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View Full Version : Do NY Times Best Sellers make a good living?



voodoo
05-11-2010, 11:03 PM
I've read over and over that MOST writers will never get rich -
unless they are Stephen King or Dean Koontz or Anne Rice, blah, blah...

You write because you love it.
Okay, I get it.

But what about all those New York Times Best Sellers?
Don't they get way bigger paychecks?

I'm curious how that works.

DeleyanLee
05-11-2010, 11:04 PM
I know a lady who hit the NYTBS for the first time a couple of years ago (lower 50). It was the first year she cracked over $100,000 annual income from writing. She also published 5 novels (under various names) plus royalties from previous novels for that year besides the book that hit the list.

Guess it depends on if that counts as "a good living" to you.

Cyia
05-11-2010, 11:07 PM
NYT bestseller status comes AFTER the writer's advance (long after), which means the writer's already been paid what the publisher expects to make on the book sales. If the book takes off and exceeds expectations, then the writer will make more. Their next advance could be bigger, but it wouldn't impact their current pay as much as you might think.

CAWriter
05-11-2010, 11:08 PM
There was a good article out recently (I'll have to see if I can find it) on just this topic. It broke down how much a NYT best-selling author actually received, how many copies sold, etc. It is definitely not what most people thing 'best selling author's" live off.

Bubastes
05-11-2010, 11:10 PM
This question reminded me of this post by an author who hit the top 20 on the NYT list:


Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.


http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

And her follow-up post:
http://www.genreality.net/more-on-the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

DeleyanLee
05-11-2010, 11:12 PM
I think it also depends on where you fall in the list. It's 100 long, after all. Hitting at 100 for a week allows you to claim "NYT Bestseller" on your book cover, but really doesn't say much.

It also depends on how long you STAY there. The longer you're there, the more sales the book is making. There for a week and gone the next, that's not saying much. There for a couple of months or even a year or two (DVC or HP, anyone?), the more the author is making.

The title of "bestseller" doesn't always mean what the PR says, after all.

brainstorm77
05-11-2010, 11:36 PM
A good living for me, would be to make what I make at my day job now. I could live with that :) It would mean writing fulltime which is my dream.

Ineti
05-12-2010, 12:26 AM
It also depends on how long you STAY there. The longer you're there, the more sales the book is making. There for a week and gone the next, that's not saying much. There for a couple of months or even a year or two (DVC or HP, anyone?), the more the author is making.

You also need to keep in mind that, more often than not, a writer who hits the bestseller list is writing at a high enough level that they'll probably hit it again and again. Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Stephen King, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, etc. etc. etc. If you keep an eye on the bestseller lists for long enough, you'll see the same names popping up time and again. These writers are near the top of their craft and are able to consistently hit the lists.

Take that $26k sample and multiply it by 5, 10, 20, 100 bestselling titles and you'll start to see that there's a whole lot of money to be made in publishing for those who work at their craft. :)

Medievalist
05-12-2010, 01:07 AM
The best way to earn a living as a writer is to have a healthy in print backlist.

The value of a best seller is not in what that book earns, but what it does for your backlist, and subsequent books, and subsidiary rights (ebooks, audio books, foreign editions, book club editions).

CACTUSWENDY
05-12-2010, 01:49 AM
Wow.

So for all of us want a bees.....you better have a ton of books, good books, all polished and ready to go once you hit it with the one that takes.

It's amazing how the 'outside' world views all this.

voodoo
05-12-2010, 01:56 AM
This question reminded me of this post by an author who hit the top 20 on the NYT list:

http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

And her follow-up post:
http://www.genreality.net/more-on-the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

Thoses were enlightening...thank you.

Quick question...she says, "$1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.)"

Was this her OWN personal stuff, do you think, or did her agent charge this?
I've read that agents will charge for any over flow expenses...
but I thought promotion, office supplies, etc. was part of their job...the 15% they earn.

Ineti
05-12-2010, 02:02 AM
Thoses were enlightening...thank you.

