Sunday, February 27, 2011

Want to make a million dollars? Go write a book!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

In the six plus months since Skating Around The Law was officially published, I’ve discovered that a lot of people I know have written or are interested in writing books. Many of them have asked me for advice on publishing, which I am always happy to give. Hell, I think I stomped in every pothole possible on the path to publication and I like being able to help my friends steer clear of them. The task of telling them how difficult it can be to find an editor or an agent make me feel like I’m raining on their parade a bit, but I never want anyone to go into this business unprepared for the uphill climb that awaits. We all know publishing is a lottery. The better your writing the more entries you get into the drawing, but luck always plays a part.

No one ever seems surprise to hear that it isn’t easy. However, they are surprised by the money, of lack of, that an author makes on a book. Maybe it was just me, but I never assumed I was going to write a book, sell it and live off the proceeds for the rest of my life. Yet, more than one aspiring fiction author has told me they want to write fiction so that they can sell their book and quit their job.


For some reason everyone assumes that a working actor has to struggle to make ends meet, but that a published author is rolling in dough. Why is that? Everyone thinks they are going to write a book that goes to auction, nets a million dollar advance and sends them laughing all the way to the bank.

Why the difference?

To me the businesses are much the same. You work hard. You hone your craft. You audition, audition, audition – submit, submit, submit – and you celebrate when someone is willing to pay you for doing what you love. Yes, you eventually want to make enough money to live off of, but even the most talented actor ends up waiting on tables to make ends meet. Authors are no different. In fact, after being a part of both paradigms, I would say it is harder to make a living wage as an author.

And yet time after time I hear the opposite perception. People assume since I have several books under contract that I am ready to buy a mansion and take extravagant vacations to Fiji. Um…I wish?

With that in mind, let us all do some math. How many hours do you put into writing, editing, copy editing and promoting one project? How much do you make on that piece of writing? After doing a bit of math – how much do you really make an hour as a writer? Is it a million dollars? If so, tell me what the secret is because clearly I am doing it wrong.


Linda Pendleton said...

Not only do a lot of people not understand about the money, they don't have a clue as to how much work goes into writing a book. And the work doesn't stop when we write -the end-

That's only the beginning. :-)

John McFetridge said...

I'll admit I thoght would make more money at this. Still, I keep telling myself I enjoy writing books more than I would playing golf. So when I end up spending more on research than I make on a book I look at my brother and all those guys taking golf vacations and I think I made the right choice for hobbies.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Joelle, thanks for telling it like it is. And that's a great comparison about the struggling actor and struggling writer. Very similar, indeed! Great blog!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Forgot to add how many well-published authors I know who can't afford to quit their day jobs, this after nine or ten books.

Sarah M. Anderson said...

I don't have this problem as much, mostly because my grandmother has told anyone who will listen exactly how much my first contract was (and then can't understand why that would upset me--after all, she's just so proud of me!). This is a by-product of famous people (everyone from Snooki to Hillary Clinton) getting well-publicized advances in the eight digits.

Unknown said...

I came in (and continue) with my eyes wide opn. Fiction writers on average earn far less than minimum wage. But damn it's so much fun

YA Sleuth said...

I teach a fiction writing workshop to teens, and they're always blown away when I explain the biz end, and money. I usually say that if you want to make money, you're better off working at Wal-Mart...

Bonnie Staring said...

Great post, Joelle! A lot of people don't understand how many hours go into writing a novel, editing it, submitting it, revising it for the agent, revising it for the editor, checking the galleys and then organizing all the promotions for said book. Whew! Acting sure sounds easier!

Anonymous said...

Apparently this years Breakthrough Novel Contest at Amazon, where the winner gets a publishing deal with Penguin, had a record low number of submissions. People aren't clamoring over themselves for traditional deals anymore because they realize they're being ripped off. It's no wonder. Traditional publishers have lost site of their own industry. They can't figure out how to sell books, and they're losing more and more outlets in which to sell their books every day. They've already missed their window with ebooks, and now they no longer have the power to set a price point.

Traditional publishing's power was always in their distribution, but it's becoming obvious that that's dying. Now anyone can publish and make money. You don't need a big publisher to reach readers. No one wants to be stuck in a traditional book deal for pennies when they can publish their own work and make a lot more money.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Linda and Bonnie - You are both right! Most people don't realize that the work only begins when you hit the end.

John - writing is way more fun than golf - or maybe that is because I am so bad at golf!

Keith - The fun factor is the thing that is true about acting and writing both. The money isn't that great, so you'd better have fun at what you do otherwise it just isn't worth it.

I'm not sure who our anonymous poster is, but while I agree that the money you make from traditional publishing isn't fabulous, I would also argue that the non-traditionally published authors aren't making money hand over fist either. In fact, the authors I have talked to who are making the most money at self-e-pubbing are the ones that are traditionally published and leveraging that fan base. It is all a tricky business right now. The one thing that is true no matter which publishing route you take is that you better enjoy the process because unless lightning strikes the money is never going to be life changing.

Bruce Schindler said...

Great blog, Joelle! I'm about to go the self-pub route, and if I can sell enough to cover direct costs, I'll feel like I'm ahead of the pack.

I did the NaNoWriMo and Breakthrough contest from Penguin, but I'm not in a genre Penguin cares for much.

If my writing pleases me and manages to please somebody else, that's the main thing, I guess. If it ends up sending the odd buck my way, so much the better. Oh yeah, if in the meantime, I'm allowed to fantasize about selling a million copies of it, what's the harm?