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.
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?