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NYT Bestselling Author – On My Income, We’d Almost Qualify for Food Stamps

29 April 2011

Continuing with Dollar Day on The Passive Voice . . .

Fantasy author Lynn Viehl wrote a book, Twilight Fall, that debuted #19 on the NYT mass market bestseller list in July, 2008.

What does that mean in terms of marketing campaigns, how many copies were printed, how many sold, etc.? Lynn tells all.

Excerpts:

We’ve all been told a lot of myths about what it takes to reach the top twenty list of the NYT BSL. What I was told: you have to have an initial print run of 100-150K, you have to go to all the writer and reader conferences to pimp the book, you can’t make it unless you go to certain bookstores during release week and have a mass signing or somehow arrange for a lot of copies to be sold there; the list is fixed, etc.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.)

. . . .

Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

. . . .

[F]or 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.

The date of Lynn’s previous post was April, 2009. She continues her NYT bestseller money story in a second post in November, 2009, after she receives her second royalty report.

Excerpts:

On the statement my publisher reports sales of 7,550 copies and returns of 10,812 copies. The publisher released credits of 21,140 copies or $13,512.69 from reserves held against returns, but at the same time reserved credits against another 13,790 copies or $8,814.57, which reduces the credit adjustment to 7,350 copies or $4698.12.

Total sales for the novel now stand at 89,142 copies, minus returns of 27,479, for net sales of 61,663 copies. My credited earnings from this statement was $2,434.38 with no money due; it will probably take another six months to a year for the novel to earn out the last of my $50,000.00 advance.

So how much money have I made from my Times bestseller? Depending on the type of sale, I gross 6-8% of the cover price of $7.99. After paying taxes, commission to my agent and covering my expenses, my net profit on the book currently stands at $24,517.36, which is actually pretty good since on average I generally net about 30-40% of my advance. Unless something triggers an unexpected spike in my sales, I don’t expect to see any additional profit from this book coming in for at least another year or two.

. . . .

Speaking of comparisons, the publisher’s portion of sales on this book has grossed them around $453,839.68. I don’t have any hard figures on the publisher’s net, so I can’t give you the bottom line there. If I had to make a guess, I’d say they probably netted around $250K on this one.

. . . .

My income per book always reminds me of how tough it is to make at living at this gig, especially for writers who only produce one book per year. If I did the same, and my one book performed as well as TF, and my family of four were solely dependent on my income, my net would be only around $2500.00 over the income level considered to be the U.S. poverty threshhold (based on 2008 figures.) Yep, we’d almost qualify for foodstamps.

Link to the rest at Generality – Post 1 and Generality – Post 2

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