Rumor has it that making a living as a writer is hard. Turns out that rumor is true. Especially if you're a fiction writer.
My agent contract included a section that described how royalties generally work and how much first-time authors can expect as an advance. Now, I had low expectations. Really low. Or so I thought. Turns out I should have guessed even lower. Heck, even if I get a book deal, there's a good chance the advance won't cover my mortgage payment for a month. And the unspoken rule for authors is that you plow your first advance straight back into the promotion of the book. After all, if you don't sell enough books, you won't generate any royalties. And if you're not earning any royalties, that means you didn't even earn the publisher enough money to cover your advance. Thus, no second book.
And if you follow the advice and use your advance to promote your book, rather than, say, pay your mortgage, then you are essentially relying on any subsequent royalties to pay your bills. This explains the phrase, "Don't quit your day job." Because if you do, you'll be living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass.
I once read an article about a female author whose husband had died (of course, I can't remember the author). She had small children to care for and no income. So she went out, bought a typewriter, and decided to support her family by writing books. Well, heck, if all it takes is a typewriter (or computer) and conviction, sign me up. What she failed to mention was exactly how she leaped that giant hurdle from a writer with no experience to a published and successful mystery author. Since the interview was years and years after she'd first started writing, I imagine the past had already been frosted over and beautified, like the wealthy retired couple who wistfully remember their first apartment with the leaky pipes and second-hand couch as the best place they ever lived. Years later, this writer had probably forgotten those sleepless nights and panicked days when she didn't know how she'd make ends meet.
I only hope to be so lucky. Frankly, I don't care how much of an advance they offer. I'd just love to have my book published and be given the opportunity to promote it. Then, twenty years from now, after my fifteenth novel is for sale at the bookstore, I can look back and say, "Remember when they gave me five bucks as an advance?" Good times, good times.