Monday, December 24, 2007

Please everyone have a safe and happy holiday, and think about your New Year's writing resolutions!! Make 2008 the year you achieve your dreams.

Jennifer Ashley

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making a Living as a Writer

I've addressed this a little bit before, but I do get asked quite a lot about how much writers really make and if it's possible to make a living writing. My answer is, yes, it is possible to make a living, but you need to go in with your eyes open and educate yourself about the business.

(I refuse to say "if you can do anything else but write to make a living, do it," because I'm sitting here making a living writing, and I can't say it's a bad life. It's hard, yes. But if it's your dream, who am I to tell you not to do it?)

It's actually pretty easy to figure out how much writers make:

The average sellthrough of a mass market paperback is 50%. So you can calculate about how much an author makes based on the print run.

A midlist author has mass market print runs anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 per book.

A lead or top author can have mm print runs of 100,000 up to a million. This is where the bigger money is made, this is New York Times, book tours, and all the other hoop-la.

You as an author do not choose where you start--the publisher does.

(You do have some control over this--as in, if the publisher offers you a low advance and a midlist slot, you can always say no. If you get no better offers, then you'll be starting as a midlist.)

Trade and hardback print runs are smaller, anywhere from 10,000 in the midlist to 70K for leads. Of course trades and hardbacks are more expensive, so you make more per copy sold, but that's offset by the lower print run. Sellthrough is usually higher, about 70% (at least, that's what the publisher wants to see.)

In trades you make about $1.00 per book sold; hardback $2-$3 per book sold. Mass market (based on 6.99 and 7.99 retail price and 6%-8% royalty) you make about 40-50 cents per copy.

You as an author do not choose whether your book starts as hardback, trade, or mass market. (Your agent can push for what you want, but again, your power is in declining the offer.)

In mass market: A midlist author will make anywhere from $5000 to $40,000 per book (note that's per book, not per year).

A $5000 book is a beginning book that sold about 10,000 mass market copies (based on 8% royalty with the book being $6.99); I'm assuming this author had a 20K print run and sold about half.

The $40,000 mass market book sold about 80,000 copies; and since my sample author is still midlist, I'm pretending her print run was 100K. Her sales probably put her on extended bestseller lists, which might incite the publisher to boost her to a lead position.

A lead author with a print run of 250,000 can make $125K or so for that one book.

A trade book with a print run of 20,000 that sells through 70% (which is 14,000 copies), generates about $14,000 for its author. If the author is lucky, the book's mass market rights might be sold, which could get her another chunk of change.

I don't have a lot of experience in hardback, so I'm not going to speculate on its income. When I do, I'll let you know!

Now let me insert the bad stuff:

If your first book makes $25,000, that doesn't mean you get a $25,000 check dropped in your lap. Even if your advance was $25,000, it will be dribbled to you in several pieces: a. when you sign the contract; b. when you turn in the book and it's accepted by the editor. That means after you do the revisions (if any) she asks for. Then she puts in the request for your payment to her acct. dept.

If you got a $5,000 advance on that book that earned you $25,000 in royalties, you have to wait for your royalty checks to collect the other $20K. You don't get a royalty check until at least six months after the book is published. And you turn in the book anywhere from nine to 18 months before the book is published. And then the publisher holds a "reserve against returns" for a year or so in case they get more returns than they expected. So it might take you three years to collect that entire $25,000.

Oh, and if you make $25,000 in royalties and your advance was $30,000 . . . you don't get any more money. You don't have to give back what you didn't make, but they might cut your next advance or simply "pass" on your next proposal.

All this means that the first few years as a writer will be lean, even if your book is a hit. But what happens after that is what I call a snowball effect. All these bits and chunks of money from signing contracts, turning in books, receiving royalties, signing another contract, selling secondary rights, etc. start to add up.

Also, because you make your money per book, the more books you write, the more money you make. (But always take a realistic view of how many books you can comfortably write a year--sacrificing quality for quantity will hurt you in the long run.)

There are also ways to supplement your writing income:

Secondary rights. If you own your secondary rights (foreign translation; audio; movie) to your published books, your agent can sell these to get you extra money. If you and the publisher are splitting these rights (usually 50/50), then the publisher will be looking to sell secondary rights. That's what they do at all those book fairs in London and Frankfurt and at Book Expo America. As of yesterday, my agent and publisher have sold rights to several of my books to publishers in Germany, Italy, Holland, and Russia. Bookclub rights (Doubleday) is another secondary rights sale that adds to your check.

Writing for more than one publisher. If you can keep to the schedule, consider writing books for more than one publisher. Many of my author friends do this--they might write for Avon and Harlequin; Kensington and Dorchester; Berkley and Pocket, etc.

