Often times at our events, I get asked this same question (usually by tweens) when they find out I’m an author.
They ask, “Are you rich?”
I have to really, really try not to laugh at that question. Really. Really. Try.
Sure, it’s the kids who actually ask, but I don’t doubt that many, many people assume that we are rich. Adults just know that it’s not polite to ask someone about those things.
Still, this question is quite telling, it shows that a good portion of the public think that being an author = rich. Mansions. Movies. Chateau in France. Etc.
Another one that gets me: “You should get them to make a movie of your book.”
Hmmm. Great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?
Or: “You should go on Oprah.”
Yep. Got her on speed dial, how could that have slipped my mind?
Because when people think of authors, people think of *famous* authors like Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, James Patterson, etc.
Even I, just a short year ago, believed that if we could hit the much coveted New York Times Best Seller list, that we’d be doing okay.
(In case you missed my post on Publishing Realities, you can read it here, complete with NYTimes Best Selling Royalty Statement.)
Reality is most certainly a bitch.
For those of you who follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you know that Ethan and I now have a New York Literary Agent!
Her name is Louise Fury with the L. Perkins Agency, and she’s all kinds of awesome. I’ve started working on a YA Steampunk Romance that she’ll be shopping around later this year.
Now that we have an agent, we have a better chance of being published by a NY Big Boy. That means, when she sells it, an advance and better distribution! Still, even with that coveted 6-figure advance, we’ll be far from “rich.”
Just think: say we get a $100,000 advance, $85,000 of which we get to keep (15% to Louise), it’s likely the only money we will ever see from that book because “an advance” means an advance against royalties. Big Boy Publishers offer between 5-7% in royalties. Let’s take that large end at 7% on a moderately listed YA paperback novel of $8.99. That’s $.63 a book, meaning the book would have to sell nearly 160,000 copies *just to break even* on the advance. The average books sells 500 copies. We’ve sold 5,000 copies over the last 18 months in the Rowan series, which is about what a midlist author sells, even with a NY Big Boy.
If it takes me a year to write a book, that’s 85k a year. Not bad, by any means, even for me and Ethan both.
That’s the norm in publishing.
(And even that’s changing. Read this post by 20-yr veteran author Robert J. Sawyer. He wrote FlashForward. You might have seen the TV show, which is now canceled.)
But then let’s take into account the five years it’s taken us to get there without being paid any advances. That $85k/yr has just been averaged into $17K/yr for our first sale. Hopefully thereafter, I can be writing a book a year and making about $85/k every year for a single book. Still $100K is a huge advance. Most advances are more like $10-30K.
And that doesn’t factor in that authors have to use *their own money* for publicity. The publisher doesn’t help with that unless you are Stephanie Meyer or one of those other big names.
And this is all best case scenario with a NY Big Boy. Being with an independent publisher, we get a higher % on book sales, but have a more limited distribution. We rarely make anything that we haven’t hand sold at an event. And over the past 18 months, we’re consistently spending more than we’re making on travel, fees, marketing, and just living.
I wouldn’t be turning down even a $30,000 advance at this point.
If you’re thinking about becoming an author so you can be rich? Think again.
You’ll spend less money, have far less stress, and have just about the same odds by playing the lottery. In fact, I’m thinking more and more about that strategy.
So… No, little girl, I’m not rich. I’m surviving.
If you like our books, please support us by buying one instead of borrowing one.
<post first published in August 2010>
Do you think authors can make a decent living on writing fiction? If so, do you think they have a better chance at doing so through self-publishing or through a NY publisher? What about the huge self-publishing success stories like J. A. Konrath? Exception or inspiration?
19 Comments Add yours
When I knew I wanted to write for a living, I didn’t think of making money at it. I always wanted to get past the big publishing block and do it myself. It seems like, with the digital age, there is more opportunity to get a fan base and sell your work online – without the agent and the royalty mess.
