Royalties

What I Get Paid For My Novels: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting My Day Job

29 January 2015

From author Kameron Hurley:

In the spirit of honesty and transparency that’s often sorely lacking in the literary world, here’s what I’ve been paid for my novels for the last 7 years.

Many of you don’t realize I’ve had writing contracts for 7 years! That’s because the first contract I ever signed was canceled. They paid it out anyway. But it was nearly three more years before those books saw print, so my professional writing career didn’t start until 2011.

Needless to say, I’ve had a day job this entire time because I like money and also paying for health insurance and food and paying off student loans.

This is the first year that book advances, royalties, and my day job salary will all combine to bring me up over the $100,000 a year mark (likely $105,000 or so, depending on outstanding items).  I was pretty much destitute in 2007 – laid off, sleeping in a friend’s spare bedroom, living completely on credit cards – so 7 years from penniless to $100k is a big milestone for me, and I intend to celebrate it by paying off a student loan.

The goal is to be debt-free (aside from the mortgage) in two years.

I also worked relentlessly to get here, and I’m aware it could all blow up tomorrow.

About 75% of that money I’ll make this year, still, comes from my day job. The numbers below show why.

15% of all of these amounts went to the agent who negotiated the deal.

Another 15-20% went toward taxes.

. . . .

[After listing advances and rights sales for various books]

You can see the advances there looking pretty grim after the 2008 publishing crash. Prior to the crash, there were a lot more people getting $20k advances and saying, “Hey, yeah, that’s OK,” instead of “Thank GOD.” They became harder to get after 2008.

. . . .

This is a tough business to stay in, especially if you don’t have a solid day job or a partner with same. I hear folks say that the 4-5 book place is where a lot of folks start to make money, and it’s true that this is the first year I could earn what I’d call a living wage if I quit or was laid off. But I know too much about publishing – and the changing tastes of the readership – to go all in making $30-40k a year when I’ve spent this long slogging to get to $100k through a combined workaholic income stream of novels, day job, and freelancing. You don’t give all that up just because you had one positive year.

If I’ve learned anything about publishing it’s that you should always hope that one great year is the start of an upward trend – but you should never count on it.

I was poor in 2007. I have no interest in going back if I can help it.

And that’s why I’m not quitting my day job.

Link to the rest at Kameron Hurley and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kameron Hurley’s books

The Last Taboo: What One Writer Earns

20 January 2015

From author Cara McKenna via Wonk-o-Mance:

When I was a new writer, there was only one place I knew of that offered a sense of what money there was to be made in this gig, and that’s the famous Brenda Hiatt blog post, Show Me the Money! Even now, I don’t really know what my closest writer friends make—and we blab in excruciating detail about nearly everything when sequestered late at night in conference hotel rooms, with our Costco merlot swirling in plastic tumblers and our achy dance-floor feet dangling off the edges of our overpopulated beds.

. . . .

[T]oward the end of 2014, I met what I’d always imagined was a ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky professional goal—a dream more than a goal, really. I set this goal when I sold my first book, just over five years ago. I was infatuated with writing, and I told myself that I would feel satisfied and proud and legitimized forever if I could manage just this: to one day make as much money in one calendar year of writing as I’d made as my salary when I stopped being a full-time graphic designer. And this past year, I did it. With a couple thousand dollars to spare.

. . . .

Now, let’s get the figures out of the way, because in all honesty they’re probably not going to blow your mind and so I don’t want a big build-up. At the time my old office in Boston closed in 2009 and I lost my design job, my salary was $44,000 a year. I wasn’t raking it in by some standards, but hey, I went to a state art college. The kid done all right. And now my “Book Earnings 2014” spreadsheet tells me that, from January through December of last year, I earned from royalties and advances $46,517. And eighty-six cents.

. . . .

I’m comfortable writing about this because in all honesty, I don’t care what anyone thinks of what I make. Money to me is strictly about security and freedom, not prestige or worthiness or even success. I want enough money, but not much more than that. Having much more money doesn’t seem to bring people much more peace of mind. Some might think the amount I now make is great, while some others will probably try to draw me aside in the lobby at RT this spring and murmur conspiratorially, “You know, you could be making so much more by self-pubbing. Let me share with you my secrets.”

