Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Da Money

I’m going to post today about something everyone wants to talk about--and no one wants to talk about.

How much can you really make writing these books anyway??

A few years ago when I was giving a talk, a young woman raised her hand and told me that one of her professors told her that she couldn’t make any money writing romance novels. I replied that writers like Nora Roberts, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Christine Feehan would likely be surprised to hear that.

There is much negativity surrounding the $$ in publishing. It is true that not as many people read now as they did before. Print runs are no longer commonly in the millions. There are so many published romance authors that our share of the diminishing pot has diminished.

But guess what? There is still money out there. Some romance authors are getting high six-figure to seven-figure advances. Authors are getting 200-500K print runs per title. Not everyone, of course. The majority of romance authors get five-figure advances, anywhere from low to high.

So how much can you really make? Let’s look at some concrete numbers.

You can have your book hit USA Today top 150 with a print run of 100,000. So let’s say you signed with a publisher, their marketing dept. got excited about you because your book was so well written and so marketable, and they got the booksellers to order 95,000 total.

Your print run will likely be about 100K. (Print runs are based on how many books the booksellers decide to order, not how much your editor loves you.)

Your book sells for $6.99. I’ll round that up to $7.00 to make math easier. You signed a contract that said you get 8% royalty. So for each book sold at retail cover price, you get about 56 cents a book.

I’m going to round that down to 50 cents--because books sold through discount book clubs and the like are usually sold at both lower cover price and usually lower royalty rate (although you can negotiate this point in your contract). But let's say in this example your average is 50 cents a book.

The book releases, those first books sell quickly enough that bookstores reorder and you ship out your entire 100K run.

Good for you. But—on average, most mass market paperbacks have about a 50% sell-through. Meaning that for every book sold, one gets returned unsold. (Hopefully you’ll sell better than that, but let’s say 50% for sake of example).

50% of a 100K run = 50,000 books. On each book you earn an average of 50 cents. 50 cents times 50K books = $25,000. If your publisher gave you a $20,000 advance for this book, you’ve earned that out and are due a royalty check (for simplicity’s sake I won’t go in to the money they hold back for returns).

Now if you’re smokin’ hot and readers love your book, and you sell 80,000 of those 100K copies, then your total earning is $40,000 and your royalty check will be $20,000 (‘cause remember, you already got your $20K advance.)

You get sell through like this in six-months to a year. After that, unless you have a blockbuster, your sales will still trickle in, but nothing like what you did the first six months.

Of course, this is a very simplified example. It does not take into account secondary rights—foreign translations, movie options, TV options, audio books—any bonuses, and much, much more. It also does not take into account the reserves held against returns, usually 18% of your royalties in the first year. (We all hate reserves, but they happen.)

Please keep in mind this is for ONE book. You will not live your life on the proceeds for one book (unless it’s a huge blockbuster, and even then, people will get tired of it). You will write anywhere from one to four books a year (don’t be like me and write seven 100K word-ers—you need a life.)

That means that you’ll get your turn-in advance for book three about the same time you start getting royalties from book one. You’ll get turn-in for book four as you get royalties for book two and book one. Turn-in $$ for book five as you get royalties for books one, two, and three. Plus all those secondary things you can sell, plus what you get when you sign new contracts—it all adds up.

Trust me, royalty income is a good thing. What you have to learn is not to expect it to come to a schedule (and certainly not your schedule, LOL), and you should expect the amounts to wildly flux. A key to earning a living as a writer is good budgeting—a subject beyond the scope of my blog!

I was going to go on about the importance of marketability (so those booksellers will want to order 100,000 books), but I think that’s enough for now. Another day, another blog.

So you see what I’m getting at—you can make a living, but you have to work at it! I’m always amused by people who tell me they want to be a writer someday so they can stop working. Sorry! This is the hardest job I’ve ever done.

It’s also the most fun and most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

Be flexible, don’t get discouraged, keep writing, keep believing.

I’ll be at RT next week, so my blog will be on hold until the week after. Take care!


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Romance Template?

AH asked a good question in the comments, and I'll answer it for this week's post:

"Jennifer, I have a question about writing Romance. Is there a general template? For example, I know there needs to be a Black Moment just before the end, but is there a general pattern to follow such as Chapter 1 "this happens", Chapter 2 "this happens" and so on? Thanks, AH"

Jennifer says: Let me preface my answer by saying that I write single-title romance, and not category/series (e.g., the line romances published by Harlequin/Silhouette). Series romance has it's own "rules," and while I don't think there's anything as hard and fast as "Chapter 1 has X," "Chapter 2 has Y," editors do like to see certain things fall in certain places. See HQ's guidelines or better still, read a gob of HQ/Sil books of a certain line to fine the rhythms and patterns.

Ok, back to single title. Single Title romance, btw, if you don't know the term, refers to most mass market paperback books on the shelves that are not line romances by HQ/Sil. I'm talking about the thick paperbacks with the glossy covers and raised, shiny letters, many by blockbuster bestsellers. Single Title publishers are Berkley, Bantam, NAL, Leisure, Kensington/Zebra, Avon, and so forth. (All right HQN, which is by Harlequin, are also single title romances, just to confuse you.)

And the answer is: No, there is no template, no rules about what's in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc. Anything goes!

