Sunday, July 21, 2013

Guest Post by Richard Stooker

Joe sez: If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative.

You can read Ann Voss Peterson talking about pacing here:

You can read Nick Spill talking about his path to publication here:

You can read Constance Phillips and Jenna Rutland and Joe Konrath talking about their path to publication here:

You can read Ian Kezsbom talking about Fuzzbomb Publishing here:

You can read Gary Ponzo talk about first lines here:

You can read Chris Everheart talking about technophobia here:

You can read about Joe Flynn talking about his publishing history here:

Now here's Richard Stooker...

How high is the sky?

How big is the pie?

Most importantly, how can we writers get our share of the moolah?

Model success.

Fortunately for us, the good folks at FORBES MAGAZINE make that easier by listing the 15 writers who have made the most money in that particular year, plus estimates of their income.
You can see the latest lists at these links:

Hopefully, they will publish the list for 2012 this August, but who wants to wait? (Besides, at the rate writers are signing up to guest blog for Joe, if I wait that long, this post may not be published until 2015.)

Just for LOLs, before we get started, you might also want to look at the FORBES list for highest paid actors and actresses in 2011. Compare their incomes to those of the 2011 writers.

Notice something interesting? The highest paid actor of 2011, Tom Cruise, earned $75 million -- less than the highest paid writer, James Patterson. The highest paid actress, Kristen Steward, made a "mere" $34.5 million, just a shade over Janet Evanovich.

And you thought Hollywood stars made more money than writers.

(Now it's time to issue a disclaimer. FORBES is a magazine, not the IRS, so they have no access to anybody's tax returns. However, they can research, and therefore come up with respectable, ballpark estimates. I'm operating on the assumption their estimates are relatively, though not precisely, accurate. Besides, the tax returns of these authors no doubt reflect the influence of legal advice regarding corporations and trusts, so their gross income is a better measure of how their works compare in the marketplace than their net incomes, which reflects how many business expenses they hope they can get away with.)

Let's focus on the 2011 list of highest paid writers. I doubt anybody's surprised to see James Patterson at the top, or Stephen King in the number 2 spot.

One thing that should encourage all us fiction writers: 14 out of the 15 are primarily fiction writers. Bill O'Reilly is the only nonfiction writer who made this cut, and he has a tremendously large, major media platform.

So the marketplace of book buyers primarily prefers stories to facts. That too should encourage us.

Now, we're looking for career lessons here. I don't care that you don't like so-and-so's books. The point is, these 14 writers are highly successful. Most of them have been so for decades. What can we learn from them?

Something else to encourage us all: the variety of these authors. Thrillers of various kinds (including legal and horror), mysteries, young adult, fantasy, middle-school, and romance. Only adult science fiction gets the shaft. (Though some of these authors have dabbled in it, none are primarily known for it.)

Their average age: 57.7.

Age range: 39 to 70 years.

Average number of years in publishing (since first novel's publication -- I'm as well aware as anyone they wrote for years before first publication, but that can't be determined.) -- 26.
Range: 6 to 45.

Average number of books published by each (based on Wikipedia) -- 65.9.

Range: 6 to 290.

It's obvious some of these authors have made the list through having tremendously successful, breakthrough blockbuster bestsellers (standalones or series). Others because, although they often make the New York Times bestseller lists, they have published a lot of books, for many years.

The "blockbuster" authors:

Jeff Kinney
Suzanne Collins
J.K. Rowling
George R.R. Martin
Stephanie Meyer

The "prolific" authors:

James Patterson
Stephen King
Janet Evanovich
John Grisham
Nora Roberts
Danielle Steele
Dean Koontz
Ken Follett
Rick Riordan

I realize the line is not always clear. Certainly King and Grisham have had some tremendous bestsellers. But neither has had a blockbuster (as opposed to ordinary bestseller) in the last few years, and yet they remain on this list. George R.R. Martin has published a fair amount of novels over the decades, but it's his Ice and Fire fantasy series that makes him most of his money.

It's worth pointing out Dan Brown is not on the 2011 list, although he wrote the single bestselling blockbuster of all time. Of course he would have been on the list for the year The DaVinci Code came out, but he published only 3 previous books, and evidently his royalties are not high enough to put him in the top 15 list for 2011.

Therefore, it's safe to conclude, while writing tremendous blockbusters is nothing to sneeze at (and Dan Brown should never qualify for food stamps), longterm career success is more likely to come from having a large backlist of popular books than from publishing just a few blockbusters.