Quick question...she says, "$1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.)"

Was this her OWN personal stuff, do you think, or did her agent charge this?
I've read that agents will charge for any over flow expenses...
but I thought promotion, office supplies, etc. was part of their job...the 15% they earn.

Depends on the agency and the arrangement they have with a given author. I've noticed from talking to writers that some agencies cover this stuff out of their 15% and some don't. Could just be her own business expenses too.

Ineti
05-12-2010, 02:04 AM
So for all of us want a bees.....you better have a ton of books, good books, all polished and ready to go once you hit it with the one that takes.

Not necessarily. Once you hit the bestseller list, you just need to be able to continue to write at that level. You don't need a stock of polished books ready to go, you just need to be able to continue delivering great books.

Unless your goal is to hit the bestseller list once and then quit, I guess.

dgiharris
05-12-2010, 02:19 AM
Was this her OWN personal stuff, do you think, or did her agent charge this?


I sorta don't understand your question.

When you are writing a book, you will incur your own office expenses: paper, printer ink catridges, internet/cable bill, shipping a manuscript back and forth, coffee, etc. etc.

Lastly, some authors pay their own promotion costs with limited help from the publisher.

Mel...

voodoo
05-12-2010, 02:46 AM
I sorta don't understand your question.

When you are writing a book, you will incur your own office expenses: paper, printer ink catridges, internet/cable bill, shipping a manuscript back and forth, coffee, etc. etc.

Lastly, some authors pay their own promotion costs with limited help from the publisher.

Mel...

Yeah, but I'm wondering about if these were the author's expenses
or her agent's expenses and the agent was giving her the bill for all that.
At what point is it billed to the author?
At 15% I would think all that would be covered
by the agent and apparently it isn't.

(I know nobody can tell me if that was a bill from the agent or not...unless you know that author.)

Medievalist
05-12-2010, 03:00 AM
Quick question...she says, "$1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.)"

Was this her OWN personal stuff, do you think, or did her agent charge this?

I expect that they were her own. The "expenses" clause is pretty standard, but I've only ever heard of small amounts being charged back--and especially if your agent is getting foreign rights for you, which often are still based on hard copy submission, shipping can get costly, so it's perfectly reasonable.

I've seen end-of-year statements that included things like $80.00 for photocopying and FedExing to another country, for a book that had lots of high quality photographs that had to be licensed all over again, which meant color photocopies/laser prints of the images, with rights data. It was actually down right cheap for what it was.

Medievalist
05-12-2010, 03:01 AM
(I know nobody can tell me if that was a bill from the agent or not...unless you know that author.)

If there are extraordinary expenses the agency deducts them from the check, and generally, you know about in advance.

Also, those expenses incurred by the agent are also tax deductions for the author, since the author pays them.

MaryMumsy
05-12-2010, 03:11 AM
And I know a couple of mid-listers who make a very decent living without hitting any bestseller lists other than maybe in their own city/region. If you keep at it, have a fairly good sized back list, and go for the long haul; you can be very comfortable indeed.

MM

Jamesaritchie
05-12-2010, 04:00 AM
There is no way of knowing how much an NYT writer makes unless they tell you. Position on there is a relative thing, meaning number one sells more than number two, which sells more than number three, etc., but these numbers can fluctuate greatly. Depending on how sales are going at the time, number fifteen one week may make quite a bit less, or quite a bit more, than number fifteen during a different week or month.

But wherever you are on the NYT list, you're making decent money, assuming it didn't take you forever to write the book.

What many don't know is that a book that doesn't even make the bottom of the list can still make a LOT of money. Sales that are slow but steady can, over enough time, make a bunch of money, even if the book doesn't sell enough in a given week to make the NYT list at all.

Libbie
05-12-2010, 04:25 AM
The value of a best seller is not in what that book earns, but what it does for your backlist, and subsequent books, and subsidiary rights (ebooks, audio books, foreign editions, book club editions).

