Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dispelling Writing Myths

Since my book has released, I have had questions/comments from many people - both writers and readers - talking about myths that seem to persist in the writing profession. So for the next few weeks, I will include one myth and then cover the grim reality.

Myth #1 – Writers make a lot of money.

This sentence would more correctly read – a few writers make a lot of money. I once heard a statistic that stated that 5% of all the writers in the world made 95% of all the money paid to writers. So writers who are well established, Nora, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Grisham, etc, probably aren’t worrying about the winter gas bill, but everyone else is stretching the all-mighty dollar to capacity if writing is their full-time job. And for those who are just inside the published door, we’re trying to get to the point of working one full-time job only, instead of two. Because, the reality is I have to work a job in order to afford to write – marketing is not a cheap thing and having good equipment (computer, monitor, printer, etc) is a requirement for me anyway.

So why don’t writers make money, well I’m an accountant, so let’s talk numbers. Let’s consider a debut author’s first contract. I’ll be very general/standard in my example. A typical contract for a romance book will contain an advance of $500-5000. (remember, this is typical we’re talking about). This advance is just that – an advance against royalties. So essentially, the advance is not the biggest issue when selling books. The two most important items are percentage and sell-through. A typical contract will state a royalty percentage to an author of 2%-8% (for paperbacks – a little more usually for hardcover). That’s percent of the sales price, excluding things like bookclub where the price may be deeply discounted.

Print run is the next step in talking money. Typical print runs for debut novels are all over the board depending on timing, push behind the book, publisher, etc, but mostly I hear of debut print runs of 25-50k.

Sell-through is the percentage of print run that you actual gain sales on. So if your print run is 50k and your sell-through is 50%, you sold 25k copies of your book. Sell-through is also estimated at different amounts by different publishers, but a safe estimate is 50%. 60% is strong and 70% will usually have people cheering. If you go to another print run, ask for accolades.

So let’s take a typical debut romance with an advance of $3k, percentage of 5%, a list price of $5.99 and a print run of 40k. Let’s say your sell-through is strong at 60%. Here’s the way that breaks down to author payment:

$5.99 X 5% = .30 (what the author makes off each book sold)

24,000 (copies sold) X .30 (royalty) = $7,200 This is the total earn-out of the book

But the author got $3k up front so take the $7,200 less the $3,000 advance and that leaves you with a royalty payment of $4,200.

Take off 15% of that for agent fees and the author will receive a royalty check for $3,570.

So including advance & royalty check, this author would receive $6,120 for their effort. I’m not even going to get into paying self-employment taxes and federal, etc.

Now let’s consider the time factor. Let’s just say the author is a fairly fast writer and wrote the book in six months working 25 hrs/week in addition to a full-time job. Beyond the six months writing time, she spent an additional 100 hours on revisions (between cp’s, agent and editor) and 20 hours on line edits. Another 10 for going over galleys with a fine-tooth comb. Then an additional 150 hours on marketing related items. So that’s a total of 930 hours spent on this project (and believe, my estimate of time spent is REALLY low). That means the author made $6.58/hr for all that hard work.

So when published authors tell you they are not doing this for the money and if money were the issue, they’d get a job at Walmart – they’re not exaggerating. Making money as an author is definitely possible, but it’s a long-term career goal. You have to build a readership and the only way to do that is to consistently write and release great books.

Just getting to the point of quitting your day job is a huge accomplishment – retiring to Tahiti is the stuff legends are made of.


Tori Lennox said...

Even though I know all this, it's still really depressing and makes me wonder why I want to be a writer... On the other hand, I can't quite seem to get the people in my head to shut up, so I guess I haven't got much choice. :)

Jana DeLeon said...

tori - I think that's what it boils down to - writer's write. If we had a choice, we wouldn't do it. We'd have root canal or something. :)

Helen Dagley said...

Rumor says John Grissom self published his first book and sold it out of his car trunk on weekends. Any truth to this?

Helen D said...

kept waking up last night horrified that I had misspelled John Grisham's name on the www. As I was taught to say in the Marine Corps {when I had done something stupid}, "No excuse, Ma'am."

Anonymous said...

Well, I knew all about this, so no tears from me.

Besides, I'm a stay-at-home mother. I'm used to working only for love.

And I also take into account that writing saves me a lot of money which would otherwise be spent on therapy ;) !

Kimber An

Jana DeLeon said...

Hi helen - I don't know that Grisham self-published, most self-respecting authors won't publish their own fiction. I DO know that A Time to Kill received over 100 rejections before someone finally took a chance on publishing him. He was told that no one would be interested in legal thrillers.

kimber - yes, I understand the therapy angle myself. :)

Tori Lennox said...

He was told that no one would be interested in legal thrillers.

Boy, whoever that was sure dropped the ball. *g*

Kelly Parra said...

Very well put, Jana! I come across a lot of writer myths, too. All I can say is that it's great to be able to be something I've worked really hard for, now I just have to work really hard to remain one. ;)

Jana DeLeon said...

ugh kelly - don't even remind me about the "remaining one" part. I swear it's worse than the "getting that first book published" part.

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