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AW Admin
01-18-2017, 07:41 PM
Slate has a review up about an anthology derived from the now defunct web zine Scratch Mag (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2017/01/scratch_writers_money_and_the_art_of_making_a_livi ng_reviewed.html). One of the things Scratch Mag featured was a section where writers could report details about payment by publishers.

The review makes a lot of really good points about the profession of writing, of being a writer. On of them is this:


. . . so itís easy to forget that a publisher is actually the writerís business partner, not a conferrer of literary worth. In their candid moments, most publishers will admit going into business with writers whose work they regard as subliterary because they believe that they can profit from their books. This is still considered shocking in some unsophisticated quarters, but publishing isnít literature: Literature is literature. Publishing is a separate, if related enterprise.

I think the points made about payment and the calendar, the time involved in being paid, are also important.

Go read it (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2017/01/scratch_writers_money_and_the_art_of_making_a_livi ng_reviewed.html).

Layla Nahar
01-18-2017, 07:53 PM
(because in general there's a taboo in our society about openly discussion the details of one's income?)

Dennis E. Taylor
01-18-2017, 08:00 PM
If you're raking it in, it could be seen as boasting; if you're getting crickets, it could be mildly embarrassing? Although people seem to be more willing to admit the latter than to talk about the former.

ETA: And if you're Canadian, you then have to apologize. :tongue

Ari Meermans
01-18-2017, 08:07 PM
(because in general there's a taboo in our society about openly discussion the details of one's income?)


If you're raking it in, it could be seen as boasting; if you're getting crickets, it could be mildly embarrassing? Although people seem to be more willing to admit the latter than to talk about the former.

ETA: And if you're Canadian, you then have to apologize. :tongue

While this is undoubtedly true (with the exclusion of being Canadian, which we won't go into) because of the almost puritanical aversion to bragging that we've been taught, there are payment realities in the article that every writer should understand.

I sincerely hope you all will read the article; the points it makes would make for an interesting discussion.

lizmonster
01-18-2017, 08:31 PM
The article does make some useful points, and they're things I wasn't completely clear on before I sold a book (although I had the gist, thanks to AW). Specifically:

1) The advance probably isn't being paid all at once. (Mine came roughly in thirds: 1/3 for signing, 1/3 for editorial completion, 1/3 for publication.)

2) The advance is an advance on royalties, and it can take years before you see any more money from the book, if you ever do. A large advance means you need more sales before you start getting paid royalties.

3) The payment schedule can be sporadic, since it's often gated on delivery dates, which aren't always scheduled at equal intervals.

4) The advance on one book does not predict the advance you're going to get on the next one.

5) Writing takes time and not everybody can sell a book a year, so you can't really equate and advance - or even 1/3 of an advance - with a salary.

Most writers I know either still have day jobs, or have another source of income on which they can depend. Anecdotally, a few writers I've spoken to (who've been publishing longer than I have) have speculated that it takes about 10 years of steady sales to publishers before you start seeing a predictable income stream. And "steady sales" are hardly a given in this business, even for people who sell well and write quickly (although both of those things help!).

Dennis E. Taylor
01-18-2017, 09:24 PM
Writing isn't unique in the disconnect between effort and reward; or in the lack of control by the creator. It is, however, IMO one of the most visible examples of that situation--at least from inside the industry. It's also not "fair" in that the market can elevate books that make your eyes roll while ignoring other books that anyone would think are far more deserving.

But that's the free market. It's also very much an over-saturated market. And just like in chemistry, most of what's published precipitates to the bottom of the beaker and forms a sludge.

When I have conversations with people about how much it "pays" to be an author (and I'm having that conversation a lot more, lately), I compare it to playing hockey. Most people can't and don't try. Of the ones who try, most can't and shouldn't have. Of the ones who can, most won't make any money--or maybe coffee money. Of the ones who make more than that, most will still need a day job. Of the ones who can live off their writing, most won't ever be JK Rowling or Stephen King or...

But the ones who make it into the NHL will make a crapton of money. The difference is that playing professional sports is a pure meritocracy, while your writing results are affected by market forces and reader preferences that, TBH, even agents can't always grok.

Companies like audible.com and amazon.com are changing the playing field, though. Amazon pays monthly, 60 days in arrears, and audible pays quarterly, 60 days in arrears. Audible also pays advances, at least into the 5-figure range, and all up front. But the most important point is that, if you can get traction in these markets directly, you'll make a lot more money per unit than you would going through a trad publisher. And that's the problem the tradpubs are facing--how to deliver value that will motivate authors to continue to submit work.

