Friday, March 17, 2006

Money Money Money

Every profession has salary differences.

I have a friend in a management position in a non-writing job, and he knew the man who held the position prior to him, and how much he made.

They offered him 10k less.

He was angry. After all, he was doing the same job, and was even more qualified. But he took the job regardless, because it was a promotion, and he didn't want to let an opportunity pass him by.

Ten grand is a lot of money, but that number is nothing compared to the differences that writers get paid.

The average advance for a novel is five thousand bucks, and has been for as long as I've heard statistics being bandied around. This average includes all of the micro presses who don't offer advances, along with the megabestsellers who make seven figures per book.

I've also heard other stats.

  • Only a few hundred people in the world make their sole income writing fiction.
  • Once you're in a "salary bracket" you can be stuck there for book after book unless your sales explode---or your sales plummit
  • Only 1 out of 5 books earn out their advance and pay royalties.
  • Bigger advances (generally) mean more support in-house.
  • Advances can vary wildly (as much as 1000%) within the same imprint.

No writer gets into this business for the money, because the money isn't good. There's a business rule called The 20% of the 20% (or something similar). It states:

The top twenty percent in any profession makes as much money as the other eighty percent. And of that twenty percent, the top twenty percent makes as much as the other eighty percent. And so on.

That's why Stephen King makes six million per book, and you make five thousand. Welcome to the Arts.

So what does this mean to you, the writer?

At first, it means nothing. You write for the joy of writing, and publication is its own reward.

I used to think, "All I want is to see my name in print, then I'll be happy."

And it did make me happy. It still does. But now, all I want is to be able to stop living off credit cards, stop spending so much money self-promoting, stop devoting 90% of my time to the business end of this career rather than the writing end of this career. And a Porsche. Or even a used Mustang.

Once you're published, you're going to want (in no particular order) more money, a bigger print run, movie deals, more publicity, more advertising, a tour, cover input, etc.

The more money you're paid, the more money the publisher has to spend to make sure they don't lose out on their investment. You want the big advance, because it shows that your publisher is behind you.

But beware the other end of the spectrum; big advance, big promotional campaign, and poor sales. That will likely be the last big advance you ever get.

So what does the writer need to do?

  1. Your main goal is to make the same amout or more as your last deal.
  2. To make the same amount or more, be prepared to spend a lot of your advance on self-promotion.
  3. Make sure you earn out your advance. You can, with hustle.
  4. Don't expect jumps in salary that aren't justified by sales.
  5. Don't expect to write full time unless you have a spouse who works or you know how to budget your money.
  6. Don't think that money isn't important; it's VERY important. Publishing is a business, and it's all about the red and the black.
  7. Writers don't normally discuss money with each other. If you do find out that one of your peers is making ten times what you are making (or ten times less) avoid the envy or the gloating. Your competition isn't with your fellow writers; it is with yourself.
  8. Get a good accountant.
  9. Don't expect instant returns on your self-promotion investment. It's not like day trading, where you can spend $300 on a conference and expect to sell 100 books to make your money back. This is more like buying mutual funds that will grow years from now. If you want to reap, you have to sow.