Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Most authors don’t make money

That could be the title of this article at GalleyCat, which really says: Most Authors Make Less Than $1000 dollars a Year.

As far as I’m concerned, less than $1000 is basically equivalent to zero. I would almost certainly quit writing if that was my writing income on a consistent annual basis. I mean, do you KNOW how many more books I could read if I quit writing?

According to the post, more than 80% of self-published authors make no money to speak of, which doesn’t surprise me a bit; but also more than half of all traditionally published authors do no better, which does surprise me. Hybrid authors — who do both self- and traditional-publication — do rather better as a group. Of course I plan to join that group this year, unless something dreadful goes wrong. I would like to have a minimum of one novel traditionally published and also one self-published every year for the next seven years or so (and then I may take a break!) (this plan is subject to revision!).

It is not actually fair to compare self-published authors to traditionally-published authors, because the former include their own entire slush pile, whereas the latter group have had the bottom of the slush pile removed. You have read the famous article “Slushkiller” by Teresa Nelson Heyden, right? That gives you an idea of the books that do not get published traditionally but do get self-published.

So it is all the more shocking that the traditionally published authors do not do better than this. I don’t know the methodology here; it would be interesting to divide out traditionally-published-by-big-six-publishers from all other traditionally published authors. Mind you, that would give you different kinds of hybrid authors and create a more complicated data set.

Something hidden by these figures, or at least not emphasized, is that your income as a writer will probably be extremely variable. Getting advances broken into chunks helps smooth that out, but also substantially reduces your income in the particular year you sign a contract.

I have never personally fallen into the less-than-$1000 group, but last year my writing income did not even cover my breeding expenses for my two attempted (disastrous) litters. Which expenses, granted, were pretty high. The investment in every litter is three to five thousand dollars, if you’re curious — which is why it hits you so hard if you get zero puppies to sell. So in some years, breeding expenses represent an absolutely insane proportion of my income.

This year is set to be much (much) better for me. Not to mention getting live puppies would help!

In fact, back to the GalleyCat graphs, I think I have personally hit four different income categories from the more detailed graph. Fairly widely separated categories. In only five years.

I know how hard it was to find data on writers’ income when I first got interested in that question, so if you’re interested, you should click through and look over these data.

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3 Comments Most authors don’t make money

  1. Rachel

    Yes. This is why serious hobby breeders choke when someone says, “I’m just looking for a pet, but I don’t want to pay over $150 …”

    With that kind of price limit, a person is looking only for backyard-bred puppies, and really ought to just go to the shelter and get a mixed breed. Preferably accompanied by someone like me, who can judge soundness and temperament, so they get a nice pet and not an ongoing project.

    The cost is much less if you have your own stud dog. But a dog is useless in breeding unless he is in the top 1% of the breed — and even if he is, he won’t be suitable for just any girl. Besides, who do you plan to breed his daughters to? I want a boy from this litter, but I don’t at all know that I’ll get one good enough. I have two breedings I would really like to do in the next few years, if Giedre has a beautiful son …

  2. Edward Smith

    HI, your comments about the average income of authors are something most authors share. I coach authors how to pitch the media and certainly most of my clients come to me with that concern.

    Have you ever wondered why some authors make a fortune while so many others with equally good books always seem to struggle financially?

    Right up front I can tell you two things about getting rich selling your book by doing your own publicity:

    1. Success does not depend on the quality of your book. Some of the best selling books are honestly just bad. And some of the best books I have seen hardly sold a copy. I am sure you have seen this yourself.

    2. The amount of money you spend on publicity has very little effect on the sales of the book. Most of the successful authors I coach do their own publicity and don’t even pay for press releases to be distributed. On the other hand most high priced public relations campaigns generate almost nothing in sales. How many times have you walked past a book signing in a bookstore and have seen no one there? Bookstores do not buy your books, bookstore customers buy your books.

    The key to being a rich author is to get on TV, radio and be featured in print, so the public knows about your book and wants to buy it. So let’s look at some of the things rich authors know about publicity and see if you can copy them. Here they are:

    · Rich authors take action. They don’t wait for someone else to pump up their book sales, they are pro active. They make a plan to get publicity and actually do it. More precisely, they copy a plan that someone else used to be successful. They do not try to reinvent the wheel. They do not put it off waiting till they are in the mood, etc.

    · And they do not rely on a PR agency to do it for them. Some PR agencies are notorious for dragging things out to keep the monthly retainers coming in. So the key is to find a publicity plan that works and take action NOW!

    · They do their own publicity. Instead of using a PR agency or worse yet, doing nothing, they get out there and do their own publicity. No one understands your book and your target readers better than you do. Trying to translate that to a PR person who then has to translate it to someone else is a recipe for disaster.

    · They think outside the box in terms of book sales. Focusing only on bookstores and Amazon as the place to sell books causes you to leave tons of money on the table. But if you get a company like say Amway or Mary Kay to give a copy to each of their sales people, you are going to sell thousands of books at one time. I even had a client sell thousands of coffee table books to a large furniture retailer to use as a give away. What if you could get the Shopping Network, or “As Seen On TV” to pick up the book? Can you find a way to have a company to buy your book to use with their employees or to give to their customers?

    · Rich authors don’t focus on getting positive book reviews; they go right to their readers by getting on TV, radio, etc. Chasing reviews take a lot of time and effort and has a minimal effect on generating sales. Plus the big reviewers tend to concentrate on well know authors from the big publishing houses. Self-published authors do not have a chance with them. Contrast this with a TV producer who does not care about reviews or your previous success, they just want a good guest. Fiction authors find a way to make a story about something around the book, not necessarily the story itself.

    · They set their ego aside and think in terms of what their readers are interested in. Rich authors rarely start their pitches by talking about the book itself, they have a story much bigger than the book. Rich authors set their own opinions aside and listen to what the readers say they want to hear about. This is what rich authors do best of all. They give the audience what they want instead of forcing their own agenda on them. This is where the media forces you to think properly. Producers and editors know what their audience wants and they only focus on things that deliver stories that draw an audience. You have to think like a media person and only focus on what the media audience is looking for.

    · And then there is the number one thing rich authors do that poor authors do not do. Rich authors know how to pitch the media in order to get on TV, radio and print publications talking about their books. But lets face it, most authors are great writers, but haven’t a clue about doing their own PR. Poor authors do some reading on the subject and get the idea that blasting out a press release will get them coverage. Of course no one reads press releases anymore, but they don’t know that. Rich authors send out targeted, focused email pitches that cost them nothing.

    OK, thanks, Edward Smith.

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