. . . .

“Woman Writes for Several Years, Eventually Makes a Living Wage” is not a headline that’s going to inspire thousands to quit their day jobs.

. . . .

I have been writing seriously for 6.5 years.

In that time, I have sold 39 original books and novellas to 5 publishers. (I’m not counting anthologies featuring previously released stories, foreign editions, or re-releases.) Of those 39, 6 titles are not yet released.

My first title was published just under 5 years ago, with Ellora’s Cave.

. . . .

My first royalty check was for $141.00. (Always one to keep my expectations low, I had been hoping for $40, enough to pay for some celebratory drinks, so I was stoked to surpass that by a hundred and one bucks. I’m pretty sure we got Indian food that night.)

In 2010, my first year of being published, I made $11,000 from my writing, with 7 titles released and 1 more contracted. (A large chunk of that came from my first advance, with Harlequin Blaze.) That’s a lot of titles in one year. I wrote short, and quickly. I was intoxicated by this new job that I ached so badly to keep. I was on unemployment, so money wasn’t too much of a stressor between me and my husband. I was very excited to have made five figures in my debut year, considering my initial hopes of getting $40 out of that first royalty period.

. . . .

The healthiest chunks of my income arrive as advance payment checks, not individual books’ royalties. I would not be surprised if my yearly income takes a dip in 2015, if only because I’m contracted and on deadline through the spring of 2016, and don’t imagine I’ll be seeing any juicy signing checks for selling new proposals this year.

Of my 8 books that came with advances and have been out for 12 months or more, only one has yet to earn out its advance—and even that straggler’s getting very close. Modest advances aren’t a bad thing, provided you don’t like a lot of pressure and you’re not too vain.

Link to the rest at Wonk-o-Mance and thanks to Mike for the tip.

Here’s a link to Cara McKenna’s books

These days, writing isn’t a career. It’s a rich man’s hobby

17 January 2015

From The Telegraph:

I envy William Hague. Not the £2.5 million country house he’s just bought in Wales, although that would be nice. Rather, the fact that he plans to spend his retirement writing books.

These days, you need a substantial private income – or a public sector pension – to be a full-time writer. Last year, a survey of 2,500 professional authors found that their median income in 2013 was £11,000. That’s a drop of 29 per cent since 2005 and significantly below the minimum salary required to achieve a decent standard of living.

The writing game is notoriously lopsided, in which a small handful of bestselling authors earn a fortune and the vast majority live on scraps, but it’s got worse in the past decade. “You’ve always been able to comfortably house the British literary writers who can earn all their living from books in a single room,” says the author Will Self, whose own royalties have tailed off in recent years. “That room used to be a reception one, now it’s a back bedroom.”

. . . .

In 2012, Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black, told her Twitter followers that she was broke, in spite of the fact that the film of her book had earned £100 million worldwide.

Having written a bestseller is no guarantee you’ll be able to earn a living, as I know from experience. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, my 2001 memoir about working for Vanity Fair in New York, sold a quarter of a million copies and was turned into a Hollywood movie. Fast forward 10 years and I was asked by Penguin if I would write an ebook for free.

. . . .

I wrote another book last year (What Every Parent Needs to Know), and this time I actually received a small advance. But I had to give half that money to a collaborator because I was too busy earning a living to write it on my own.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

The New Landscape

12 December 2014

From author Russell Blake:

I just looked at the Amazon top 100. #1 is a trad pub title at $2.99. #2 is a trad pub title at .99. #3 is an Amazon imprint pre-order at $4.99. #4 is Baldacci’s latest at $10.99, #5 is Michael Connolly’s latest at $3.99, #6 is Gone Girl at $2.99, and on and on and on.

For those indie authors who have seen a marked downturn in sales since KU came in, I believe that’s only part of the story. The other is that since Amazon got lower prices from trad publishers, the price of trad pubbed books is through the floor.

Which means that the tried and true gambit most indies have been using, which is selling based on price, at .99 or $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99, likely won’t work particularly well anymore. Because when you can buy Gone Girl for $2.99 and Connolly’s latest at $3.99, why would most readers buy your book at or around the same price?

. . . .

Readers are now being presented with a host of worthy, readable, high-quality offerings at or below the same prices indies offered their books at, eliminating the bargain perception/edge that indies learned to rely on as a differentiator.