I'm facing that question right now. My second book, We Are Legion, is doing well--well enough that I'm starting to talk about quitting my day-job. But it's quasi-self-pubbed, in that I have an agent but no print publisher. I got a contract with audible, and the e-book and paperback are being published on amazon through my agent's ASP publishing co. So now, with my next book, we're pursuing a tradpub, with the goal of upping my visibility (bookstores, etc), which is something the tradpubs are good at. But it's with the explicit understanding that income will be significantly lower. We're looking at it as an investment.

Frankie007
01-18-2017, 10:42 PM
the first rule about earning money from ANYTHING you do is.... you don't talk about the money you've earned from ANYTHING that you do....
LOL

lizmonster
01-18-2017, 10:56 PM
the first rule about earning money from ANYTHING you do is.... you don't talk about the money you've earned from ANYTHING that you do....
LOL

I remember my dad taking me aside when I was a kid and saying "Don't tell your friends how much money I make."

I remember thinking: 1) Why would they care? and 2) I don't know how much money you make anyway. :)

I understand the frustration around writing income, though. You can get pretty reliable aggregate data on a lot of professions. But I think the article pinpoints some of the reasons that it's tough to do that for writers.

Writing is a freelance gig, and it's kind of a strange one. You can produce and produce and produce and still not earn much; you can write one book that takes off, and make more than the vast majority of other writers will ever see.

The truth of it is the numbers for one writer are not helpful at all. Aggregated numbers can help by giving you an idea how low a percentage of writers make a living wage at it.

And it's also worth remembering, as illustrated by Dennis E.'s post, that there is more than one way to skin the cat. But if I had to whittle it down to one takeaway, I'd go with the old "hope for the best and plan for the worst" strategy. Don't make writing your livelihood until you've already made it your livelihood, you know?

Dennis E. Taylor
01-18-2017, 11:07 PM
I understand the frustration around writing income, though. You can get pretty reliable aggregate data on a lot of professions. But I think the article pinpoints some of the reasons that it's tough to do that for writers.


Robert Half Technology puts out an annual salary guide for the I.T. industry. One of my favorite reads, historically :D.

veinglory
01-18-2017, 11:24 PM
At least in America it seems that no one talks about what they earn in any setting. After a few years I stopped doing it too because it made people think I was bragging or looking for sympathy--sometimes different people from the same conversation drawing opposite conclusions. Its not something consider objectively discuss-able like hair color or favorite foods. More like talking about who has the nicest breasts or favorite human ethnic groups.

Incomes seem to be considered innate secret and tied to self-worth, and disclosures tend to be presumed to have suspicious motives. Meanwhile talking about buying very expensive luxury brands and cars etc is apparently okay. I've been her about 15 years and still consider Americans a charming but baffling people. The best I can hope for is that I am having a similar impression on them.

ASeiple
01-18-2017, 11:58 PM
Good article, thank you!

To answer the question... I know a lot of self-published authors who used to post numbers, but once they started getting up there, they got dogged online. Other, less-successful writers were literally trashing their books with bad reviews, harassing them on various sites, and in general trying to screw them up in such stupidly petty ways.

Envy's a sin for a reason, y'know? Jealousy's ugly. I haven't hit that yet, but if I ever get that successful, okay, whatever. At this point I'm still posting my numbers and stats. If I start getting dogged that might change, but for now I think it's helpful to a few people at least so I'll keep with it.

Cobalt Jade
01-18-2017, 11:59 PM
Even well-known, well-established, best-selling authors can go bankrupt and lose their houses. Francesca Lia Block (YA "maic pixie dream girl" author) was on the verge of losing her house after a bad re-fi until her fans kicked in with contributions. Horror author Poppy Z. Brite (now Billy Martin) lost his house and now lives in near-poverty while pursuing a career as an artist. I follow him on Facebook, and the situation is kind of sad. Romance author Jude Deveraux lost tens of thousands of dollars over the years to a questionable, exploitive psychic. Two other authors I've heard of, once white-hot and much-lauded in the SF and splatterpunk scene in the 1990s, write genre fiction to pay the bills. One does so under his own name, the other uses a pen name. They still publish word under their own names, but the thrillers pay the bills.

I don't know about anyone else, but growing up, I had this now-mistaken idea that writers were wealthy and did nothing but write stories all day, and sell them. Like I thought how people that owned their businesses were fabulously wealthy. In college I worked in a printshop one summer and was much impressed by my boss's Audi Fox and his suit. I thought he was rich....

DancingMaenid
01-19-2017, 12:27 AM
I wonder if an additional challenge is that there are a lot of factors that can affect income: publisher size, amount of marketing, genre, etc. So you really have to look at whether a writer's income makes sense and is fair considering the publication model, and it can be harder to get a sense of that if people don't share openly.

