Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reality Check for Writers

I am not rich.


It always surprises me how many people believe all authors are rich. The reality is that maybe ten percent of all published authors are actually able to make a living at writing (I've been fortunate to be in this group), and maybe one percent can actually be considered wealthy. Most have other jobs, other careers. And few authors see any income beyond the advance check. 


The authors with whom the general public are most familiar are Stephen King, Dan Brown, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Danielle Steel and a handful of others--authors who are paid millions for multi-book contracts, get major advertising budgets to promote those books, and maybe even movie deals. They own homes in more than one state (or more than one country, in some cases).


Most writers get small advances, maybe a few thousand dollars. As this must be earned back before further royalties are paid, and publishers usually only pay 10-12%, you can imagine how many books have to sell before you can see any further income.


Since commercial publishers only promote their lead titles (the books at the top of their monthly list) most authors are left to promote their books themselves. And unless you're one of those lucky few whose books continue to sell long after the original publication date, your book will likely disappear from the stores in a matter of weeks, only to return at a later date on the remainder table. (And that's only the hardcovers. You don't want to know what happens to the paperbacks.)


My dad used to say that no one needed to be rich. I've had a lot of money and I've been broke. There was a time I wanted to be rich, but time and experience has taught me that father really did know best. Now, I prefer to be somewhere in the middle. Comfortable is what I want. Comfortable is good. 


I've had lead title status (actually, I was second on the list, always behind either Robin Cook or Dale Brown). And I've self-published. I've been told how to dress and unreasonably chastised when I gained a few pounds, and I've promoted my books online in the privacy of my own home. 


I wasn't quick to jump on the indie bandwagon. Of the seven deadly sins, pride is the one that's always given me the most trouble. In spite of the fact that self-pubbing, and e-books in particular, has gained so much ground in the past few years that more writers now choose this route, I knew some would still see it as my failure. (You all know who you are.)


Chasing the Wind was the turning point for me. After years of working with people in the industry who wanted the book but wanted changes that I was unwilling to make, Collin and I finally decided to self-pub. It wasn't an easy decision, but in the end, it was the right one. Once I managed to kick my ego to the curb, I found a freedom I'd never had before as a writer. I had learned enough from fourteen traditionally-published books to be able to edit myself. (If any of my former editors happen to be reading this, stop snickering!) I know how to promote books (though I was a bit lax in that area with the first two--too eager to get back to writing). There are no advances, but instead of 10-12% royalties, my e-books net me 70% royalties. Smashwords now pays 85%. I make more per copy on my e-books than I made on my commercially-published novels. 


And I have the most creative designer on the planet living under the same roof, so the new covers are truly exceptional.


Most of all, I have creative control. I write what I want. I don't worry that I'll work my butt off, only to be told it's not what my publisher wants. No deadlines. I don't wait years to see a book in print, and they're available to anyone who wants to read them as long as I want them to be available.


Ahh...here's to instant gratification.... 



5 comments:

  1. I'd take a bow, but given where I'm sitting, I'd probably have to make another appointment with the neurologist.

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  2. That pride thing can be a real pain. My reality is that I don't have the history or audience to be able to successfully self-publish, but I'm working on it.

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  3. I love this blog! The white print on black was making my eyes cross, but it was awesome!

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  4. Sounds like you have a lot of good stories to tell. I wish you good luck with this project.

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