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!


1 comment:

Jen said...

Thanks for the info. I had no idea of what might be average for a writer.