five years ago, they paid me $3,000 for a book that cost me $25,000 to write and photograph and took six years of my life to create. And then they never bothered to publish my book. I got paid approximately six times more by Random House when the book went over to them, but it still didn’t begin to pay for my expenses, much less my time.

But I didn’t care. I was so thrilled to think that someone would actually read what I wrote that I did a happy dance when my measly advance check showed up in the mail.

Lessons From Book #2

My second book What’s Up Down There? cost much less to write and took 5 ˝ years less long to bring to life, and my advance was almost exactly the same. So I was initially delighted. But this time, I went on a twenty city book tour, hired staff and a roadie to help me manage details, and secured a private publicist to help me navigate the process.

And suddenly, the privilege of bringing my writing to the world landed me in serious debt.

I’m not alone in this.  A straw poll of dozens of author friends revealed that approximately 80% of them spent more money bringing their books into the world (via private editors, book launch parties, publicists, PR firms, book trailer videos, book websites, staff salaries, travel expenses, social media coaches, etc) than they earned from their writing. That doesn’t mean the book didn’t help them generate revenue in other ways (paid public speaking, workshops, one-on-one clients, corporate endorsements, etc). But the writing itself, well… it can get expensive to publish a book. And that doesn’t even take into account the amount of time you spend writing the book, which keeps you from activities that might generate revenue elsewhere.

Why I Turned Down A Perfectly Good Book Deal

By the time I got to book #3 in January 2011, when I got offered another book deal that would pay me an advance in the same range as the other two books, I drew a line in the sand. As much as I wanted to share my message with the world, and as much as I felt called to serve a mission, and as much as I love to write purely for the art of it, I couldn’t afford to publish another book unless I got paid for it this time.

Part of me felt shitty for drawing this line. But another part knew I was worth more than publishers were paying me, and I had to value myself and my time in order to attract the kind of money some people generate from their art. So I turned down the book deal and decided to shelve that book – at least for the time being.

Richard Ford Learned This Lesson Too

Later on, in the same Richard Ford article, he writes:

Professional athletes are sometimes quoted in interviews as saying, “I can’t believe someone’s paying me to do this. I’d do it for nothing.” I’ve never quite believed that. But I’ve occasionally felt vaguely that way about writing. It isn’t very hard to do, and it can sometimes feel pleasurable. This was a feeling I had when I was younger, of course. At 67, I’m not sure I’d do it now if somebody wasn’t paying me (although no one’s paying me very much for writing this – which is probably reasonable). But with less time lying out in front of me these days, other activities have begun to seem more attractive.

I guess I feel the same way these days. Because I happily write for free on,, and other websites (while paying good money for staff and web maintenance for the privilege of doing so), I can’t afford to place so little value on my book writing, not with a family to raise, overhead to cover, and dreams to pursue.

Fine Art And Money

The same applies to my fine art career. In the early days, I sold all my art for less than $500 a pop. Many sold for a mere $50, even though the cost of the canvas and paints and sable brushes and studio rental and shipping costs to galleries – not to mention my time – cost more than that. But I would have done it for free, so even a small payout at the time seemed so fortuitous, like manna from heaven.

Then I hit a wall with my art career. When I calculated one year that I spent $30,000 on my art and earned $10,000, I had to rethink my career. As Marie Forleo says, “If your business isn’t making money, it’s a hobby, not a business.” Ouch.

So I set the intention to generate real money from my art, but my artist friends gave me crap about it. They told me I was selling out, that I wasn’t a “real” artist, that real artists must do their art, that it’s not about the money at all. And while I think, to some degree they’re right, another part of me calls bullsh*t. Why can’t we have and do both – create art for the love of creation and get handsomely paid for it?

After resetting my intentions around my art career, I started bringing in six figures with my art. Simply resetting my sense of value around my own worth – and raising my prices – was enough to shift everything.

It Paid Off

The same thing happened with my writing. After turning down an $18,000 book deal in January 2011, I scored a big phat six figure deal for the book I just finished writing, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), by doing the same thing – shifting my thoughts about what I’m worth and what motivates me to create my art.

In short, you can create for the sheer love of creating, AND you can get paid what you’re worth. And it’s not selling out. I promise.

Do You Value Yourself And Your Art?

Do you believe this? Or do you think you must go broke in service to your art? Tell us what you think.

Making art for the love – and the money,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities and, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.


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William G.
.3 years ago

I knew this blog post was existed someplace. Thanks to post such articles. Will unquestionably be using it very soon.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.5 years ago


Sian Rider
Sian R5 years ago

I rather think it depends WHY you are engaging in the artisitc process - in whatever genre.
If you are doing it for your own enjoyment then money is not a factor. If you're doing it for distribution then you need to calculate a fair price, taking into account time and materials. This latter is an accounting exercise. Otherwise you're simply going down the 'vanity publishing' route. Something that is worth the money will sell.

Of course, you may have to serve out your 'apprenticeship' first...

Camilla T.
Camilla T5 years ago

Actually, I'd rather get paid for something other than my writing so that it will stay enjoyable. At the moment I am working too hard for it to actually be fun and I know I probably won't turn a profit anyway, so I really need something else to support myself. On the other hand, the thrill of knowing that some people have actually wanted to pay real money for my writing, will last me a long time, so I'm not sorry to have worked this hard at it.

Heather Marvin
Heather Marvin5 years ago

I really enjoy writing and I enjoy drawing and this has been a problem for me since I was in high school, how to make a living out of something you love to do. Unfortunately, some of our greatest artists were dirt poor and their paintings didn't really sell until they were dead. Other industries make a decent living so why not writing and art? It seems that the few make the decent money whilst alive. These days I write and draw for the pleasure of it and I do enjoy doing just that.And if it brings pleasure to others, even better.

Silvia W.
Silvia W5 years ago

You certainly made some good points here! We have to value ourselves and our work at a reasonable level.

Rebecca M.
Rebecca M5 years ago

I can relate to this situation, but when money is tight it's the art that gets cut first. Rather than spending $30k on something that will bring in 10, I just don't do it, I don't buy the supplies, I don't spend the time. It becomes a luxury. It's unfortunate but also the responsible thing for my to NOT do.

Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago

For some of us it is not about the money, I am perfectly happy writing short stories and novels for myself and friends. if I send a story to one friend and they like it that is enough for me the same goes with my Art and sculpture I creat for myself. I have ocasionaly sold a piece but mor often I refuse to sell because I feel it is far more valuable than most people are willing ot offer. I feel there is a bid differance between Art and buisness and it all comes down to the heart. I must agree with you in writing though so many times you are paid to creat that. I have been given plots and told to write it and you will get X amount and I have no problem ripping that stuff out however it is different from the stuff I write for myself and friends,

Rosie Jolliffe
Rosie Lopez5 years ago