Rose_C
01-19-2017, 12:44 AM
I think that to make money from writing is that there needs to be a mind-shift from 'art' to 'business'. The really successful authors (think James Patterson and back in the day Barbara Cartland) churn books out like a production line. I specifically chose those two as examples because of the volume of work they put out. The fact is that publishing is a business of selling a product - a book - and you are the factory that produces them. And the reality is that the more you produce, the more everyone will make.

lizmonster
01-19-2017, 12:52 AM
And the reality is that the more you produce, the more everyone will make.

Only if there's a market for it. :)

Fuchsia Groan
01-19-2017, 01:31 AM
I really like the part of the article that the OP quoted. Also this:


But it isnít a bookís value that the marketplace sets, only its price. It is time spent in the market that teaches you how to tell the difference.

The anthology being reviewed seems to focus on authors of literary fiction (the MFA crowd, if you will). And the reviewer suggests that they have a dangerous tendency to conflate the "value" of their work (its literary worth) with its "price" (what the publisher paid them). I've seen that tendency in myself.

I think it's important to recognize that, while publishers are gatekeepers to, well, being published, they are not the ultimate gatekeepers of Literary Greatness. (Is anybody, really? Literary canons are constantly shifting, and many now-celebrated writers weren't celebrated during their lifetimes.) Once we separate the size of the payday from our self-worth, and accept that books we are proud to have written are sometimes not going to sell or sell well, we can get on with the actual business of writing. That could involve making decisions like "I'm going to quit my day job and write to the market" or "I'm going to keep my day job, write more or less what I choose, and accept that it may or may not be a reliable income stream." Or many, many other variations.

I suspect a lot of writers, particularly genre and self-published writers, already know they'll have to make those decisions. (The article mentions journalists, who are all too aware that writing for pay is a risky endeavor these days.) But for those of us who were raised with starry-eyed notions about the artist/writer's life, it is a good reminder.

In TV and movies, we see so many author characters who are living an upper-middle-class lifestyle (apparently) based solely on their writing. So it's easy to forget that this is not the norm, and perhaps never has been. (Check out the 19th-century novel New Grub Street, a very gritty look at the economics of being a novelist in those days.)

ETA: I'm really grateful to those few authors who have been transparent about their incomes and finances on their blogs. It provides a helpful reality check for the rest of us. At the same time, I think writers have many legitimate reasons for NOT being transparent, starting with issues of professional rivalry in what is often a fairly small community. There's also the possibility that whatever they reveal will be misunderstood or misconstrued. That's why I think anonymous surveys of writers can be useful, especially when they include info that pegs income levels to things like genre, publisher size, number of books out ... in short, it gets very complicated very quickly.

Roxxsmom
01-19-2017, 01:59 AM
(because in general there's a taboo in our society about openly discussion the details of one's income?)

This is very true. Try asking a nurse, teacher, manager, college professor, small business owner, bank teller, or electrician etc. how much they make, and they'll likely look/act as if the question were unpardonably rude (I know I learned this as a kid--money questions got a similar response as asking grown ups questions about weight, age, or whom they voted for in an election). I don't even know how much my brother or cousin (who is as close as sister to me) make exactly. I have a rough idea, based on their lifestyle and the things they say they can and can't afford, but I don't know for sure.

I think it behooves employers to foster this attitude too. If you don't know how much other people with similar experience and in similar positions to your own are making, it's harder to negotiate equable starting salaries or raises.

Only the richest of the rich and the poorest workers (day care workers and hourly workers at fast food or retail outlets) seem willing to talk freely about what they make in the US: the former because they equate their extreme wealth with their value (and are proud of it) and the latter because they have to talk about how little they make in an attempt to get across how hard it is to make ends meet these days.

I think writers have an extra issue in that they often don't have predictable or reliable income, and they don't know how much they're making between quarterly (or however often they come) reports and royalty checks from their publishers. And many writers have varied sources of writing income, and these can be complex to explain.

veinglory
01-19-2017, 02:43 AM
Oh it very much benefits the employers. One of the reasons wages are so inequitable, including effectively discriminatory differences, is because wages even at the same workplace are secret. Two people may do the same job, equally well, with no net different and training or experience, and one of making 10s of thousand more than the other.

I considered myself a pretty well educated and informed employee, but when my workplace brought in deliberate wage equity my salary went up 20%.

