The Business of Writing

It's like the dirty little secret that no one talks about. The big elephant we pretend we don't see. But let's face it. We all want the scoop. In fact, we need the scoop, in order to make educated decisions about our writing careers. So today's post is dedicated to all those brave writers who have taken a stand and attempted to fill us newbies (and sometimes veterans) in on the finances of publishing, and ultimately how YOU get paid.

Money: I've always been fascinated by the topic, and not because it seems to be taboo in the writing community. Too often creative types get caught up in this psycho babel b.s., believing that their work has to be about the art, not the money. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating selling out. But the whole starving artist bit is a little cliche. This is the 21st century, and those cool little gadgets that make life so fabulous (i.e. iPhones, DVRs, Plasma TVs, not to mention the modern conveniences of things like electricity and running water), they all require cold hard cash.

When I tell someone I want to be a full-time published author they say, "Oh you want to write a novel? I want to write a book before I die." After hearing this, I calmly take a deep breath before shaking the crap out of them. HELLO!!! If someone said, "I want to be a surgeon" would your response be, "I've always wanted to cut someone open?" For my sanity's sake, lets hope the answer is no.

But I digress. My point is this. There is a difference between having a "Bucket List" aspiration of publishing a novel before you die and making a career and supporting your family off of your writing. How can writers possibly be expected to manage our writing career without accurate information (or hell, any information) on the business of writing?

So today we've got a couple blog posts that go into detail on things like the average genre writer's advance, the print run size of a NY Times best-selling author, and that oh so important question, "what will my royalty check look like?". I should also note, that my intention is not to fill you head with fantasies about how wealthy you'll be when you finally hit it big, rather I want to give you some context, a point of reference so that you can compare your own situation to someone in a relatively similar position.

First up, an oldie but goody: Tobias Buckell's Author Advance Survey 2.0
Toby took advantage of his vast networking skills to create an anonymous survey that science fiction and fantasy authors complete and provide information about their advances. Though it isn't the most scientific study (and really what salary survey is?), it does provide some interesting data. This information can be used to help folks determine if they want to try and sell a book on their own or hold out for an agent (notice the difference in earnings).

Second, the Goods from a NY Times Bestseller: Lynn Viehl's Royalty Earnings
Can you say eye-opening. The dollars alone are interesting, I mean who hasn't wondered what kind of cash you are pulling in when on the bestseller list? But Lynn actually goes beyond the data to provide us with some context around the numbers. For example, it is very important to consider the size of your print run when trying to predict your chances of being on the coveted list. Some runs are just too small to be in the running. Also, if you check this out, be sure to read over the comments too. Some other authors have chimed in, adding their two cents and I found it just as insightful.

Last, the basics on Royalty Calculation: Joe Wikert's 2020 Publishing Blog
I included this post because many folks new to the writing business don't understand the basics on how royalties work. I always hear a lot of questions about advances against future royalties--and more recently debates about which is better a higher or lower advances (though I can discuss that in another post). This is just to get you caught up on the basics. Joe has a couple other interesting posts on money aspects of writing, so be sure to take a look around his site.

I should add that it is important to consider your source and take everything with a grain of salt. There are no absolutes in publishing. When folks talk about earnings, there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the final dollar figure on that freshly cut check. For example, advances often differ from genre to genre. I personally have seen lower advances in SciFi and Fantasy than in mainstream fiction. Some publishing houses may be willing to do larger print runs than others and it may have nothing to do with you or your book. Just keep this info in the back of your head, because you never know when it will come in handy.