"Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money," Samuel Johnson famously wrote. I would add Mariotte's Corollary: "Nobody with half a brain ever wrote expecting to get rich."
If one wants to make lots of money, there are much easier ways to go about it. Banking, Wall Street, the law, the media...the possibilities are numerous. For every John Grisham or Stephen King there are dozens, if not hundreds, of writers who make a few hundred to a few thousand bucks a year at it, who can never leave their day jobs.
The difficult task of making a living writing (never mind getting rich) is made even harder by intellectual property theft.
I found out this week that I've been the victim of such a theft. Something that I wrote, to which I hold copyright and trademark, is available as a "free download" online. I first saw it on a blog of "free books," where the individual files were linked, but not hosted. It turns out the blogger is a perfectly reasonable individual, and at my first request, immediately deleted the post. No harm, no foul--that blogger found the files at a file-sharing site and so assumed they were legitimate. They aren't.
I have written to the file-sharing site, and hope they will be equally reasonable. They have not responded yet.
It's possible that the real thief--whoever uploaded the files to the file-sharing site--is a fan. At some point he or she must have paid the couple of bucks to legitimately download the material, or is in contact with someone else who did so. Probably, having done so, he or she thought, hey, I'll just upload these to X website, and then other fans won't have to pay for it.
Now, I don't think there are any writers out there who are more appreciative and respectful of my readers and fans than I am. Through my decades of experience on every side of this game, from comic retail and book retail to marketing, editing, publishing and writing, I know that every reader has loads of options, and anyone who is willing to spend money to buy and read my work--or even goes to the library, where it's legitimately available for free--is someone for whom I am deeply thankful. I try to be available to my fans and readers, keep my email address public, try to meet as many as I can face to face and let them be as much a part of my life as they desire.
But fans who post my work online illegally--even if they think they're just doing a favor for other fans--them I don't need. Enough of that kind of fan and I'll be looking for work at the state prison or Border Patrol, or else raising livestock here at the Ranch.
There seems to be a perception, in the digital age, that anything that can be digitized should belong to the world. That's wrong, and it's theft, and it's a pernicious idea.
I can't imagine a more boring, unfriendly, awful world than one in which our best writers stopped writing, our filmmakers stopped making movies, our musicians stopped recording, because there was no financial incentive to the creation of new works. There are plenty of books written already, and my to-be-read stack is as tall as anyone's (taller, because of my reading for the World Fantasy Awards), but that doesn't mean I want those already written to be all there ever will be.
But if publishers and writers and artists and musicians can't make money from their work, that's what we'll face. A world in which all art is, by definition, amateur. We've long since moved past the kind of system in which wealthy patrons employ people to create things just for the amusement of themselves and their wealthy friends, and we're not going back to that. The future will no doubt bring new business models--maybe per-chapter micropayments for novels, or something like that--but there has to be money in it for writers if we're going to be able to keep writing.