I wrote six nonfiction books over the course of about 10 years for major national publishers. Total gross earnings across all of them? Probably around $50 grand. Yup, that’s all. Total expenditure of time and effort? Extreme. Total domination of life in each case for months or even years on end.
In the meantime, I have also been a new media freelance writer for just a little longer, maybe 13 years now. Total gross earnings? Not sure offhand, but I can do quick calculations that tell me it’s much more than $50 grand. Total expenditure of time and effort? Several hours per week. In fact, I did the freelance writing “on the side” for much of my life while working on my books. Now I do it on the side while teaching.
Lesson? Freelance writing and new media are much more lucrative than traditional print publishing, at least when it comes to trade paperback reference titles. Why anyone is busy writing those kinds of books is beyond me. I think the pay is essentially in status; that’s really the primary form of gain. People fall all over the fact that I’m a “book author” a few times over. Not so much for short (500-1,000 word) nonfiction articles all over the place.
Certainly when I make realizations like this in the middle of the night, it tells me that I won’t be writing any more trade nonfiction paperbacks.