That will translate into crap sales for many, and the effective end to many careers that relied on their work being attractive because it was cheap. In a world where everything is cheap, selling based on price doesn’t work.

Bluntly, if you as an author want to sell books in this environment, you have to do it the old fashioned way: you have to write books your audience will gladly pay for, even if a dollar or two more than the latest Michael Connolly, or Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. That means you need to up your game, that suddenly story and craft will matter more, and that simply being cheap, with a homemade cover and lackadaisical or no editing, won’t cut it.

That’s awesome news for readers. It’s disastrous news for many indie authors.

. . . .

Now for the good news. As my prior blog discussed, more authors than ever before are earning good money as indies. So it can be done. But those authors are very, very good at delivering a reading experience their following will pay for, and they value their readers above all – they don’t put out slop, they don’t think in terms of “good enough,” and they’re every bit as demanding of their work as the harshest acquisitions editor.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake

Here’s a link to Russell Blake’s books

For those unfamiliar with him, most of Russell’s books are self-published and he writes 7-10,000 words per day.

Russell points out in a part of his post that PG didn’t excerpt that, under the deep-discount clauses present in almost all tradpub contracts, the royalties authors receive from heavily-discounted tradpub books are much, much lower than the already-low ebook royalties tradpub pays for list price ebooks.

Thus, ranking high on Amazon’s bestseller lists at $2.99 doesn’t mean nearly as much money to a tradpubbed author as it does to an indie author.

Kindle Needs A “Subscribe To Author” Button

6 December 2014

From TechCrunch:

When Amazon launched the Kindle Unlimited service last July, the idea was that popular indie authors could use the service as a way to gather royalties and raise their author profiles in tandem. The all-you-can-eat reading service was supposed to help, not harm, authors.

The opposite has been the case. After the launch of KU a number of prolific writers have seen sales drop precipitously. The Digital Reader found a number of examples including writer H.M. Ward whose sales fell by 70 percent. She wrote:

Ok, some of you already know, but I had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income.Thats counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t compliment each other, as expected.Taking a huge ass pay cut while I’m still working my butt off, well that’s not ok. And KU effected my whole list, not just KU titles. At the time of enrollment I had about 60 titles total.I planned on giving it 90 days, but I have a kid in the hospital for long term care and I noticed my spending was going to exceed my income-by a lot. I couldn’t wait and watch thing plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither preformed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).

But Ward added an interesting aside near the end of her post: she would love to offer her readers a paid subscription to her work.

Ward, with 60 pieces in the Kindle store, is a rare case of a writer who is making a living from her writing through sheer volume. Most writers have one book in them at best but, as most Kindle experts note, the best way to make money is to write, publish, and repeat – ad infinitum.

 By allowing users to subscribe to writers like Ward they will be doing everyone a solid. Ward and other writers will get a steady stream of income, readers will get the work of their favorite authors automatically, and Amazon has a captive source of revenue. Patreon, created by Jack Conte, is a perfect example of this dynamic. That service allows fans to pay a small amount every time an author creates a piece of content, be it a song, a blog post, or a podcast. By ensuring that the creator is paid the consumer ensures the content keeps coming.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

KU Crushed My Sales

29 November 2014

From author H.M. Ward via Kboards:

Ok, some of you already know, but I had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. Thats counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t compliment each other, as expected.

. . . .

And KU effected my whole list, not just KU titles.  At the time of enrollment I had about 60 titles total.

I planned on giving it 90 days, but I have a kid in the hospital for long term care and I noticed my spending was going to exceed my income-by a lot. I couldn’t wait and watch thing plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither preformed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).

This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn’t be paid lottery style. For this system to work we need a flat rate for borrows, borrowed or not borrowed (not this 10% crap), and it needs to be win win for the reader AND the writer. <– That is the crux of the matter.

Id like to see Amazon create something new, something better instead of falling in step with Scribd and Oyster.

Link to the rest at Kboards and thanks to Dan for the tip.

Here’s a link to H.M. Ward’s books

Royalties, Oh Royalties, Wherefore Art My Royalties?