We already know the 2012 list is going to contain at least one new name: E.L. James. Who is she going to bump off? I don't know, but I'd bet Suzanne Collins (8 books including The Hunger Games trilogy) and Stephanie Meyer (6 books including the Twilight series) are at greater risk than Nora Roberts (290 titles), especially since their blockbuster series have already peaked.
I'd also guess E.L. James will not remain on the list for many years if she doesn't soon publish more popular novels.

So -- is there a common denominator?

To me, the answer's fairly obvious. All 14 of these authors are good at accomplishing the main task of fiction: arousing -- and satisfying -- powerful emotions. When they finish your story, you want the reader to feel choked up.

That should be Fiction 101, but not all writers learn the lesson as well as they have.

Granted, not all of them accomplish this in the same way or for the same audience, but all of them do it for a large slice of the market.

Sure, Patterson has a knack for gut-wrenching murders with a dramatic flair, nutso killers, and bizarre plot twists, but if that's all people wanted, Michael Slade would be the household name. His Mounties actually perform real police work. But Alex Cross has Nana Mama, cute kids, and a steady stream of girlfriends.

You may also argue about E.L. James. Yes, 50 Shades of Grey is full of sex, some of it BDSM, but it's basically a fairy tale romance. Clumsy young virgin attracts a hot billionaire by rebelling against his kinky desires. She takes some of the pain, but never signs his contract for submissives. Before long, he is sleeping with her and having vanilla sex -- and enjoying it because he loves her. It's a good girl taming the bad boy. Apparently, many women enjoy that.

That leads me to another observation: this list validates the proposition (not original with me) women constitute a majority of book buyers.

That they buy almost all romance novels (many by Steele and Roberts), is not news. Many women enjoy thrillers, too, and seem to influence which thriller writers make the most money.

From Carrie on, King has always written about girls and women as well as men and boys. Koontz is particularly careful to write about strong women. Follett enjoys creating young women who rebel against an unfair world. Martin made women and little girls strong players in a work of high fantasy.

Grisham isn't quite so female-oriented, but two of his early books, The Client and The Pelican Brief, had strong female protagonists. His other books often feature a David versus Goliath theme, always good for arousing sympathy.

James, Meyer, and Evanovich however have attracted a large female audience by writing about women who are anything but SuperWomen, but who succeed despite their klutziness. And Ana, Bella, and Stephanie all have strong attitudes.

The number of female book buyers may even account for the lack of adult science fiction writers on this list. (The Hunger Games is SF, of course, but is young adult, featuring a sixteen year old girl worthy of Robert Heinlein.)

All of us -- trad, indie, self, and mixed -- can learn from them.

And us self-published writers should be targeting them. Not in a mean way, but simply because the tide of history is running in our favor.

They're making megabucks from selling gazillions of books, and yet they get only a small percentage of the total book price. They share the gross with their publisher, timber and paper companies, printers, Manhattan landlords, bookstores, truckdrivers, and many others. Their agents get 15% of their incomes.

Their book prices -- certainly of new releases -- are much higher than ours, and they can't change that.

When the 2012 list is announced, be sure to check not only what authors are on the list, but compare the total annual income to that of 2011. Sales figures for one particular author will constantly fluctuate of course, but if their incomes are down across the board . . . that's further confirmation us self-published revolutionaries are winning with the book buying public.

To my knowledge, no self-published author has sold any one book in meganumbers, but now we're regularly hitting the bestseller lists, a self-published blockbuster is only a matter of time. Yes, getting 70% for a megamillion seller -- think of how much money in total the reading public spent buying The DaVinci Code (and how relatively little of it landed in Dan Brown's pocket, though he still wound up wonderfully rich) -- seems like a dream, and it will remain so for most of us.

My point is, the overall numbers are bigger than we realize, and will just keep getting bigger as the trad publishers and all their associated baggage are pushed out. Not to mention as ereaders become more popular and adopted over the planet.

Eventually, the FORBES reporters are going to face a problem. Their list won't be accurate without including self-publishers.

Will they consider the money we earn as “real” as the money garnered through traditional publishing?

I enjoy publishing contemporary dark fantasy thrillers under my own name, such as Virgin Blood.

And, as L.A. Zoe, I just published a time travel, interracial romance: The Time for Love: Now!

The first is also available in paper. Both are also available from B&N, Apple, and Kobo.

 Joe sez: In 2010 I wrote about the End of the Bestseller

My prediction is still ahead of its time, but I believe it's going to happen. In fact, it is happening.