Jason
01-19-2017, 09:45 AM
That was a very interesting read. In particular I liked this last part - warning - spoiler alert!:

"That books still make money at all is something of a miracle. (And to be fair, the vast majority of books don’t make money; publishing, like baseball, is a game predicated on failure.) No market could be less rationalized, or as Strayed puts it, “There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, ‘Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million.’ ” She swears she would have written her books anyway, “whether I was paid for them or not,” and I don’t doubt she’s telling the truth about that. But would she still be able to produce the same big-hearted books if she were delivering them into a world that refused to reward her for them? Getting paid more than zero for your work is the first step toward learning what it’s really worth to you, the best way to learn to stop obsessing about what it’s worth to everybody else."

frimble3
01-19-2017, 10:12 AM
Oh it very much benefits the employers. One of the reasons wages are so inequitable, including effectively discriminatory differences, is because wages even at the same workplace are secret. Two people may do the same job, equally well, with no net different and training or experience, and one of making 10s of thousand more than the other.

I considered myself a pretty well educated and informed employee, but when my workplace brought in deliberate wage equity my salary went up 20%.
I've only had two jobs like that (secrecy). The rest of my jobs have been unionized, so everyone can find out what everyone makes. Find out what pay grade a job is in (posted by H-R) or in the list at the back of the contract, and you know how much the proud holder of the job makes. You don't even have to ask, or have to decide to tell or not. It's all in the open. Sucks to be management, though, they're on the old 'we'll pay you what we can get away with/what we think you're worth' scheme. And, yeah, secrecy is a leverage thing: tell people they're making the max, or that you're doing them a grand favour by throwing a few bucks their way, and how can they judge?

frimble3
01-19-2017, 10:20 AM
Of course, another reason for writers wanting secrecy is because pay is so variable and hard to explain: not even from a point of view of boasting, or enmity from other writers, but to protect the writer from the non-writers in their life: "You're a writer? Like J.K. Rowling? Wow, you must be loaded! Whatcha going to do with all that money?I've got a hot stock tip! Want to lend me some/invest in my hair-brained scheme/buy me a house?" People who don't understand that most writers don't make that kind of money, and even if they have one big hit, it's no guarantee for the future. Better to just gloss it over with "I'm doin' okay".

RightHoJeeves
01-19-2017, 10:25 AM
I've only had two jobs like that (secrecy). The rest of my jobs have been unionized, so everyone can find out what everyone makes. Find out what pay grade a job is in (posted by H-R) or in the list at the back of the contract, and you know how much the proud holder of the job makes. You don't even have to ask, or have to decide to tell or not. It's all in the open. Sucks to be management, though, they're on the old 'we'll pay you what we can get away with/what we think you're worth' scheme. And, yeah, secrecy is a leverage thing: tell people they're making the max, or that you're doing them a grand favour by throwing a few bucks their way, and how can they judge?

When I worked for a Government agency, you could figure out what people were on pretty closely (it depended on how long they'd been there, you would know the band and therefore within 5k).

In my current job though, I dunno. There is a thing in my contract that says you're not supposed to tell people. Although I do know I earn 10k more at least than the guy who sits next to me. But I'm not supposed to know that.

frimble3
01-19-2017, 10:29 AM
It breeds a certain amount of checking around, looking for information, a situation that, in the right environment, could make for paranoia and a low level of hostility among co-workers.

Jason
01-19-2017, 06:10 PM
The Army (and I am assuming other armed services) were the same way (prolly still are) - your salary is easily determined by your rank (Time in grade) and time in service. Officers make more than enlisted, and the higher your rank, and longer amount of time you're in, the more you make.

Toothpaste
01-19-2017, 06:40 PM
This is why in person one on one with new authors I am very frank about what I earn if they ask. I still have that socially conditioned discomfort about talking publicly about how much I make (this has been true with all my jobs), but I do understand that not knowing how much people make is a major disadvantage to authors. When authors don't know what to expect, they don't know what they are worth. They can agree to terrible deals. It's self preservation explaining how income works with writing.

Also that quote from the article about no other profession where you get an MA and don't know if you'll make any money - not entirely accurate. I'd offer that any MA in the arts bears that risks: acting, dancing, music etc.

veinglory
01-19-2017, 07:13 PM
Also that quote from the article about no other profession where you get an MA and don't know if you'll make any money - not entirely accurate. I'd offer that any MA in the arts bears that risks: acting, dancing, music etc.

I read a study a few years ago that outright proved that people with PhDs in science make less then people who do not choose to go on to do a PhD. 70% of university teaching is done by poorly paid adjuncts, grant money is thin on the ground, and most industry employers know that scientific specialists want to work in their field so much they will take lower salaries than other employees with equivalent training and value to the organization. Not being in it for the money is taken as an excuse to not pay you the money.

I suspect the same principle applies in the arts. Likewise what the artist or scientist thinks is meaningful is not always the most profitable.

PeteMC
01-19-2017, 08:02 PM
I'd offer that any MA in the arts bears that risks: acting, dancing, music etc.

