I don't know if you've noticed, but the publishing industry is changing as we speak (metaphorically speaking, that is).
Authors are bypassing the agency model and pairing with Amazon (and soon, Barnes & Noble) to put their back lists on assorted e-devices. Some authors are going straight to Amazon (witness Joe Konrath's startling news recently). I am still skeptical about Joe's assertion that if the marketing is right and the price is right, an author can make beaucoup bucks on Kindle. I don't have the time to spend that he does on marketing and schmoozing my books, but I'll give it a try in the future, probably, with some books whose rights will be returned to me soon. I'll report back on what I find.
A friend and I had coffee last night and she said, "Look at how much publishing has changed since you started three years ago. Do you have any idea where it will be in three years?"
I never thought it would change as much as it has so quickly. I knew I was on the inside track of the New Wave, but I thought it might take a decade or more for e-sales to take off the way they have. I always thought that at some point I might re-approach a NY house and look for that "real" publishing contract. But I don't have that inclination any more. I've seen how authors have to compete for those rare publishing slots. I've been to quite a few mystery conferences lately, and I've heard about it, believe me. A NY contract gives me access to walk-in sales at a bookstore. From what I've heard from other authors -- that isn't much. Only a rare few get some promotional help from their publisher. The rest of the authors are mostly on their own.
I know of a handful of authors who make their living as writers. By 'make a living' I mean those who have no spouse to provide a backup income or who can provide medical coverage. These are people who make enough money to support themselves now -- and of course, their future is dependent on more books and more sales. All of them have a 'side job' as an editor or speaker to supplement their writing income.
I like my 'side job'. I'm a writer (technical) and I make really good money doing what I do. I'm disciplined and I can juggle both jobs: fiction and non-fiction writing. Some day I may walk away from one or the other, but for now they peacefully co-exist. I have 15 books out, I have 3 more coming this year, I have 5 for next year, and who knows what will happen after that?
The way publishing is changing, it's anybody's guess...