Sunday, October 18, 2015

The cold hard facts

by Kristi Belcamino

Lately, I've come across many articles talking about the harsh realities of the writing life when it comes to making a living. While this is not uplifting, knowledge is power and knowing some of these realities helps us to figure out exactly what we should expect in our writing journey.

Here is one where the author asks should she just give up on writing?

The part of the response I love is really probing why we write, but also reminding us not to compare ourselves to any other writers.

".. when I write 'Stop comparing yourself to everyone else and do the work you love!' I'm not saying "Keep powering up that hill, Sisyphus!" I'm saying shut out all the noise of Facebook and Twitter and Oprah and the best-seller lists and figure out what you really believe in and like to do every day.

“Writing can't be a popularity contest, and popularity doesn't add up to much anyway, beyond the ability to pay the bills. There are lots of really popular self-help and advice writers out there whose work is — Well, I would rather carve driftwood sculptures than adopt someone else's winning strategy for connecting with readers. Advice without rage, advice without longing and despair in the mix, advice through a Vaseline-smeared lens, advice that sounds like ad copy or a douche commercial: NO. I have to do what I do, even if the world decides it's worthless. I have to follow my own compass and give it my best and hope to connect. I have to carve messy emotions into a useful shape that feels inspired but not reductive."

This one is a wake up call for debut authors who are trying to figure out what sales numbers mean in the publishing world.

"I want to talk about the reality of being a debut author, because nobody actually talked to me about those numbers. What defined success? What should I expect? Was I a failure if I sold fewer than 80,000 copies? Fewer than 20,000? I know selling 100 is bad, but outside that….?

The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).

Yes. It’s not missing a zero.

Take a breath and read that again.

But wait, there’s more!

The average traditionally published book which sells  3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.

But I’m going indie! you say. My odds are better!

No, grasshopper. Your odds are worse.

The average digital only author-published book sells 250 copies in its lifetime.

It’s not missing a zero.

If you sell fewer than 1500 copies at a traditional publisher, you’re generally considered a commercial disaster by any publisher but a very, very tiny one who paid you an advance less than $1000.

So: hope you sell more than that.

But this also greatly depends on how much your advance was. If your publisher paid you $100,000 and you sold 5,000 copies, well – they didn’t make money, did they?"

And one more on book sales that quotes an agent from my literary agency, Jane Dystel:

"A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies," says literary agent Jane Dystel. "Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher's attention for the author for a second book."

But if that second book doesn't sell, says Dystel, odds are you won't get another chance. And that brings us to the Authors Guild survey. Just over 1,400 full- and part-time writers took part in the survey, the Guild's first since 2009. There has been a 30 percent decline in author income since then and more than half of the respondents earned less than $11,670 (the 2014 federal poverty level) from their writing related income."

All these articles lead me to the question  - is it worth writing even if you aren't making a living from it? I say yes. I have to write. It is part of who I am. And you?

1 comment:

Dana King said...

First, I'm sorry I missed you at Bouchercon. I hope you had a good time and introduced yourself to lots of cool people. Of course, with your rising profile, you're reaching the stage where people will start to want to introduce themselves to you, so that should help.

I stopped reading the kinds of articles you refer to here quite a while ago, having decided the only person who can define success for a writer is that writer, for him- or herself. I like to write. it doesn't consume me, so if it were no longer fun I'd quit and find something else to do. That said, my idea of success is to write a book I feel reflects the best of my abilities, and to see it receive some acclaim and respect from people I respect. Would I like to have a publisher pay me to publish them? Absolutely, but that's outside my control. As are sales. All I can control is the quality of the book, so that's what I worry about. I no longer worry about making a living from writing.

You have a healthy attitude. I occasionally come across writers who lament their inability to make a decent living from writing alone. I tell them to quit. They come back with some variation of , "I can't not write. It strikes to the very core and fiber of my existence as a human being." To which I say, "Then shut up. No one is stopping you from writing. And no one owes you a living for doing it, either." You get that part, which I figure is well over half way toi being well-adjusted enough as a writer to be successful on one's own terms.