The problem with this is, the media emphasizes those that get rich – like the guy who sold his novel for donations via PayPal and made $50,000 his first year. The media acts like everything goes viral, which gives some a starry-eyed perspective guaranteed to send them into a deep depression once reality hits.
Love this post! You make great points. I could go on and on and on, but I don’t want to crash the server. LOL
I cannot wait to hear what major publisher picks up the steampunk novel! It WILL happen!
Please feel free to go on and on! 😀
I’d love to have a discussion on this.
This post really put a new view on the authoring-world. I have known for a long time now that I wish to become an author. I enjoy writing and using imagination. This post really made many people (that I showed) realize that writing is not a easy-money career. I loved this post a lot quite frankly! I know it’s a tough road before you reach the top but trust me you are doing great! Your picking up fans everywhere you go!
I’m so pleased you found the post helpful. I think too many people think that writing a book is paving a golden path to riches.
Thank you for the kudos, Kat. I certainly need to hear that from time to time. 😀
Great post, Christine!
Thank you, Lindsey!
I wrote my first novel at age 19 in 1989, and a ‘vanity’ UK press wanted to publish it. So yeah, I get it.
Sobering and truthful. Such a rare combination in the publishing world. 😉 Thanksfor the enlightenment and I can’t wait to see, on the shelves and online, your non-fiction book about all of the realities of being a writer. more of the beginners should be aware fo the dreadfully sobering facts…but, I certainly hope none of it dissuades them from reaching for their dreams. Some of us are bound to hit the lottery, right?
Absolutely! Some are definitely bound to hit the lottery!
I hope none of it dissuades from dreaming either. Let us all keep dreaming, but let’s also temper those dreams with reality. When we have realistic goals and dreams, we feel successful. I’ll be writing a post later this week about feeling successful.
Reality mixed with dreams is the recipe for success. xo
This is the main reason I’m going to self publish as eBooks.
Good for you! Just be sure that the quality in production is there, and you’ll do fine.
It’s so hard to know where to draw the line when trying to explain how publishing really works to lay people. So many readers think that authors get the price of the book! It would be laughable if the truth weren’t quite so painful… But if you explain everything truthfully, you run the risk of making your audience think that you’re a fool for even trying. Argh.
As for whether authors can get rich writing, of course the answer is that some of them can and do. I’m hoping to be one of them. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time; sometimes you can make that happen, and sometimes it’s sheer luck. I’m trying to hedge my bets with a scatter-gun approach–I have a hard-working agent, a NY contract, AND I have indie books out.
Enjoyed your post! May you land in the right place at the right time and strike it rich.
It certainly is about being in the right place at the right time. Much like winning the lottery…or being struck by lightening. You have three very important things in place to realize your goal of financial success as an author. If you haven’t already, build your social networks and author platform now. Brand your name. Aggressively expand your Twitter and FB following and blog several times a week. There is more info on marketing in my book, and I also am available for consultation.
Thanks for your comments! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post.
Wow, thanks for the bruhuhutal honesty. It’s refreshing.
As for a decent living, yeah I think you can. You’d have to save and invest in stock options in a way that makes you financially independent so that you can worry less about $, more about writing.
But it’s possible. Why not?
Why not, indeed? Anything is possible.
This rings a massive clanging deafening bell with me. Last week I was subjected to two people insisting that my collection of short stories on Kindle simply MUST have made pile upon pile of money for me because that’s what happens isn’t it. When I told them the book was doing reasonably well sales wise they insisted ‘well you never know do you’. Arrgh….
Yep. Get it all the time. 🙂
To be even more honest, the average author at this point is much more likely to get $10,000 for their book than $100,000 or even $30,000. Many are having to settle for $5000 or even less. Established authors with New York contracts and big-name agents are having to write four or more books a year, plus take freelance jobs, to make any kind of living.
Big contracts make news because they’re the exception, not because they’re the rule.
That’s right, and often times that $10k is for a two-book deal.