This, totally. It's a rare first novel, or even third novel, that allows its writer to quit his day job and write full-time. Most writers go quite a while working at their day jobs before they're able to quit, and it's because it takes a while to build up a thriving, in-print backlist. The backlist is where the money's to be found, not in the advances (usually).

If you want to write full-time, you need to focus on being the kind of writer who can produce a few books a year so you can always have an active backlist.

Libbie
05-12-2010, 04:29 AM
At 15% I would think all that would be covered
by the agent and apparently it isn't.



It totally depends on the agency. My agency contract states that I'll pay shipping and printing expenses up to a certain amount (an amount I find very fair and reasonable) and any additional required expenses will be the responsibility of my agent.

It varies between agencies, so it's worth checking in a contract to be sure there is a cap on the amount or at least that you're comfortable with the agreement.

But yes, nobody can tell whether these were personal office expenses or whether they were incurred during the submission process via the agent. My guess is that they're personal, since she included blog giveaways and promotional stuff in there.

Ineti
05-12-2010, 06:26 AM
If you want to write full-time, you need to focus on being the kind of writer who can produce a few books a year so you can always have an active backlist.

And, this is one area where having one or more pen names can be useful. If you're the type of writer who can write publishable prose fast, like 4-6 novels a year or more fast, then you could have multiple pen names generating multiple novels and multiple backlists and, consequently, multiple incomes.

djf881
05-12-2010, 09:06 AM
Lastly, some authors pay their own promotion costs with limited help from the publisher.

Mel...

That means they stop into the bookstores in Miami Beach, shake hands with the store managers, sign some stock and write off their vacation.

djf881
05-12-2010, 09:30 AM
This question reminded me of this post by an author who hit the top 20 on the NYT list:


http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

And her follow-up post:
http://www.genreality.net/more-on-the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

Keep in mind that there is a hardcover list, a trade list and a mass market list. This author seems to write fantasy romance that is first-published as a mass-market paperback.

Since the cover price is only $7.99, the royalty per-copy is going to be pretty low. The advance and the royalty are going to tend to go down as the cover price goes down. So a $50k advance in this format anticipates big sales. It they expected the same number of copies of a hardcover to sell, the advance would probably be around $200k. But authors of this kind of fiction tend to be prolific.

This author can probably find the line through a story in her sleep and writes clean-enough prose on the first pass. It looks like she publishes about three books a year and her extensive back catalog stays in print. When you think in those terms, this author is probably making more than a quarter-million per year. If she retains foreign rights and is publishing in other territories, she is probably making significantly more.

Authors who are making the hardcover bestseller list probably make a lot more money, at least on a per-book basis.

On the other hand, though, the mass market fiction business is considered pretty low-overhead, because authors in these genres find their audiences without a lot of touring and co-op, and first advances tend to be very low. Publishers can sign a new author to a 3-book deal for less than the price of a good used car, and drop them if the books don't meet sales expectations.

Authors who debut in trade or hardcover will get larger first advances, but if the sales don't come in, the author may also get cut loose.

HisBoyElroy
05-13-2010, 05:03 PM
It's funny. I've been involved in another business where you make royalties off stuff you create and sell. I saw the same thing there. People expect to make years worth of cash for half a years work, for some reason. You write a book, say in 4 hours a day for 6 or 9 months. Hey I'll take that 26 large. Lots of people work 10 hrs/day, 5 days/week for that. Compare also writing a novel to soul-destroying labor.

These same people who add up all their expenses in creating a saleable product never do the same with their job. Gas to and from, clothes, taxes, meals, add in stuff you only have to have because of the job, like an extra car, daycare, whatever, and that 26K becomes 16 pretty quick. But you never see this calculation. Net profit from project is always compared to gross salary.

Bottom line, some people are happier with steady, predictable work and are probably better off not straying from it.

happywritermom
05-13-2010, 05:26 PM
I know a well-established writer who got a 7-figure deal last year for her next series and she's never hit the NYT Best Seller list. She's a romance/erotica (and then some) writer who has a huge fan base and whose books sell like crazy to the right audience. But she won't collect all of that until she's written every book and, knowing her, I'm sure there are at least 10 books in the series.