Well, within reason. You do need to get in a couple things right up front in your romance. Those are:

Introduction of the hero, his goal, and what keeps him from it.
Introduction of the heroine, her goal, and what keeps her from it
Introduction of the villain (if you have one), his/her goal, and what keeps him/her from it

Once these characters are introduced, the main plot problem of the story will be (should be, anyway) in place, because the main plot arises from the goals/hindrances of the h/h and villain.

Whether you do Chapter 1--hero, Chapter 2--heroine, or two scenes in one chapter introducing them both, or hero, heroine, and villain all appearing on the first few pages doesn't really matter.

A Note: In single-title romance, your h/h do NOT have to meet on the first page. They should meet when the story naturally brings them together. The reader should meet them and anticipate these two meeting, but you don't have to shove them together in Chapter 1. (I personally like the h/h together as early and as often as possible, but I've read terrific books when they don't meet until page 75.)

The rest of the story: The remainder of your book follows from what your h/h are trying to or need to do and what's stopping them.

I'm obviously being very simplistic here, but I've learned one important lesson from writing nearly twenty-three books for publication: Keep it Simple!

New writers have the tendency to shove everything they possibly can into one 450 page manuscript, but resist the temptation. Put in only what is necessary, save your other brilliant ideas for your next book. Few of us any more are going to write one masterpiece and live off its royalties for the rest of our lives, so count on writing a lot if you truly want to be a writer.

To recap:

Begin your romance novel by introducing the readers to the hero, the heroine, and the villain (if you have a villain). By now the readers know the main problem your characters must overcome.

The middle of the story consists of incidents (not many, stick to three or four) that move your plot forward--things the h/h try to solve their problem(s) but which don't work, miring them in deeper.

The Black Moment, when your hero and heroine decide to risk everything even though they are certain they are in a no-win situation. (A classic example is the hero decides to let the heroine go, because he knows that as much as he needs her, he'll make her miserable if he keeps her with him. He risks his own happiness to ensure hers.)

The Reward: After the h/h risk everything, they are rewarded by gaining everything. (The heroine returns to the hero on her own, because she loves him enough to stay with him and bring happiness into his life.)

I confess I'm a "pantser," which means I don't draw out my plot in detail before I begin. I have an idea of my characters, and then I just start off and see what happens. I don't like to know how books turn out before I read them, and I don't like to know when I write them, either! :-)

So that was the long answer to "Is there a romance template?" The short answer is: "Not really."

Take care,

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Fire Within

Penny asked a very good question on the last post. First let me offer apologies for being late on this blog. I had to do back-to-back out of town trips in March and of course caught a bad cold from it, plus had to finish revisions on two books, not to mention numerous other tasks. I'm slowly catching up to myself--I'm only a few days behind schedule now, very exciting!!

All that is relevant to my post here. Penny asked how you keep writing through times of personal stress and life-changing events. Some writers tell me it's easy to write when their lives are stressful, because writing is a therapeutic escape for them. For me, on the other hand, personal and family troubles tend to intrude on the creative process and make focusing difficult.

I write best when times are peaceful and even when I’m a little bit bored—my stories are sure to be more interesting than my own life!

But sometimes you need or want to write (in my case, I often have a tight schedule) when there are stressful or even traumatic happenings in your own life. What do you do?

That's when I look for what I call "The Fire." There is s place deep inside you that no one--not family, or friends, or spouse, or your mother--can ever touch. It is the essence of you. It's what gives you your strange, unusual, or meaningful dreams, what gives you inspriation. The Fire is what gets that book out of you, what makes that story yours and no one else's.

How do you find and touch that Fire? It's not easy (of course not!). What I do is sit down and write rather mindlessly. I don't try to be good. I do what I heard from another writer about ten years ago: Allow yourself to be bad.

Just put words down that get your characters from A to B. If nothing exciting is happening in one section of the story, skip to a section where it is interesting.


No one ever needs to see it. This is you telling the story of your heart, typing until 400 pages are filled. This story belongs to you and you alone, not to critiquers or editors or the rest of the world. No one can tell you it's wrong.

If you think it's crud, no matter, you have plenty of opportunity to fix it before you send it to an editor or a contest or even your critique partner. And who knows, you might not ever want to show this story to anyone! It's perfectly ok to write a novel just to write it, just for yourself--to test your boundaries, to let go in a world all your own, to try something new.

The business of publishing books and the art of writing books are two entirely different things--always remember that.

Back to The Fire:

While you are sitting there typing mindlessly (500 words a day or 5000 words a day, it doesn't matter), the Fire will happen. When you are least looking for it, suddenly there is a spark deep inside you from that place no one knows but you. You will feel it--the excitement, the flush, the sudden light-bulb coming on--you inside your story saying: This is what I mean! When that happens, just go with it. Write. Free flow. Let it happen.

I guarantee one of two things: The Fire will either produce your very best prose writing, or it will produce your very worst. That doesn't matter. If it's the best prose, cool. If it's the worst, you can fix it--what came out of you is the heart of the story; it doesn't matter if your sentences are clunky. Clunky sentences are easy to fix. Because even if you have to polish up the words, you've found the essence of the story and dragged it onto your canvas.

I hope this makes sense. I really does happen, even when you're sick of the story, bored with your characters, and upset about something in your personal life.

Train yourself to sit and write a set amount every day (500 words, 1000 words, five pages, whatever), no matter how you feel (upset, tired, bored, angry, etc.) It doesn't matter whether the writing your sessions produce is good or not--any little amount will move you forward to the end.

Don't wait for The Fire to write--just write. It's when you are loosened up and letting it happen that The Fire will come. There's nothing quite like it.