Friday, January 06, 2012

Why do we envy published writers?

It's not like they're making much money going the traditional publishing route. Check out the math from Kristine Kathryn Rusch as she talks about how "writers will work for cheap."

Math doesn’t lie, y’all. Most of you traditionally published midlist writers—you’ll never earn your measly $5000 advance back, y’know, the one paid in installments over three years? The thing you licensed most of your rights for to get 5,000 or 10,000 or maybe, if you’re lucky, 20,000 copies of your book into stores in the first six months of publication.
What happens after six months? The paper editions go away. Out of print, out of sight, out of mind. The e-book will remain in print, but you try earning back an advance with inaccurate sales reporting, and some kind of math that turns 25% of net into 8% of retail.  Good luck with that.  If you get any royalties at all, they’re years down the road.
You’ve licensed almost everything you could on that book for an extra 5,000 or 10,000 sales in a six-month period that is rapidly disappearing in your rearview mirror.
So just because someone has an agent and a traditional publishing deal doesn't amount to much. Are they making money. That's the, well, the bottom line. For me anyway. Not that we need envy anyone who makes money either, but it seems to me that earning a living trumps any false fame one might perceive he or she gets from actually publishing a book with a traditional publisher.

 What do you think? Do you write for fame? For fortune? To get your name on a book, even if you do it for cheap?


  1. I write for the love of it. I think of publishing more in terms of connecting with people--will it result in good longer-term connections?

    I don't have a lot of faith in the 6-month sales model on that count either, because it just doesn't allow enough time. Like sales volume, long-term reader relationship is predicated on the existence of a book. Kill the book, kill the present and future in one swipe.

    Dean Wesley Smith wrote about Penguin transitioning to digital warehousing and POD production some weeks back. I'd guess if that trend spreads, we'll see the renaissance of traditional houses. I'm glad for this window of indie opportunity in the meantime.


  2. I agree with you CL, I write to make connections - I like meeting other readers and writers. Currently, I write part time since I teach MS English full time. It's not an income thing. My views might change if I had to write full time. And Hugh, you're full time at this thing, right? What part of KKR's article really resonated with you?

  3. Hey Lyn,

    I still work parttime at the university, but I make in one day of Kindle sales what I make in a week at my "day job." I consider myself a fulltime writer, but with a second job that provides medical benefits and a retirement plan. :)

    Kristine nailed the longterm vs. short term benefits of staying indie. When my WOOL series took off, it translated directly to all my other books, which were just sitting there waiting to be purchased rather than out of print.

    Amazon beats the Big 6 as far as I'm concerned. My books don't get dusty on the shelves, they don't get returned, I have access to almost every English-speaking customer in the world, and they pay me once a month instead of once a year.

    In December, I sold over 10,000 books through the Kindle store. Amazon takes a well-deserved cut for providing me with the platform, storefront, advertising, point-of-sale transactions, and awesome customer service. Not to mention that they take a loss on the hardware in the hopes of making it up on sales from people like me. All that for a measly 30% of my retail price, which I get to control and micromanage with the press of a button. It's stupendous. And it works because the Big 6 are pricing (and windowing) themselves out of the game.

    If Random House called me right now and offered me $100,000 for my book rights, I'd be a shortsighted fool to accept. I'd much rather own my hard work for the rest of my life and continue to reap the dividends than sell it all for a smaller but more immediate payday.

    E-books and POD are the only business models that make sense. The large print-runs, remaindering, and outrageous prices the Big 6 use are simply going to hasten the publishing revolution. (That's my best guess, at least)

  4. Congratulations on the success, Hugh!

    Myself, I write to tell stories to as many people as possible. Though my sales aren't nearly to the point of Hugh's, I'll probably still stick with the self-publishing game plan.

  5. "Why do we envy published writers?"

    Do we?

    I'm mostly a poet. I certainly don't write for the money (although getting paid is always nice). I write because I hope someone else will enjoy my mad scribblings.

    Some success with prose would be nice, but I'm no longer naive enough to think it will pay the bills.

    Getting my name on a poetry collection of my own would be nice, but I understand such things don't really sell. I certainly wouldn't expect to make much if any money off a poetry collection.

    Different goals for different folks. Contrary to what some writers may claim, there doesn't seem to be one correct path to publication. I do what works for me personally.

  6. Thanks, Richard. Maybe most people don't "envy" writers but I think a lot of people think that writers who actually get a traditional publishing contract are somehow special. But if they aren't making any money, how special is that?

    I agree with you, writing for money isn't the only motivation (or even the best one) and we need not envy anyone's success however they define it. In other words, published or not, writers are just people like us! :)


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)