I know a lot of people who are interested in writing professionally but aren't quite there yet, so I'll do a brief spiel on how the money aspect works. There's a few different payment schemes in the writing world.
1) Exposure: Sometimes places will say that they can't pay
you with money, but boy howdy, they can give you exposure. Ain't that
grand? As a general rule, it's best to run screaming in the other
direction from these people. I'm putting this one first because it
underscores the point that you always want to get paid with actual
money, even if it's not very much.
2) Flat rate and per word
payment: Magazines and anthologies usually pay this way, and it's about
what it sounds like. "If we accept your story, regardless of length,
we'll give you $50." That's the flat rate. A per word payment means
(surprise!) you're paid a certain amount based on the word count of your
story. Professional rates for horror are usually considered five
cents/word. For sci-fi and fantasy, the professional rate is usually
considered six cents/word. Most places pay much lower rates than that.
3) Royalties: You probably understand this concept already. In your
contract, it will say that X% of every sale of your book goes to you.
Then, you receive a check every X months and an accounting of what sold
in that period. This works great with novels and absolutely terribly
with anthologies and magazines. Once royalties get split up between a
bunch of authors, they disappear fast. Depending on when your book comes
out, your royalties can do weird things, too. My novel Carrion Shadows
came out the day before the publisher's quarterly accounting period
ended, so my first check was for a grand total of $3.02. It had only
been available for a few hours when the period ended.
Advances: This is where the big money comes from. When you hear that
some celebrity signed a book deal for several wheelbarrows full of cash,
that's an advance. The name comes from the fact that they're an advance
on royalties. Generally, the author can't collect any royalties until
the book has earned out its advance. If you receive an advance of
$5,000, then you don't get any additional checks until your book
surpasses the point where you would have earned $5,000 in royalties.
Once you've earned $5,001 in royalties, you get a check for $1.00. A lot
of books never earn out their advance, so you never see royalties on
it. Generally, only large and established publishers offer advances.
Smaller publishers only pay in royalties, but they might offer you a
higher percentage of each sale.
There you have it. There's
other, more obscure ways to make money off your writing, such as
contests, but these are the options you see the most. If you read
through this whole post, hopefully you found it useful.
Oh, look. It's a way to demonstrate how royalties work.