This is absolutely true - my stepson is a musician and plays in a band who've had some CDs out and have a decent online following, but he makes peanuts at it and has a full-time day job same as most authors do. The chances of a musician and an author making rockstar money seem to be about the same, from what we could figure out.

blacbird
01-22-2017, 07:45 AM
I don't have any problem revealing how much money I make from my writing.

caw

Ed_in_Bed
01-22-2017, 07:14 PM
This is absolutely true - my stepson is a musician and plays in a band who've had some CDs out and have a decent online following, but he makes peanuts at it and has a full-time day job same as most authors do. The chances of a musician and an author making rockstar money seem to be about the same, from what we could figure out.

I agree with the above.

IMO, it all comes down to the difference between effort & talent. Yes, there are plenty of other factors involved: marketing, vogue, luck, etc., but I can't help feeling that both amateur & professional authors expect a good income from writing partly because of their skills gained by effort, rather than their natural abilities. I.e - you're either born to acheive stardom, or you're not.

lizmonster
01-22-2017, 08:18 PM
I agree with the above.

IMO, it all comes down to the difference between effort & talent. Yes, there are plenty of other factors involved: marketing, vogue, luck, etc., but I can't help feeling that both amateur & professional authors expect a good income from writing partly because of their skills gained by effort, rather than their natural abilities. I.e - you're either born to acheive stardom, or you're not.

It's my belief that once you get past the point where you can write a good novel (and yes, that's a big hurdle), luck is probably the biggest factor in what happens next. Which is not to discount the significance of other factors, most notably research, persistence, resilience, and flexibility; but in a business where financial success depends on pleasing a public audience whose aggregate tastes shift more quickly than most people can write, luck is the biggie. "Born to stardom" is a myth.

P-Baker
01-23-2017, 12:40 AM
John Scalzi has writen yearly posts about his income for years at his blog "Whatever (http://whatever.scalzi.com)", Kameron Hurley has also posted income summaries and Jim C. Hines is currently assembling answers to novelist income survey (http://www.jimchines.com/2017/01/novelist-income-survey-update/).

I found this data interesting and encouraging.

Brian G Turner
01-23-2017, 12:52 AM
I figure many writers are embarrassed at how little they make - where they actually know the figures. :)

CathleenT
01-23-2017, 03:06 AM
A Seiple touched on this upthread, but lots of the self-publishing threads here at AW tell you enough that you can at least figure incomes out if you're so inclined. Books sold, cover artists, advertising and promos, etc. I've found this info very encouraging.

Some of the silence on this topic may be American reticence (if you are American) since we're a group who's taken "show, don't tell" to heart when it comes to finances.

And writers need to be careful not to alienate potential readers. If someone perceives us as either bragging or whining about our income levels, they could easily decide not to read our books for personal reasons. It's a lot like talking about politics on your blog that's supposed to promote your books--the risk to reward payoff isn't favorable. There are areas that I am committed enough to that I will buck public opinion, but this topic just doesn't seem worth it to me.

That's why appreciate the self-pub threads so much. This is a place that it's okay to talk about your results--no negative connotations attached. Not that I've made any money yet--my one collection of shorts was released as a freebie--but I hope that someday that will change, and I'll have something to report. :)

Ed_in_Bed
01-23-2017, 02:06 PM
It's my belief that once you get past the point where you can write a good novel (and yes, that's a big hurdle), luck is probably the biggest factor in what happens next. Which is not to discount the significance of other factors, most notably research, persistence, resilience, and flexibility; but in a business where financial success depends on pleasing a public audience whose aggregate tastes shift more quickly than most people can write, luck is the biggie. "Born to stardom" is a myth.

Yes, luck plays a part, but their aggregate tastes are being shifted by writers. The public's collective taste isn't something with a life of its own which we all have to try and keep up with. I guess that's what I'm trying to say: Some authors write books which capture the imagination of the public (and may or may not shift their collective taste). Most authors write novels which (if they are lucky) will appeal to that taste. To me, that's the difference between talent and effort.

lizmonster
01-24-2017, 09:51 PM
Kameron Hurley has come up a few times in this thread. She has a blog post today that seems relevant to the thread (and that resonated with me a lot): Let's Talk About Writing and Disappointment (http://www.kameronhurley.com/lets-talk-writing-disappointment/).

blacbird
01-24-2017, 10:37 PM
Many of us would be very happy to be in Hurley's shoes, as far as the writing experience goes. She has an agent, and has had work commercially published.

caw

lizmonster
01-24-2017, 11:20 PM
Many of us would be very happy to be in Hurley's shoes, as far as the writing experience goes. She has an agent, and has had work commercially published.

caw

Which, IMHO, makes her experience directly relevant to the topic of the thread.

