A land forged from the fires of strife, blood of heroes, and touch of the gods.
Where deeds of great valor, vile evils, and blazing passions intertwine
to shape the course of elven and human history within.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

It's All in the Numbers

I’m going to give you four numbers, then I’m going explain what they mean to writing. Ready?
Twenty-five hundred
Five thousand

 Any idea what they are? Or how they pertain to writing? I’ll tell you.

The first number: Five. Five percent of the writers today, in all genres, make their living writing. And when I say “make a living” I’m talking about roughly $50,000 a year or more. In this day and age, $50,000 a year, depending on where you live, can be low income.

Think about this. How many authors do you see on store shelves or online? In stores, there are a couple thousand, right? Online, there are millions. And the majority of those online, you’ve never heard of. Never seen them in stores and never will. Technically, they don’t exist, because they’re fringe authors, self-published usually, or ones who don’t promote their work at all; they just write and publish for fun.

Of the ones in stores, let’s say there are two thousand authors represented. These are traditionally published books, authors who work through agents and/or publishers and have made some sort of name for themselves. Some have one book, but most have several, because series work sells. So if there are two thousand authors of all genres in that store, only five percent of them are making a living at writing. That’s one hundred authors out of two thousand.

Quick, off the top of your head, name five authors you know. If you’re a reader, you likely can. In mainstream fiction the names Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz come to mind quickly. In Fantasy, certainly J. K. Rowling, C. J. Cherryh, and George R. R. Martin, not to mention Tolkien. For SF, The Martian is one of the most popular current books, but can you name the author? Andy Weir. And of course there are the giants of SF; Asimov, Le Guin, Clarke, Heinlein, Niven. Who else?

When you stop to think about it, the names you most often hear regarding top sales are the names you’ve heard for years. It takes an uncommon newcomer to break into traditional publishing these days. It can certainly be done, but it’s still the top five percent who are making any sort of living at writing.

The next number is ninety-five. This one works together with the number five thousand, and I’ll explain how.

Everyone wants to sell books. Authors, bookstores, online shopping sites, dealers at conventions, everyone wants to sell books. But how many books are really sold by authors? Any idea?

We all read about J.K. Rowling selling millions of Harry Potter books. Or GRRM fans lining up before the bookstores open to insure they get a copy of his latest. Others, too, like The Hunger Games series or Twilight. Lots and lots and lots of books being sold, right? Sure. If you’re in that five percent making a living at writing.

The truth of the matter is, ninety-five percent of the books written sell five thousand copies or less. That’s it. Not millions. Five thousand.

Let’s do a little math. If a book sells for ten dollars, the author usually makes a royalty of about a buck on each one. So five thousand copies times one dollar each is (gasp!) five thousand dollars. This, of course, is a 10% royalty, which is a pretty good deal for the author. But five thousand dollars?

And you must understand, authors don’t get paid royalties until the advance is made back by the publisher. So if the book doesn’t sell enough copies to make back the advance paid to the author, based on the royalty commission, the author gets nothing except the advance. Which brings us to our final number.

Twenty-five hundred is about the advance paid to a new author for a fiction novel. That’s two thousand, five hundred dollars for a roughly one hundred thousand-word book. That’s two and one-half cents per word. And if the book doesn’t sell enough copies to make back that advance, that’s all the money the author will ever see from that book.

Example: if you sell five thousand copies of your book and make a dollar per copy in royalty, you will receive five thousand dollars. But if the publisher has paid a twenty-five hundred-dollar advance to you, you’ll only receive the royalty minus that twenty-five hundred dollars. So if the book sells five thousand copies, no matter what, the most you, the author, will ever see from that book is five thousand dollars.

How long did it take you to write that book? A year? Some authors can crank out a hundred thousand words in about three months. But then there’s editing, and rewriting, and more editing, and changes, and, and, and. And the publication process itself is lengthy, about eighteen months between sale and having books on the store shelves. And until that happens, and the books start selling, the only money the author sees is the advance.

Beginning to see how this works? It’s not pretty, is it? It’s a business, and far too many authors don’t think about the business part of… the business.

So what does it mean? Should you stop writing? No, of course not. Because writing is like any other form of art, and should be done for one’s self and the satisfaction of the process. You want to write to make a living? Very well. But know the competition is fierce, the game is rigged, and it will take a monumental effort to break into the big time. But that’s the case in any business endeavor, right? And never, ever think writing isn’t a business.