Another friend is a mystery writer who has seven novels out. His novels have made various best seller lists, but not the NYT. He has a solid fan base, but he still can't afford to quit his day job.

Yet a third friend made the NYT Best Seller list with her first novel. I don't know the amount of her advance, but I know she cried when she tried to talk about it. She was overwhelmed by the responsibilty and expectations that came with earning such a huge amount and feared her book wouldn't live up to it. The publisher threw tons of money into publicity, which included a 21-city book tour. Her novel is very enjoyable, but I'm not so sure it would have hit the list without all the money they pumped into it and I doubt she'll earn more than her advance.

It's such a quirky world, this whole publishing thing. Financial success can definitely not be measured by sales figures alone.

Jamesaritchie
05-13-2010, 05:33 PM
This question reminded me of this post by an author who hit the top 20 on the NYT list:




http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

And her follow-up post:
http://www.genreality.net/more-on-the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

This writer still probably has no idea how much she'll make from the book. The only knows how much she's earned to this point, and it isn't that bad, really. She got to stay home for a year, work for herself, and still netted as much money as the average person makes in a year.

But she sure needs to learn how to write faster.

The funny thing is that quite a few writers will earn a lot more money than she has, and without ever getting near the NYT list.

Irysangel
05-13-2010, 06:10 PM
This writer still probably has no idea how much she'll make from the book. The only knows how much she's earned to this point, and it isn't that bad, really. She got to stay home for a year, work for herself, and still netted as much money as the average person makes in a year.

But she sure needs to learn how to write faster.


She's written 44 books in 10 years, with 3 more coming in the next 12 months. That equals out to 4.4 books a year and does not include the ghost-writer work she does (which she has also mentioned on her blog).

How fast do you think she should write, exactly?

Also keep in mind that most publishers won't let you do more than 2 or 3 books a year under your own name, because then you're competing with yourself. This particular royalty statement is for one book under one name for a given time-frame, so I don't think it's fair to say she should 'write faster' to earn more money. I suspect she is doing perfectly fine.

cwfgal
05-13-2010, 07:11 PM
That means they stop into the bookstores in Miami Beach, shake hands with the store managers, sign some stock and write off their vacation.

And pay for promotional postcards to be printed and mailed, or bookmarks to give away, etc. And pay for travel to any number of "local" bookstores (I can easily put several hundred miles on my car just visiting the bookstores in Madison--the nearest city to me--to arrange and do signings for just one book). And pay for membership in professional writing organizations. And pay for prizes for promotional contests, and internet access for blog sites, web hosting, etc., etc. Not to mention the paper, ink, computer, and other day-to-day stuff. It adds up.

And don't forget that the self-employed also often pay for their own healthcare, life insurance, etc. and don't get paid vacations. These benefits of a "regular" job are a form of payment--a significant one--that many forget to take into account.

Beth

DeleyanLee
05-13-2010, 07:14 PM
And don't forget that the self-employed also often pay for their own healthcare, life insurance, etc. and don't get paid vacations. These benefits of a "regular" job are a form of payment--a significant one--that many forget to take into account.

And in the US, they have to pay the full cost of social security and not the half that an employee normally pays. And we won't even get into the different tax laws that can apply, depending on what state you live in.

cwfgal
05-13-2010, 07:26 PM
Yup, during the years where I made my living solely from writing, easily half (sometimes more) of my earnings went to taxes, insurance, social security, and expenses. And that was without an agent.

Beth

nitaworm
05-16-2010, 05:12 PM
Wow, all this definately makes me want to keep my day job. I love my career and the creature comforts that comes with it. Writing for me is a vacation and I definately don't see the possibility of it giving me the stability of my current career, but it would definately be a nice financial boost to earn enough to make my day job part-time. Right now, writing is morphing into a full-time job with all it entails including promotion, tours and more writing.