MarkEsq
01-25-2017, 01:11 AM
I do and also do not talk about how much I make. I do so when I'm one-on-one with someone who's genuinely curious (as I was starting out) how much an author makes, and more vaguely if they assume I'm fabulously wealthy because of my books (not yet!). I am also quicker to talk about advances (which are set) than royalties (which can change).

I once wanted to write about sales and royalties but my publisher asked me not to, so I can presume that one reason other authors don't say too much is that their publishers like to keep an air of mystery about sales. I mean, if a reader finds out you sold twenty copies of your trade paperback and made $20, they might be put off buying it...

Now, I don't mind talking about foreign sales, which I see as 'free money,' since the work is all done and you can just enjoy the checks. :)

I will also say that I only talk about my sales/money-making one-on-one because I have a cadre of author friends (many with my same publisher) and it's a little tacky to talk about hitting the 50,000 sales mark when you know full well one of your stablemates hasn't sold a twentieth of that.

Perks
01-26-2017, 09:15 PM
At a book launch (not one of mine) a writer I'm acquainted with, who had decided to self-publish, approached me after a drink or two too many, put his finger practically against my sternum and said loudly, "You can't tell me you've made a dime off your books. Not a dime."

There was some diplomatic effort on my part to get the volume down and steer the topic away, and it worked, eventually. The eaves-dropping heads turned away too, less eventually than I would have liked.

Like Mark, I'll talk about money with someone who is genuinely interested, but it fluctuates so much that it doesn't neatly correlate to the way regular people get paid. But I have, in fact, made money on my work.

Dennis E. Taylor
01-27-2017, 01:36 AM
At a book launch (not one of mine) a writer I'm acquainted with, who had decided to self-publish, approached me after a drink or two too many, put his finger practically against my sternum and said loudly, "You can't tell me you've made a dime off your books. Not a dime."


First, I really hate that phrase, "You can't tell me..." What the speaker really means is, "You can't convince me...", in which case my usual response is, "Then why are we even talking?"

Second, was he referencing you not making money because you're trad-pubbed?

Perks
01-27-2017, 03:33 AM
Second, was he referencing you not making money because you're trad-pubbed?Yeah, he's convinced that authors in trade publishing lie and distort so that they can hang on to some lottery slot they won and hope to hit it big -- which he believes is the only way any trade published authors see any money.

I cannot imagine how he came to this conviction. It's ridiculous.

ap123
01-27-2017, 03:40 AM
I'm reading the anthology now, it's an interesting mix of experiences and perspectives.

Fuchsia Groan
01-27-2017, 11:51 PM
At a book launch (not one of mine) a writer I'm acquainted with, who had decided to self-publish, approached me after a drink or two too many, put his finger practically against my sternum and said loudly, "You can't tell me you've made a dime off your books. Not a dime."

There was some diplomatic effort on my part to get the volume down and steer the topic away, and it worked, eventually. The eaves-dropping heads turned away too, less eventually than I would have liked.

Like Mark, I'll talk about money with someone who is genuinely interested, but it fluctuates so much that it doesn't neatly correlate to the way regular people get paid. But I have, in fact, made money on my work.

Wow. And yikes. It's remarkable sometimes, the things people assume and the iron-clad beliefs they adopt without experience in the area.

This did make me wonder what would happen if I counted all the hours I spent writing, researching, revising, and promoting my novel as "labor" and then figured out the pay rate. Would I be making decent money or minimum wage? The thing is, I don't care. Writing has always been my hobby and my labor of love and my life blood. Receiving money for it brought me to tears -- not because I was making huge profits relative to effort (who knows?), but because I was being paid for doing something I would do anyway. From that perspective, it's ALL profit. (And yes, I realize that's not a businesslike attitude. If I didn't have a day job, I would be more concerned about the profit-to-effort ratio.)

Old Hack
01-28-2017, 11:28 AM
That's why appreciate the self-pub threads so much. This is a place that it's okay to talk about your results--no negative connotations attached. Not that I've made any money yet--my one collection of shorts was released as a freebie--but I hope that someday that will change, and I'll have something to report. :)

I love those self-published diaries. There's a lot to read there, but it's worth the time. Our members have been so honest and open and encouraging in them. They're a joy to read. (I wonder why we don't have any diary threads from trade-published writers: they'd provide an interesting counterpoint, I think. Might that be of interest to anyone? And if so, who would like to start one, and where should they go?)


I once wanted to write about sales and royalties but my publisher asked me not to, so I can presume that one reason other authors don't say too much is that their publishers like to keep an air of mystery about sales. I mean, if a reader finds out you sold twenty copies of your trade paperback and made $20, they might be put off buying it...

