Thursday, June 7, 2007

Don't Quit Your Day Job by Lois Winston

I am a published author. In April 2006, TALK GERTIE TO ME, my first book was published by Dorchester Love Spell. My second book, LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION, arrived on bookstore shelves the end of May 2007.

I am a published author. To most of the non-publishing world, that means I'm RICH.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am a published author. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, and even strangers expect me to give them free autographed copies of my books because I am a published author, and they think I'm RICH.

If you're struggling to get published and expect that when the day arrives, you'll no longer have a financial care in the world, I'm about to clue you in to the truth of publishing: Most published authors can't afford to quit their day jobs.

When the general public hears about a book sale, they hear about James Patterson or JK Rowling. They think in terms of million dollar advances.
They think all authors receive advances of at least a hundred thousand dollars per book. The general public has no idea that the average advance for a first book is less than $5,000 -- much less than $5,000. As a matter of fact, many publishers are now routinely offering less than $2,000 for a first book.

Once upon a time an advance was supposed to support the author between the time the book sold and the royalties started coming in. Those times are long gone except for a select few stars of the publishing world, every Hollywood celebrity and pro athlete who thinks it would be fun to write a book, and a handful of A-list politicians.

And even when an author does start to see royalties, the average author doesn't see lots of zeros on that check. Consider the fact that the average royalty for a mass market paperback for a first time author is 6% (and with some publishers it's as low as 4%.) Now consider the fact that the
author's print run will probably be less than 20,000 books, and if she's lucky, she'll have a 75% sell-thru (the number of books actually sold from the print run.) If the cover price of her book is $6.00, she'll make a grand total of $5,400 on a book that may have taken her years to write.

And that's only if she's getting 6% royalties. Like I said, some publishers are only paying 4%. That's a whopping 24 cents per book or $3,600 if she's lucky enough to sell 15,000 copies. And if she's got an agent, she has to deduct 15% of that for the agency commission. So now she's down to $3,060.

It's kind of hard to live on $3,060 in 2007.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the publisher will probably hold back at least 40% of the author's royalties for up to two years. That's called 'reserve against return.' If your book doesn't sell, the bookstore strips the cover, trashes the book, and returns the cover to the publisher for

Then to add insult to injury, most publishers expect a first time author to finance her own publicity. Publishers only pay for postcards, bookmarks, mailings, book tours, etc. for the authors receiving the mega-advances.
They need to make back that advance money in book sales, so they throw more money at the author in the way of PR. The rest of us have to pay our own way. Now consider this: The cost of a first class stamp is 41 cents, a postcard 26 cents. If you want to mail out brochures or postcards to announce your new release, you'll lose money with each mailing.

The odds of doing well are stacked against us. We're lucky if anyone even stumbles upon our books in the bookstore. Most of us won't be shelved on the New Releases racks or at the front of the store on the New Releases tables. And we certainly won't be on end caps, displayed in the
window, or featured in special cardboard dumps throughout the store or up at the register. Publishers pay booksellers for those types of placement, and they're not paying it for the average author. If we're lucky, our books will be face out instead of spine out on the shelves, but even that costs extra, and your publisher may or may not pay for it.

The rule of thumb used to be that an author should spend 10% of her advance on PR. When your advance is less than $2,000, you probably won't even be able to get a decent number of bookmarks printed for 10% of that advance.

Most authors I know are routinely sinking their entire advance into PR. They have to. When you consider how many books are published each year, you have to do everything in your power to get your name out there in the hope that people will buy your book. Because if you don't, you won't have decent sell-thru numbers, and if you don't have decent sell-thru numbers,
chances are you won't sell another book.

I am a published author. Do you want fries with that?
Award-winning author Lois Winston writes humorous, cross-genre, contemporary novels. She often draws upon her extensive experience as a crafts designer for much of her source material. Her first book, TALK GERTIE TO ME, a combination chick lit/hen lit/romantic comedy with a touch of the paranormal, was an April 2006 release from Dorchester Publishing and has to date won a Readers and Bookbuyers Best award and racked up nominations for a Reviewers Choice Award, a Golden Leaf Award, and a Beacon Award. LOVE, LIES & A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION, a mom-lit romantic suspense, is a June 2007 release from Dorchester. Lois also contributed to DREAMS & DESIRES, a charity anthology of 19 romances by 19 authors which was released in February from Freya's Bower. All proceeds from this anthology go to a shelter for battered women. In addition, Lois is a contributor to HOUSE UNAUTHORIZED, a November 2007 release from BenBella Books.

Lois Winston
Author, Talk Gertie to Me


Sandy Lender said...

I'm almost in tears, and not from laughing.

I'm a published author, too. My advance: the words, "Welcome aboard. I'm looking forward to working with you."

But, you know what, I'm in the industry now. My foot is in the book-publishing door. Wow, it's expensive in here. It's going to cost a lot of money to travel to Context 20 to speak this fall, but, um, I must go support Choices Meant for Gods. And it cost a lot of money to print up those four-color flyers announcing a book signing at Barnes & Noble this Saturday for an unknown author, but, um, I must support Choices Meant for Gods. And it cost a lot of money to get on, but, um, I must support Choices Meant for Gods. (I'm illustrating your point.)

I agree with you 100%.
I wouldn't give it up for the world, though. Nigel and Chariss deserve every penny I sink into this business. The house is going into foreclosure and I'll be forced into bankruptcy after the auction (no, I'm not joking), but it's worth every obnoxious creditor's phone call.

Sandy L.
"Some days, I just want the dragon to eat a creditor."

bettye griffin said...

I hear you, Lois! Although I admit I'm more likely to buy new furniture or take a vacation with my royalties than I am to put into promo . . . .

Bettye Griffin

Anonymous said...

Oh so true, Lois! I was asked my best/worst advice for writers and I gave the same answer, "Don't give up your day job." Best because of the practicality factor but worst because it takes some of the joy away and everybody needs to make that decision for themselves. It also depends on what kind of writing you're pursuing.

Anyway, thanks for posting - I loved it! Sad but true. And that's why we need to be in it for more tha the "fame and fortune." :)