Someone congratulated my husband recently on my successes as a writer. He said, “You can quit your job and go fishing all day now.” My husband laughed it off and thought, If he only knew. And my book ledger proves his thought. My husband shakes his head at my career choice. Last night he said, “You’d make more money selling your toe nails on the street corner.” I laughed. I probably could. I could make a caboodle amount of money with the amount of hours I put in to a real paying job. I think about the countless hours I spend on my laptop. But I’m not a unique writer. All writers go beyond the Monday through Friday 9-5 work week. We spend many hours behind our desk. Typing on the couch. Writing on the train. Taking our laptop on vacations. Using our weekends for book signings and book festivals. Somedays I feel like one of thse kiosk people with the cart at the mall you try to run away from. “No, thank, I’m good,” I tell them.
Mack Collier states, “The amount of your advance will not come close to covering the amount of time it will take you to write the book.” Let’s assume that you spend just 10 hours a week on writing your book, and that it takes you a total of 8 months to finish it. That’s 320 hours you have invested in writing this book. Assuming you get a $5,000 advance, that means your hourly rate for writing the book was $15.63. This doesn’t count for the time we put into marketing and promotion.
Then why do we write?
Authors create books for many reasons. Here in the chart you can see a writer’s greatest reason is to entertain. The least reason is for fame. Where on the chart does it say to become rich? Well, I’m going to let you know if you’re not a big named author chances are slim. Authors are usually supplementing their income with school visits, speaking engagements and whatever other creative ways to make a buck. Yet, one would think, you’re an author, you’re banking. Truth be told. You are broker than broke. When they say, “Don’t give up your day job,” they mean it.
You make a decision at some point in your writing career which route you plan to take. First to agent or not to agent. That’s a choice. Do you need to have an agent to be published? No. Why did I? I threw my fishing line into the pond and caught the fish. I had an agent for two years. While I enjoyed sitting back and waiting on a yes or no from editors. I waited. And waited. And waited. Two years of no control. Not knowing what was happening day to day. While I found having an agent very prestigious, the waiting game for me gave me ants in the pants. Don’t get me wrong. I loved saying I had an agent.I loved my agent. It made me feel someone other than myself believed in my work. But I hated the wait. Did I say hated? Also, you need to come to terms when you land a book deal your agent gets 15% right off the top.
If you are accepted by a publisher you feel you’ve hit the jackpot. Big house, advance. Small house, likely no advance. But you have a contract.When we are accepted by a publishing house we’re offered an advance between 1,000-10,000. The advance will vary. Don’t be fooled though. The advance must be paid back through book sales. Yes, an author doesn’t get a dime (royalties) until you’ve acquired sales to pay back or earn your entire advance. Meaning your advance is 1,000 you must acquire 1,000 dollar in book sales. Now stick with me here. When a book sells in the store for $16.00 the author doesn’t get the entire $16.00 toward their advance. They get a very small percentage. After the advance is paid either as a percentage of the price of the book or as a percentage of publishers net receipts which vary from publisher to publisher then you earn a royalty. There are numerous different types of royalties that may be paid at different rates. So for example, if an novel book is listed at $25.00, that means that if your contract says you get 10% royalties off list, then you will get $2.50 per book. If you are getting 10% of net profits, common practice with a small press, then you’d get around $1.25 per book. Let’s say you get a $3,000 advance for your book and you get 10% royalties net profit, and the book’s list price is $16.00. That means you are making $1.25 per book, and that you will need to sell 4,000 copies of your book just to break even. It can take a lifetime of the book to sell that many books. The average US non-fiction book sells about 250 copies a year and around 3,000 copies over its lifetime. Some will never earn a royalty because their book has not earned out. Then we haven’t even talked about those bins where the book has been discounted to half-price. Eek! So if you’re making $1.25 or $2.50 off a book think about how many books it would take to pay back a 3,000 advance. If you built a good following than you might get it paid off a lot quicker.
Now the picture book market is crazy competitive. Are we making a Jimmy Fallon salary? Nada. Wait did he even write that twenty word book? A picture book author makes 3-6% off retail with big name publishers. If the book sells for $16.00 you will get the 3-6% off the selling price. With a small press it’s usually the average offer is 10-15% off net profit. So it’s not off of the $16.00. It’s the profit after the expenses are paid and its what’s left. Have you figured out the numbers yet? So if you the reader goes into the store and pick up a picture book for $16.00. That author is making somewhere between .16-.85 cents. Maybe slightly more. Yes, the author is making that much off your purchase. Someone’s making the money. It’s just not the author. Sad but true. This might help.
Geez, then why are we in this career? Why do we write? Why do we put so much time in doing this? Like the pie chart you looked at earlier. To educate. To express. To help. Do we want to get rich off this gig? Heck yes. Is it possible? Double heck. But is it realistic to believe it’ll happen? We can only hope.
My husband is supportive and proud of my writing successes but some days I really think he rather me sells my toenails.
*Disclaimer: I’m dissecting my own experiences and research. I have tried to get the facts correct. I’d love to hear some feedback.