24 November 2014

From author Dan Meadows via The Watershed Chronicle:

“It is our hope that Hachette, in light of the loyalty its authors have shown throughout this debacle, takes this opportunity to revisit its standard e-book royalty rate of 25 percent of the publisher’s net profits.” Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild

So here we are. Hachette has a deal. Simon & Schuster has a deal. They have the pricing responsibility they wanted. Amazon has its “specific financial incentives” to compel them to use that power to price lower. Now we’ll get to see just how badly publishers want to institute a price-based windowing system for new releases (I’m setting the over/under on new release ebook prices at $16.99. And I’m taking the over.) But what did writers get out of this? I’m glad you (rhetorically) asked, because nobody else seems to be.

I’ve read all the coverage I can find and, as far as I can tell, the sum total of what writers got from this is that Hachette writers will have preorders reinstated and be back on two-day shipping. That’s about it. Oh yeah, there’s all the sales they lost during the past seven months. They’ve got that, too. There’s no Macmillan-like pool of recompense for those folks; no extra royalty payout for the damage done to their business. And they’ve got the hit yet to come from all those lost sales when their next contract rolls around. But at least, like the Robinson quote above, they’ve got hope that possibly Hachette (and others) maybe might take some time to reconsider their ebook royalty rates, if it’s not too much trouble. Because loyalty. My dog is loyal, but if I screw with his food, he bares his teeth and growls. I don’t screw with his food. Loyalty unrespected is subservience.

The blatantly obvious here is that anyone who thought writers would get anything but screwed on this was deluded. Especially after their authors interjected themselves into it in, bluntly, the stupidest possible way. They threw all their weight behind one side, not coincidentally, the side that needed them and they had leverage with, and asked nothing in return. Now we’re told they did it out of loyalty as if that’s some kind of honorable thing and not horribly misplaced naivete. Now we’re told authors are going to try to get better terms.

. . . .

If you can’t even consider paying me a fair (or even just slightly higher) ebook royalty without it triggering fears of going under, does that make you more or less attractive to me as an author? You’re leveraged so thinly that fair recompense to writers can threaten the very existence of your company? What’s the upside for me to sign with you? A “quality” product no one buys or a product they do buy but I don’t reap fair reward for?

. . . .

“Questioned on author earnings, CEO Tom Weldon said that Penguin/Random House was always looking at how much authors were being compensated, but for the moment the 25% digital royalty rate would not be changed.

“Authors are, alongside readers, the foundation of our business,” he said. “We are always, always looking at our commercial arrangements with authors to make sure they’re fair and equitable. With e-book royalties, firstly and most importantly, the business model is as clear as mud. Rather than arguing about what slice of the cake we should distribute, we need to work out how big the cake should be.”

There you go, fair and equitable and the rate would not be changed. Get a load of that last sentence. We need to work out how big the cake should be? What the hell does that even mean? Is he talking about pricing? Is it a more ominous suggestion of further attempts at limiting the ebook market itself to a certain market share? Or even more ominously, is he talking not about how big the whole cake is but deciding how big the portion of the cake is that your portion comes from? The cake is a pretty big one, dude, I think portions are an appropriate topic of discussion at the moment. Look at how he phrased that, too: “Rather than arguing about what slice of the cake we should distribute…” They’re planning on keeping the whole damn cake and then deciding what tiny sliver they can afford to slice off for you. Do you need any more evidence that they see the proceeds from your book as “their cake”? Funny how they’re not waiting to work out how big the cake should be before touting the increased profits they’re reaping from this particular literary confection. But let’s not argue about it. Then they might actually have to address the issue rather than keep enjoying all that delicious extra cake they’ve got. Did you catch him wiping the crumbs from the corner of his mouth as he said “fair and equitable”?

Link to the rest at The Watershed Chronicle

Here’s a link to Dan Meadow’s books

The Authors Guild: Do More Than Hope

16 November 2014

From Joe Konrath:

From Authors Guild Prez Roxana Robinson:

“In the meantime, it’s our hope that Hachette—in light of the loyalty its authors have shown throughout this debacle—takes this opportunity to revisit its standard e-book royalty rate of 25% of the publisher’s net profits.”

The Authors Guild has, many times in the past, voiced that ebook royalties should be raised.

So do something about it.