I suspect your publisher didn't want you to talk about your payments because it might make other writers wonder why their contracts with that same publisher weren't so advantageous, or wonder why their books weren't selling so well, or didn't have the same level of marketing support contracted, and so on.


Yeah, he's convinced that authors in trade publishing lie and distort so that they can hang on to some lottery slot they won and hope to hit it big -- which he believes is the only way any trade published authors see any money.

I cannot imagine how he came to this conviction. It's ridiculous.

There are lots of people who blog about self publishing, and about the unfairness of gatekeepers in publishing, and so on. But there are very few, proportionately, who blog about trade publishing with much authority or experience. So misinformation and misconceptions appear online and they're rarely challenged; the more outrageous the claim the more it's repeated and discussed; and the huge bulk of the discussions, and the lack of any serious refuting, mean that the nonsense becomes accepted as the truth.

What's particularly sad is that there are writers out there who are doing their best to research how publishing works. They're reading all sorts of articles and trust that the journalists behind them are well-informed and well-intentioned. They believe what they're told. Then they encounter trade publishing professionals, and don't believe them. And yes, this does lead to writers who genuinely want representation and a trade deal getting rejections instead because the agents they talk to don't have the time or energy required to convince them that they're wrong about so many things. It's a shame. (I know that's convoluted: I'm trying not to be too specific here.)

This, from the linked-to piece, is pertinent here, I think:


That books still make money at all is something of a miracle. (And to be fair, the vast majority of books don’t make money; publishing, like baseball, is a game predicated on failure.)

It's not true that most books don't make money.

It's true that most books don't earn out the advances which have been paid for them. But good trade publishers make a profit on most of the books they publish way before that advance is earned out. Last time I checked, which was a while ago, about 70% of books fail to earn out, and about 70% of books published make a profit for their publisher. (This looks terribly neat, as figures go, but the two statistics aren't directly mirrored so don't assume that "books which don't earn out" = "books which make a profit": that's not true at all.)

buz
01-28-2017, 04:24 PM
I love those self-published diaries. There's a lot to read there, but it's worth the time. Our members have been so honest and open and encouraging in them. They're a joy to read. (I wonder why we don't have any diary threads from trade-published writers: they'd provide an interesting counterpoint, I think. Might that be of interest to anyone? And if so, who would like to start one, and where should they go?)

I would be interested reading it, if people are comfortable posting about it. :) There are, I understand, other issues in play when you have other people's professional privacy (...ugh, I didn't mean to do all the alliteration, sorry) to think about?

But, if people posted it, I would read it. :)

(I...can't answer the other questions, sorry :p )

Fuchsia Groan
01-29-2017, 06:47 AM
I love the idea of trade publishing diaries, and I would read them, but, full disclosure, I wouldn't post one. Not for the foreseeable future, unless I had anonymity.

The obvious reason: I don't even have sales figures. Royalty statements take a long time. I could look at Bookscan via Author Central, but based on what I've heard from other YA writers, that number wouldn't be accurate (no library sales, for instance). Also, I've made an executive decision that looking at numbers and rankings (until the receipt of the aforementioned statement) is detrimental to my getting actual writing done.

That's leaving aside the question of whether I'd ever feel comfortable revealing numbers publicly. I can still count on less than ten fingers the people who know the amount of my advance. It raises all kinds of concerns, from "Would the publisher have a problem with that?" to "Will my writer friends envy or pity me?" to "If my employer finds out the exact size of my other income stream, will that affect my job?" Awkward stuff, frankly.

At the same time, I do think the business would benefit from more transparency. There are many answers to the question of this thread, but no easy solution. Anonymous diaries could be interesting, but without being able to go look at the author's book(s), I would definitely find their data less useful.

(Just as an aside: the article that inspired this thread linked to an essay by Kiese Laymon, which got me very interested in his novel Long Division, which inspired me to buy it. His essay doesn't reveal numbers, but what it implies makes for quite a tale.)

Old Hack
01-29-2017, 11:42 AM
I love the idea of trade publishing diaries, and I would read them, but, full disclosure, I wouldn't post one. Not for the foreseeable future, unless I had anonymity.

It could be done without sharing advances, earnings, sales figures. The focus would have to be different: on the process, rather than the product. It might help show people how trade publishers DO market and promote the books they publish, for example. Just a thought.

PeteMC
01-29-2017, 08:56 PM
Yeah, he's convinced that authors in trade publishing lie and distort so that they can hang on to some lottery slot they won and hope to hit it big -- which he believes is the only way any trade published authors see any money.

I cannot imagine how he came to this conviction. It's ridiculous.

Good grief, does the man not understand what an advance is? You can't be trade published and fail to make at least *some* money!