In February 2010, we didn't have self-pubbed authors on the NYT and USA Today Bestseller lists. Now it is a regular occurrence. And for each spot an indie occupies, a legacy pubbed author is bumped down. We've watched ebooks sales continue to grow, bookstores go out of business, publishers go bankrupt and merge, major authors self-publish, and readers vote with their wallets what they want to read.

It has always been about visibility, and in the past paper distribution was the key to visibility. It's still a huge money maker, and paper books aren't going away anytime soon.

But bookstores are. 

I'd be surprised of Barnes and Noble survives until 2014. And once they go, the paper midlist will disappear. With no other option, all the authors who have refrained from self-publishing will do so. And all the readers who refrained from buying a Kindle will do so, because that will be the only way to get their fix.

The future is bright. But only if you keep writing. 

I've blogged before about how self-pubbing isn't zero sum. But as more and more ebooks get published, visibility is going to continue to be the key to success.

So write more. The more virtual shelf-space you have, the more new projects you can sell to your fans, the more you can get your name out there, the better off you'll be.

Remember: No one owes you a living. No one said this would be fun, fair, or easy. Ebooks aren't a bubble or a gold rush--they're a long term path to success.  

But only if you feed the beast.


Veronica - Eloheim said...

I enjoyed this post. Thanks for pulling it together for us! As a non-fiction writer, I would be really interested in a similar list for my section of the writing world. Do you know of one?

Joe Flynn said...

Took a moment to read Richard's interesting post. Now, it's time to get back to "feeding the beast."

Sharper13x said...

"Books aren't a bubble or a gold rush..." Absolutely right. . Yet somehow so often not understood. Nice post. Thanks!

Shantnu said...

Very interesting post, Richard. Well done on doing research to back up your claims, rather than just making bland statements (like legacy pub does).

Ducane007 said...

Thanks Joe. Inspiring as ever.

Alistair McIntyre said...

Thanks for the numbers and thoughts. Always good motivation to pop in here and read the latest guest blog before hitting the keyboard again.

L. J. Breedlove said...

I would have listed 50 Shades and Hunger Games as self published successes. No? Didn't they both start as selfpublished and then get picked up by traditional publishers?

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Informative and inspiring guest post. Thank you! And thanks to Joe, as usual.

Write. Publish. Repeat...

P.S. My captcha is "titrurf" -- is that something kinky I should know about?

Richard Stooker said...

Veronica - Eloheim said...

I enjoyed this post. Thanks for pulling it together for us! As a non-fiction writer, I would be really interested in a similar list for my section of the writing world. Do you know of one?

Hi, Veronica -- the FORBES list is for BOTH fiction and nonfiction writers. Of all nonfiction writers, only Bill O'Reilly made the top 15 cut. I ignored him because I'm a fiction writer. And, remember, he has a huge mainstream media platform.

Richard Stooker said...

L. J. Breedlove said...

I would have listed 50 Shades and Hunger Games as self published successes. No? Didn't they both start as selfpublished and then get picked up by traditional publishers?

Hi, L.J., Hunger Games -- trad pubbed all the way. Suzanne Collins also wrote an earlier YA fantasy series.

The original version of 50 Shades was published on a fan fiction site, since it was fan fiction for Twilight. But 50 Shades unconnected to Twilight was published in Australia and then spread by word of mouth, so picked up by current publisher.

This list is for 2011. Obviously E.L. James will be on 2012 list.

M.F. Soriano said...

Some interesting points in this post--especially regarding women being the larger part of the book-buying public, and of female characters being, consequently, well received. I wonder if Joe was considering those ideas when he created Jack Daniels.

Also, I'm generally very grateful for all the information and insight Joe has shared here, but I wanted to bring up a little quibble regarding his closing words on this post: "no one said this would be fair, fun, or easy." Personally, I think "fun" should be a prerequisite. If you're not having fun writing, then why bother? There are much easier ways to earn a living.

JA Konrath said...

@MF - I've said often that fun is essential for writing. If you hate it, why do it?

In this case I'm referring to publishing, and attaining success in this biz.

It isn't fair, fun, or easy to get bad reviews, or see your sales stall. The business side of publishing is tough, unforgiving, and doesn't make sense much of the time. Luck is essential, and luck doesn't play fair.

Andrea said...

This is one of my favorite guest posts so far. Thanks, Richard, for the information!

Chuckles Austen said...

Really fascinating blog, Richard. Sorry I missed it when it was first put up.

I think this applies to all forms of storytelling, and often explains why some creators whose work I don't particularly enjoy often become very successful. The heartstrings connect.

Thanks again for an interesting blog.