Are You Making Less Money with Your Writing at the Moment? You’re Not Alone

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

​Not long ago, I got my twice-yearly royalty check from my indie publisher. I had looked forward to being wowed by the amount since my book had become a TV movie on Lifetime.

  “Can’t wait to see how the sales increase,” said everyone in the periphery who gave my own hopes a voice.

    Neither could I. 

     I had tingly fingers as I prepared to glimpse what would surely be my best royalty check ever. And blinked hard, rubbing my eyes in disbelief.

   No way.

   I could make one single car payment with money for a coffee for the half year of sales and countless hours of promotion and related appointments. It was the teeniest royalty check I’d earned since publication.

   My little brain couldn’t handle it. 

Was it because the publisher ran out of paperbacks just before the premiere? Or perhaps that the book title was different than that of the movie? How would I explain to my cats that I wouldn’t be buying them sparkly collars I’d promised when we made it big, and we’d need to cut back on their fancy-pants treats?

     The sting of disappointment was palpable.

But I was completely on the wrong path. 

     Because while I’d busied myself with book-to-movie promo and navel-gazed over others of life’s other details, the author landscape was shifting again. 

I’d read that people were reading increasingly less, often buying their books from subscription-based models were popular among readers which offer nearly unlimited choices for books for a flat fee, cutting the author’s share of royalties to a nub. So even if book sales remained steady or increased in some cases, it’s entirely possible that the royalties decreased.

Then I listened to the Six Figure Author Show, a retired-by-six-months podcast that reconvened in October of 2022 to address the growing crisis and titled it Why Book Sales are Down, and What to Do About It.  

       The reasons, the hosts opined, were varied. From the war in Ukraine, inflation, a looming recession, and even the current strength of the US dollar can impact our royalties.

. . . .

What options do we have that add revenue streams and indirectly support our writing?

         In November of 2022, I attended the 20Books2022 Las Vegas conference. While some of us commiserated on the side about the good old days when Facebook and Amazon ads and some good ole fashioned elbow grease translated into book sales, the conference workshops were a reminder to authors that there are still plenty of ways to get scrappy and add income streams. 

Workshops on crowdfunding. On launching a successful Patreon page, a membership platform that helps creators get paid. On selling short stories. On “going wide,” distributing our books on multiple platforms rather than on just one publishing source. And mining all of our intellectual property rights and considering whether translations, large print, and audiobook versions are worth exploring.

I left the conference knowing that in order to pay bills while continuing to write new books, I would pick a few things to help. I’ve launched my own Patreon page, meeting with subscribers once a month and offering workshops and Q&A within the membership. I’ve continued freelance writing for other companies on Upwork. I made a profile on Fiverr to be an e-greeting card for those whose loved ones watch Lifetime TV and would enjoy a message from one of the movie subjects. Is it a good idea? I don’t know. But it’s worth a try. And I’ve monetized my speaking events.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG doesn’t like to see any author who works hard fail to make money, but he had several reactions to the OP.

  1. Being paid royalties twice per year is the oldest of the many old-fashioned practices of traditional publishers. It’s impossible for an author to determine what promo activities are generating sales and what activities aren’t and the publisher quickly loses interest unless bookstores are buying a particular book like hotcakes. For many publishers, it’s a numbers game – publish enough books you think might sell and, odds are, you’ll be right with a few of your guesses. Throw a bunch of books at the bookstore wall and see what sticks.
  2. Of course, indie publishing via Amazon lets you see on a near real-time basis how many of which books you’ve sold on a daily basis. When you run an advertisement, you can see whether it is generating sales within a day or two or a week at most. You can experiment with a variety of different advertising messages to see which work the best. You can even see what works better in the UK and what works better in the US.
  3. The ability of traditional bookstores to return unsold copies of hardcopy books at any time is another antiquated practice that makes discerning what works and what doesn’t with promotions virtually impossible. To make the situation worse, your publisher is unlikely to know what the real returns situation really is or correlate it with any particular marketing activity.
  4. Does anybody in publishing really understand marketing at all? In ancient times, PG worked in marketing research and for a large advertising agency. Even by those antiquated standards, traditional publishers couldn’t market their way out of a paper bag. After all, they all majored in literature or English or whatever it’s called today, which may have refined their literary sensibilities, but did not develop the slightest talent for selling books to 21st century readers in any material way.
  5. Patreon is fine and dandy for many purposes, but income generated there isn’t the same thing as actually understanding how to sell more books and generating a much larger audience who wants to purchase your books.

5 thoughts on “Are You Making Less Money with Your Writing at the Moment? You’re Not Alone”

  1. I would also add that this is not a writer of fiction (as I expected), but a woman who wrote a memoir about rescuing her kidnapped daughter from her ex in Greece. She’s in a very different situation than someone who writes genre fiction.

    • I see that the paperback is (on Amazon) $15.29. While the Kindle is $0.99, something you offer for either a short / novella, or to get someone started on a series. Um, this is not something that you would want to enhance that “long tail” by writing a sequel.

      Looking… Lifetime TV apparently has around 5.7 million subscribers. A fairly good number these days (although obviously not Netflix rank). But how many watched her movie? I see no numbers, which she may not have in any case. The movie industry accounting is about as transparent as traditional publishing – i.e., clear as mud with a healthy addition of asphalt. If she has the “standard” contract with her publisher, there’s a good chance she received zilch, zero, nada for the sale of the movie rights.

      Standard advice – go indie, young woman.

  2. She thinks that just because she wrote a book, everyone will read it. Considering the subject matter, “rescuing my kidnapped daughter” (from a non-custodial parent) – that’s not really likely. She has written to a limited market and nothing she or anyone else does will alter that.

  3. Another matter is the sadly large number of ethics-challenged readers who see nothing wrong with stealing ebooks–also known as “sharing” them or downloading from pirate sites. I’m sure they’d scream bloody murder if someone stole from them.

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