Thursday, 14 July 2011

Writing is a Path to Fortune and Glory - Right?


It isn't. It really isn't. I long suspected this but found some really helpful advice and information online about it this week, mainly involving the Google search "How much does a writer make on average?". And oh boy the answers are a wake up call if you see yourself sailing the blue seas on your yacht, or lounging in a hillside mansion while you contemplate your next tome. And because I'm super nice (sometimes) I thought I'd collate my findings here. Actually scrap that super nice crap - this is for me as much as for you. To keep my feet on the dark, dank ground of reality. I hate you reality.

So, we all know about J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Amanda Hocking, Terry Pratchett etc. But for every J.K. and Stephen, there's, oh, probably 500 plus writers not making those millions but who produce work on a regular basis and earn money from their craft. And of those I'm betting most are not full-time writers. I discovered an excellent blog post about it from 2010, but I think what it says is as relevant now as it was then: In summary it explains the different ways in which writers make money, namely; Advances and Royalties. For those who may not know an advance is paid to a writer before your book goes on sale, whereas royalties are paid based on how many copies you sell.

Now for the key question; how much would these advances/royalties be? As with most things, it depends. New authors will be given small advances, likely in the range of £5000 - £7000 if you're lucky (inflation, devaluing markets etc, etc make these amounts changeable). But you may not get it all at once. The normal practise is to deliver a small amount of that when the contract's signed, the rest when the book is finished and even sometimes in a third installment once the book is published. The other really important bit of information, that I didn't know until my internet searching, is that this advance is inclusive of your royalties; i.e. if they pay you £5000 for your new book and it only earns £4500 in the market then you get nothing else. Nothing. If it earns more than that then you might start to see some cash coming in through royalties, but only as long as production costs and fees are covered. Yep, publishers will try to keep as much cash as they can from your book, but hey, this is business.

Possibly representative of the cut the publisher gets. Possibly.
As for royalty rates, well, they suck. At least for newbies. Most new, unknown writers will be fortunate to see 10% of their earnings, but the good news is if the book sells well you should (if the publisher is reputable) see an increase in your royalty rate, though don't expect to be earning more than 25% (and in fact that's pretty high). Clearly the tables are very much weighed in the publisher's favour, and in this day and age where writers have to do a lot of marketing and promotions themselves (even through a traditional publisher) it's no wonder that many are looking to the gleaming world of self-publishing, especially in ebooks.

So is it a better deal with ebooks? Some writers think so, particularly Joe Konrath,  Dean Wesley Smith, among many, many others. But one thing has always struck me about most of these guys - they were successful already, had a background in marketing and tend to produce a lot of books in a short space of time. That helps massively if you're going to "go-it-alone", and I doubt it's so easy for the rest of us mere mortals. Then there's Amanda Hocking, who is painted as an overnight success when in reality she's been publishing ebooks for years and in large quantities before she made her million(s). That said the royalty rates for ebooks are much better than what you'd get from a traditional publisher (Amazon Kindle will give you 70% in royalties on books priced £1.49 to £6.99. For full Amazon pricing go here). Sounds great right? 70%?! Riches are bound to follow. Well, they will, if you're a known and popular author. But again newbies will have to work damn hard to make a return on their work, and a massive amount of self-promotion is needed to get those sales.

So what, ultimately does an author make a year? After much reading of realistic blogs, and from experienced mid-level authors, if you're making £10,000 a year you're doing well. And funnily enough when I found that out I didn't think "oh, what's the point with so little earning potential" but instead I felt like a weight had been lifted. The pressure of writing a novel for the first time can be a bit much, especially if you think you're competing with multi-millionaire writers. But I'm now seeing this as a way to do something I love and supplement my income from my day job on the side, if the the fates are kind. I'll be delighted if I can make £10,000 a year from stories. Hell, I'd still be getting paid to make stuff up; and isn't that the ultimate dream of a storyteller?

(P.S. the novel in question is going well, with the half way mark definitely in sight. I am 89% certain that I will have the first draft done by mid-august. This excites me more than words can say - which is probably a bad sign for a writer.)

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