Home » Big Publishing, Royalties » Some Economic Straight Talk: The Economics of Frugality, Abundance, and Creativity

Some Economic Straight Talk: The Economics of Frugality, Abundance, and Creativity

14 February 2014

From author Robin LaFevers on Writer Unboxed:

When I was growing up, in addition to avoiding the traditionally forbidden topics of sex, politics, and religion, my family added money to that list. I suspect my family was not alone in this.

The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to make solid, informed decisions about our careers when so much of the financial realities are clouded in uncertainty or hyperbole. There has been a lot written recently discussing the earning potential of self published authors, but what do the earnings of a slow build, mid-list, traditionally published author look like?

. . . .

Real, solid numbers and info on advances and traditionally published earnings information can be hard to come by, in part because few people like to discuss their finances in so open a manner, but also because of the nature of publishing. Many contracts preclude the author discussing their advance, and even if it’s not forbidden, many are hesitant to do so, afraid they will dispel the romance and mystique of their actual place in the publishing pecking order.

Since my own experience is with middle grade and YA, that is what I am most familiar with. If there can be said to be any averages in publishing, then the average kid lit advances look something like this:

Middle grade (ages 8-12) advance $4,000-$10,000

YA advance $7,500-$25,000

. . . .

Which brings us again to the question of what those numbers might translate into over time. Well, Dear Reader, they probably look something like this . . . (prepare to be underwhelmed)

I sold my first book in 2002, and my writing income over the years has been as follows:

2002 $ 5,187

2003 $ 8,353

2004 $27,500 (Yay! Sold a trilogy)

2005 $ 4,142

2006 $ 12,841

2007 $15,282

2008 $28,470 (I had to augment that writing income with 2nd job because we had two kids in college that year. Ouch.)

2009 $58,516 (This was a BIG school visit year and I sold a second series. I also quit that second job.)

2010 $ 47,590

2011 $ 64,579

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Big Publishing, Royalties

6 Comments to “Some Economic Straight Talk: The Economics of Frugality, Abundance, and Creativity”

  1. “I have come to define wealth as having unstructured, minimally committed time to do my writing unencumbered by deadlines or contracts. This is a relatively new development, actually. Once, contracts were the Holy Grail I was constantly seeking, but over time, our goals and definitions of happiness often shift and evolve, and mine definitely did.

    But also, in this day of self publishing, there are more options available. It used to be there was a danger of writing an entire novel on spec, only to be unable to find a home for it. Now, with self publishing, there is another option available to help augment that financial risk.”

    Love that she was brave enough to share her numbers, but right there is where I decided to like her.

  2. Except for those lucky enough to write a bestseller immediately, this trajectory seems normal for a trad. pub, career author–around ten years to become self-sufficient on writing income. Now, cross-referencing it with Howey and Data’s data and realize that a writer may be able to quit that day job upwards of 40% faster.

    • And, of course, the ones who aren’t accepted by the trad pub gatekeepers (the vast majority of “applicants”) don’t ever get to quit their day jobs.

      JEH

    • Yes, it does seem normal, but let’s be honest, how long will trad pub allow authors on their rolls to continue like this? We live in increasingly tight economic times and it’s unlikely that publishers will grow authors’ careers like this in the coming years, especially since authors can now self-publish and possibly see money much quicker (which gives authors incentives to do the work themselves). Readers also want lower prices, which means it’s going to get harder for trad publishers to justify all the expenses that come with investing in authors. They’re going to look for the sure deal—those writers who have been writing for the last 10 years and already have a backlog of good work that is pretty much pre-packaged for them. And they’re going to find it’s harder to actually woo those people unless they sacrifice more of the money.

      I think an argument can be made that the only reason trad publishers even have been allowed to grow authors in the past is because the system is so inefficient and they rely on being able to take a large heaping of the rewards. That system just doesn’t make sense these days.

      That said, if I didn’t care about money at all, and if I didn’t value my time (particularly wasting years of my life trying to just get an agent/ publishing house to look at my stuff), maybe I’d go with trad publishing. But in reality, money and time actually have value.

  3. R.L. LaFevers is one of my favorite writers. Her Theodosia Throckmorton series is da bomb.

    Her numbers don’t surprise me though. *heavy sigh*

    • L.E.Falcone – you and me both. I just adore Robin.

      I think it was brilliant that she shared this information. For years she was considered a mid list author, but to me she was always tops. It is truly disgusting how an author of her caliber could be paid so little for so long and have amassed a huge fan base…I mean, her books were in Target.
      Too many newbies are dying to get their MG or YA published traditionally, but initially nearly all of them are under some illusion that they’ll make loads of cash – but they don’t. I know several of the ones who live in Los Angeles alone and most cannot afford to live here on $20,000 a year -they just can’t pay rent/mortgage with that.

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