Daily Archives: July 27, 2013

The truth about author earnings

book money shakeI was watching a documentary today on a family who started buying beanie babies as an investment and then went bankrupt as it turned into an obsession that got out of hand.  We’ve all been there, maybe not with beanbag toys but we all have some facet of the obsessive in our nature.  I think artists can be particularly prone.

The facts are cold for indie authors looking to strike it rich. Here’s some statistics recently taken from  a survey of 1,007 self-published writers reported on in The Guardian:

“… average earnings were just $10,000 a year. This amount, however, is significantly skewed by the top earners, with less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.”

With $500 being the average cost of a book cover, not counting editing, formatting and promotional costs, the average indie author spends their career in a financial hole.  There’s also a slew of small publishing houses out there that give authors basically the same deal as the independents, except they take a cut of whatever may be left.

In the documentary, Bankrupt for Beanies, they add up the cost of the college education versus the retail cost of the toys and found they had paid $100,000 for beanie babies that are, at the moment, nearly worthless.   A college education in their area would have cost an estimated $52,000.  As authors, can we be guilty of losing sight of our goal and tossing out the college for the beanies?

Even authors that ‘make it big’ are far from rolling in the bucks.  Take fantasy author Lynn Viehl’s book, Twilight Fall, that debuted #19 on the New York Times mass market bestseller list in July 2008.  She has an interesting break down of all her income from this madly successful book (for most of us) on Genreality:

“… for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008 my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00.

Yay!  Right?  Hold on before splurging on T-bones and read the royalty statement or let Viehl sum it up for us:

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.”  Here’s a scanned copy of her royalty statement for the non believer.

I liked her closing statement for this piece.

In Publishing telling the truth about earnings smashes the illusions publishers and writers want you to believe and, like breaking mirrors, it never brings you good luck. Thing is, when I was a rookie I wanted to know exactly what it took to have a top twenty Times bestselling novel, because that was such a big deal to writers. Everyone I asked gave me a different answer, told me a bunch of nonsense, or couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me at all. For that reason I want you to see the hard figures, and know the reality, and the next time someone asks you what it takes, you can tell them the truth.

Grim facts for those that think publishing eBooks is a get rich sure thing.  For those of you that are here to make a buck… buy lotto tickets instead and enjoy your weekends.  For the rest of us, haunted by the constant compulsion to write, don’t give up.  I’m not.

Just realize that your book doesn’t sell based on how much money you sank into expensive covers, trailers and promotional campaigns.  A basic tenet of good business is often overlooked, particularly by the creative sect; the less you spend, the more you make.  The old adage, you got to spend money to make money went out with the 80’s.  Today’s economy is proof of the lack of wisdom there.

Bottom line, don’t give up on your books and do spend what it takes to create professional, well edited, works of art.  Just reconsider spending $3,000 to make less than $500.