PeteMC
01-29-2017, 08:57 PM
For those who are interested, while my first advance (for Drake) wasn't huge I certainly got one, and earned it out in the first six months.

Dennis E. Taylor
01-29-2017, 10:38 PM
For those who are interested, while my first advance (for Drake) wasn't huge I certainly got one, and earned it out in the first six months.

Yes, and if you earn out your advance (especially if you do it quickly), future advances are larger.

Fuchsia Groan
01-30-2017, 05:45 AM
It could be done without sharing advances, earnings, sales figures. The focus would have to be different: on the process, rather than the product. It might help show people how trade publishers DO market and promote the books they publish, for example. Just a thought.

Something like that would be great. I used to see posters in the Tenth Circle thread sharing this kind of info about their published or soon-to-be-published books, and it was hugely helpful as I prepared to go through the process. But it's been dead there for a while. Maybe people don't realize it's there, or don't expect to find that thread in Rejection & Dejection? (It makes sense in that "sub hell" is a place to which most writers have to return over and over, published or not. But the thread wasn't just about being on sub.)

PeteMC
01-30-2017, 08:14 PM
Yes, and if you earn out your advance (especially if you do it quickly), future advances are larger.

Yes they are :)

Btw, if you haven't seen it yet there's a very candid post from Kameron Hurley here about what she made last year: http://www.kameronhurley.com/made-writing-fiction-2016/

EMaree
01-30-2017, 09:55 PM
The "don't ever talk about how much your earn" thing came as a surprise to me when I joined the writing community. For all the years I've been in IT, everyone has been very open about their wages. I thought it might be just a quirk of my low-income Scottish bubble, but over the years I've expanded my network to lots of English colleagues and they're all very open about their salary figures too. There's a bit of a fear of being seen as bragging, but that dissolves quickly after a few drinks.

The company I work makes it only mildly difficult to gauge other employees wages -- it's all banded/graded, as another poster mentioned, and you can guess their wage within £2k. The trickiest part is calculating in regional differences, since Scottish employees in IT field tend to be paid a good couple of grand less than their colleagues in the same role south of the border.

I really love the pragmatic, brass-tacks approach of the wonderful self-publishing diaries in AW and elsewhere. It feels like we are stronger, as writers, when we speak openly about what works and what doesn't: comparing advertising routes and tactics, sales channels, swag options, speaker prices etc.

lizmonster
01-30-2017, 10:53 PM
I was thinking about this after reading Kameron's latest post, and I realized the big problem (for me, at least) is that "how much do writers make" isn't really a question that makes sense. Since it's all freelance, the key is the output and the pay rate, and what's true for one writer isn't necessarily going to extrapolate to anyone else.

What might be interesting is aggregated data on the earnings of single books, broken down by genre (with enough transparency so you can toss aside outliers if you want). Maybe percentages of earnings broken into advance vs. royalties as well.

Fiction writers are, in a way, manufacturers of widgets; maybe, for those trying to plan, it's more useful to see how much money the average Widget X makes.

(I have no idea if there's any way to get at this data. :))

ASeiple
01-31-2017, 01:10 AM
I hadn't seen Kameron's latest post. Thank you! Just found her blog thanks to the stuff on this thread, and I'm enjoying it.

It's very eye-opening, and I'm glad to find it.

This, to me, is a good example of a published writer's journal that gets down to the level most of the self-publishers do. Does anyone know of any similar blogs?

@lizmonster: I concur that there aren't many standard answers, when you ask "how much does a writer make". The problem with correlating data there is that given the vast amount of publishing houses and options, and the fact that different genres have different sales expectations... too many variables to be able to give hard and fast averages, let alone get a good baseline. Now if you focused it down to "what are published romance writers likely to make at THIS stage of their career," then you might have more success. Maybe.

I suspect the only reason that self-publishers have it easier (when it comes to getting solid numbers that somewhat line up) is because the practice is just starting to take off in a profitable manner. We're in the golden, early years of the boom still. The options and ways of self-publishing have yet to diverge in the ways that standard publishing has done.

There's not as much, hm... history. Yes, that term probably works.

EMaree
02-02-2017, 01:52 AM
Does anyone know of any similar blogs?

Jim C Hines usually does a yearly one, (http://www.jimchines.com/category/business/) though the 2016 one isn't done yet (maybe because he's doing a survey to get a wider data range (http://www.jimchines.com/2017/01/2016-writing-income-survey/)).

P-Baker
02-16-2017, 06:48 AM
Several of us have mentioned Jim C. Hines' survey, and he has just started to publish the results: 2016 Novelist Income Survey Results, Part 1 (http://www.jimchines.com/2017/02/2016-novelist-income-results-1/).