The AG, and Authors United, have been able to get beaucoup media attention during the Hachette/Amazon spat. They were squarely on the side of Hachette (even while proclaiming they weren’t taking sides) and they waged a war for public opinion that did a decent propagandist job of demonizing Amazon.

Now the AG, and all of the bestselling authors who supported AU, need to show some backbone and integrity and use the same tactics to force the Big 5 to raise digital royalties.

Robinson is correct that many authors remained loyal to their publishers. And it makes sense that the loyalty should be rewarded. When a dog does a trick, it gets a treat.

Perhaps the treat will come, and Hachette, after suffering an 18% sales decline during the negotiations, will decide to give away even more profits by raising royalties.

. . . .

If not, the AG and AU should wage a similar public campaign to the one they did against Amazon, and make the world aware that authors earning 1/3 of the digital royalties that publishers earn is lopsided, unfair, and will no lnger be tolerated.

Back in the day before they were called ebooks, and digital rights began to get mentioned in contracts, the Big 6 almost unilaterally came to the conclusion that 25% author royalties were fair.

Where was the AG and the AAR to push back? Not only were digital costs lower–no cost for production or distribution–but the distributor was essentially removed from the money chain. Rather than share this extra money with authors, publishers simply grabbed it.

I’ve done the math in the past. On a $25 hardcover, the author makes about $3.75, and the publisher around $5, after all production, delivery, and middleman costs (distributors and booksellers).

On a $25 ebook, an author makes $4.37, and the publisher $13.12.

Link to the rest at JA Konrath and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

As Amazon-Hachette Dispute Ends, Authors Want More

14 November 2014

From Bloomberg via Yahoo Finance:

Now that the dispute between Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Hachette Book Group has ended, the next disagreement may pit authors against publishers over how to share e-book revenue.

Writers who stood by Hachette through the Amazon negotiations over print and digital book sales want to be rewarded for sticking by the publisher. Now they’re asking Hachette to share more of the money it receives on e-book sales with them.

. . . .

At stake is revenue from sales of digital books. Under the current structure, an e-book sold by Amazon for $9 brings in about $2.70 for the Web retailer and $6.30 for the publisher and writer. A smaller fraction of that — about $1.58 — then goes to the author. The writers contend that their share should be greater, because there’s no manufacturing or distribution cost associated with digital books.

“It is our hope that Hachette, in light of the loyalty its authors have shown throughout this debacle, takes this opportunity to revisit its standard e-book royalty rate of 25 percent of the publisher’s net profits,” Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, said in a statement following today’s announcement of a resolution between New York-based Hachette and Amazon.

. . . .

“There’s definitely a feeling that the amount going to authors should be higher,” said Steven Gould, an author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance and thanks to Chris for the tip.

PG says Whoopee!

Signing a Publishing Contract

11 October 2014

What to Do Before Signing a Publishing Contract

Column by Brandon Tietz at LitReactor

Writing a novel is damn hard. Selling one to a publisher, in its own distinct way, is even more difficult because you’re essentially convincing a company to gamble on you and your work. This is part of the reason self-publishing is booming right now. Searching for a publisher is both a hassle and a blizzard of heartbreaking rejection, so when you actually do get an offer, it’s a huge moment. So euphoric that emotion can often blind the writer to those important details on what’s on the actual contract. It amazes me how many authors took their time working on their novels only to sign a contract after skimming it once. It’s not an iTunes update, guys…read the damn thing. Here are some key things you should know before signing on the dotted line.

Who Are These People?

I will go on record and say that I have scared away authors from a publisher I went through because it was a sub-par experience. They’re out of business now, if that tells you anything. What I’m saying though is that you should know the publisher before you sign any sort of contract that binds you to them. Now I don’t recommend asking authors whether they do or don’t like the publisher while you’re querying, but after you get the offer, feel free to reach out and get a feel for how they’re handling their business. Unhappy authors are usually a good indicator that you should tread lightly.

****

Conclusion

Don’t be blinded by your contract. Signing a bad one can be the thing that ends up screwing you over for the life of the novel. Do your research, ask questions, and for the love of God, don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you don’t like something. If three author copies sound low—ask for more. If you don’t want your book assigned to a certain designer—ask for an alternative. A contract is an agreement between two parties…not one party telling the other how it’s going to be.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall

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