Hopefully I'm not the only writer who had this misconception. When I was young, I assumed that most writers were incredibly wealthy. That's not why I became a writer. I write books and plays because I must. It's both a desire and a compulsion. However, I did this I was going to be cashing some pretty big checks now and then.
When I signed the contract for my first play (this was all the way back in 1998) I envisioned getting a four-digit sized check every six months. Instead, I received about $140 in one year. (Cue the sad wah-wah music.)
So, today it wasn't a surprise when I received a big envelope from Random/Penguin that had a rather tiny sized amount written on the check. During this sixth month period, 55 copies of "Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?" have been sold. After the taxes, that translates into 36 bucks.
But I'm not mentioning this to generate pity. "Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?" has had a good run for a small press book (it was originally created by Tricycle Press). It has sold an accumulation of 9,530 copies -- and that's a number to be proud of. (I'm hoping that it will someday pass the 10,000 mark.)
I'm pointing out that many authors, myself included, rely on a whole bunch of these little, tiny royalty checks from a multitude of sources: books, plays, stories, articles -- anything we can sell. Some of us breakthrough with a best seller that will secure our finances for the rest of our days, but most of us stay hungry -- a condition that ironically often feeds the muse.