Be careful--publishers don't want you publishing the same thing for their rivals, so you may be writing two different kinds of books, perhaps under different pseudonyms. This can be fun--I love trying out new genres, and writing for multiple publishers lets me do that. But check the option clause in any and every contract you get, and change it if necessary to let you continue to write for more than one publisher.

Writing for e-publishers. The beautiful thing about e-publishers is they send you checks every month. Depending on the publisher, they might not be big checks, but again, they can add up nicely. At Ellora's Cave, sales average 900 downloads per book in the first 30 days. You can sell more than that--keep in mind that 900 is an average.

At e-publishers, your royalty rate for e-books is 37%-40%. Very short books (12K) make about $1.00 royalty per book. Novel-length (60K and up) make about $2-$3 in royalties per book. Authors who manage to write multiple books for these publishers do well for themselves. Many of them are making that their day job while they try to break in to NY publishers--plus they're busy building a following. I don't write that many stories for e-publishes, but I make a secondary income from them to let me buy groceries while waiting for my NY publishers to send out royalty statements.

As you can see, writing is not the way to instant riches. It's a job in which you have to work your behind off to succeed.

You have to be careful, you have to be smart, you have to go in with blinders removed, you have to acknowledge that you might face disappointment, hurt, anger, and rejection.

It's a hard slog, but if you educate yourself and know what you're getting into, you might just make it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Writing Career vs. Getting Published

For my entry this week, pop over to The Bradford Bunch (authors of agent Laura Bradford), where I'm guest blogging, courtesy of author Denise Agnew, on the difference between just getting published versus having a true writing career.

Take care,


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Colleen Thompson--Advice from a Rising Rom. Sus. Star

I had the great pleasure to pick up Colleen Thompson's new Romantic Suspense, The Salt Maiden a few days ago. I asked her to be my guest this week, and I was able to ask her about the Romantic Suspense market, agents, and writing in general.

J: Do you have an agent? Why or why not?

Colleen Thompson: I've always worked with an agent and feel it's well worth paying the commission to have someone to run interference. This helps me keep my relationship with my editor about the book and allow the agent to deal with any potentially-contentious matters.

J: Can you talk a little about your road to publication?

Colleen Thompson: I wrote on the side for years while teaching. Only after I decided to give writing a real priority in my life and make an effort to education myself about publishing did I make progress. Both multi-genre and romance writers' groups (RWA) taught me what I needed to know and allowed me the opportunity to gain an agent's attention through entering contests. For me, this opened doors.

J: What challenges did you face once you got there?

Colleen Thompson: I first published in historical romance (under the pseudonym Gwyneth Atlee), but I found history-rich, American-set books were losing favor. In addition, I went lost several editors (three!) in rapid succession. I knew I needed to try something else at a different publishing house to break out of the tough place where I was stuck. As I result, I started over, writing romantic suspense, which I adore, under my real name. I've never been happier.

J: You write terrific romantic suspense. Tell us about the general tone of your books and what you find appealing to write about.

Colleen Thompson: Thanks so much, Jennifer. I love writing about "real people" facing the toughest crises of their lives, characters whose happiness - and very survival - hinges upon learning to accept love and embrace their own potential. My books aren't about superheroes, but flawed individuals doing their best. I enjoy developing their family lives (pets included) and exploring the Texas locales that make them who they are.

J: Can you give any “insight” into the rom. sus. market—what readers seem to like/dislike, or if you think reader tastes area all over the map (and why you think so).

Colleen Thompson: There's a great deal of variety within the subgenre, with readers gravitating toward writers that best share their own tastes. My books are a little more family-oriented and tend to feature regular people pushed to heroic acts by desperate circumstances. I think readers are responding because they're looking for a break from all the independently wealthy, super-secret agent, kick-ass experts and want to go along for the ride with people who are a little more identifiable, a little more like themselves.

J: Anything else you want to add to benefit aspiring authors?

Colleen Thompson: When you're looking to break into a market, ask yourself what's the "something different" you intend to bring to the genre. How will your take be unique and lead readers to seek out more of your books? Though you can't completely ignore market trends, emulating others will only take you so far. You have to figure out your vision and then create a consistently improving, identifiable experience for your readers with every book you add to your body of work.

J: Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. I had planned to save Salt Maiden for an upcoming plane trip, then made the mistake of peeking at the first chapter. I had to rip the book from my hands! It looks like a terrific read, and I'm looking forward to it.

More on Colleen's books can be found at:

Also, she keeps an ongoing blog with with author Joni Rodgers with tips and news about writing and the publishing industry at