Saturday, July 24, 2010

What if publishing your book was like accepting and working for any other job?

If we were to think about our writing life, and publishing life, as a Job, we may consider things quite differently. You interview and you then sit by the phone and wait for it to ring, sweating, hoping. Phone rings—you didn’t get the job. That happens again, and again, until finally that phone rings and the answer is Yes! The job is yours! You put on your work clothes and—

My advance will be six figures—I’m in the money!

You accept the job and they offer you some “upfront” money to come work with them. That upfront money will take care of expenses and such until you show them how successful you will be and how much money you will make them, or how much output you provide to make yourself a worthwhile risk. They’ll hold back your salary until you work enough to make up that upfront money. If you work for a huge company and they have reason to believe you’ll make them lots of moola, your advance could be Big. But, if like most of us, you are a bit more of a risk, advances aren’t going to be big, and some “companies” do not pay advances at all.

I receive small advances on my books and they are manageable enough to pay back quickly. You have to “pay back” that advance—meaning, you have to sell enough books to cover the advance before you begin making royalties. Dream big, but know the realities.

I’m going to buy a car and a house and ten gallons of gelato from my trip to Italy.

Better check your salary again! Whether big business or small, the money earned has to go many different places. Imagine Bill’s Tools & Supplies. Bill the owner hires you to make tools, and when you make those tools, he sells them. From that money, he has to pay rent or mortgage on his building, utilities and other expenses; he has to pay taxes, insurance; he has to buy inventory; he has to pay all of his employees; he has to pay himself. If you provide Bill with a service, you are only a part of the entire operation of who has to be paid. The money has to be spread around to keep the business afloat.

So, your book is published (and I’m talking print here, not e-book). Everyone involved receives their cut. Industry standard royalties are anywhere from 6 to 15 percent—the low end for paperback and higher end for hardcover. So, let’s suppose you get 10% royalty on each book you sell, and your book sells for $15.00 (and SELLS for that, not is priced at that; there is a difference. After any discounts are taken, the final price is what your royalties are based on).

Ten percent of $15.00 = $1.50 per book. (If you have an agent, take 15% from that $1.50 and you get less than that).

Takes a whole lotta books to make a living off that, doesn’t it? Imagine working for $1.50 an hour—can you make a living on $1.50 an hour? Not likely. And it’s unlikely you are selling a book an hour every day for 8 hours a day, five days a week, but, even if you sell twice that seven days a week, that’s still not enough to go yacht shopping by any stretch.

(E-books do offer better royalties, simply because there is less overhead.)

Be realistic about your salary. Royalties can be really good one month and not so good another month. You have to factor in expenses, too. Again, dream big, but temper it with the realities of just how difficult it is to make a good living being an author.


My book will be reviewed by: Magazines, Oprah’s Book Club, New York Times Books, Publishers Weekly, et cetera.

You’ve been working hard. You’ve put in your time and then some. You walk by The Big Boss’s office every so often, showing him/her your determined face, your sincere attitude, the nights you’ve stayed late, the weekends you’ve worked. You’ve gone to meetings. You’ve put out good work. You’ve done everything you can think of to be noticed by The Big Boss. And, well, he/she just doesn’t notice you. He/She has so many other employees who are doing the same thing, and some of them are backed by supporters or agents who are able to slip into Big Boss’s office and put in a good word or, some other employee just happens to be in the elevator with The Big Boss when she/he’s in a good mood, or when he/she just happens to be looking for that particular person’s smile or nod or look or good morning. Or somehow, an employee has some buzz going on a project he did.

There’s a lot of competition for space out there. And many times, the Big 6 published authors garner the most attention. Next are authors who’ve already had best sellers, or are gaining attention for some other reason, et cetera. It’s a saturated business. It’s a tough business. The Big Boss is busy, and important, and frankly, doesn’t have time to get to know every little employee out there—no matter how sincere or hardworking, and even, no matter how lovely your work is.

My book will be in many bookstores across the land.

Your proposal is done. You’ve worked hard on the Slim Slam Piddly Lam account. It’s all done up in a nice folder, and you are proud of it. Now time to get it to the right hands. There’s two-hundred offices in the building; heck, if you could get even one-hundred or so Boss Peoples to look at your proposal, even that would be great; better to have all two-hundred, but, you’ll settle for half. You take your shiny proposal for the Slim Slam Piddly Lam account and make a hundred-fifty copies. You put them on your desk and wait. One person comes by—it’s Ms. Office Fifteen. She’s been a casual acquaintance and you bought her coffee. She takes a proposal, then because she likes you, she takes three more. You are so happy! Four proposals! The other hundred-forty-six sit. So you make the rounds of a few offices: “Will you take my Slim Slamp Piddly Lam account proposal?” And a couple take one, but it ends up under a big stack of other proposals.

Some shake their heads no. They have enough proposals, no more space. You realize you just don’t have time to go to all hundred-forty-six offices, so you place your Slim Slam Piddly Lam account proposals on your desk, again, and hope word will get around. Your supervisor who works with you on accounts is helping, too, taking half of those proposals and sending out word, newsletters, samples, et cetera. A few more proposals are placed, but, nowhere near what you thought.

The truth is: sometimes you and your publishers (agent/editors/publicists, whomever) have to practically beg a bookstore to stock your book—even if you are traditionally published by a viable press. Bookstores have limited space and they’re going to stock the “bigger names” –that means bigger in publishers and in authors.

Sadly but true, you can be a champion of brick and mortar bookstores, but when you approach them, they may or may not care. They may or may not stock your book. They may stock one just to be nice. Since you can’t conceivably contact every bookstore there is, there’s no way to get your book noticed by many bookstores—for them, it’s about their budget and sentimentality usually goes one way: The author may be sentimental about having their books in brick and mortar bookstores but the sentimentality is often not returned—it’s a hard cold world out there in this book business. Make friends with your local bookstore owners and you probably will have success there, at least.


Once I have one book published, I am assured to have more published.

You landed the Shots a Lot account! Oh Happy Day! Surely now the next couple of accounts will be Yours! You can kick back and relax now. Or . . . not.

With each book, you (or if you have an agent, the agent) still need to convince your publisher/publishing editor to take on your book. Even if the last book was successful. Now, granted, if you’ve had success with your first book or books, the chances are higher; however, you still need to present the book and have it approved.

This means: just as with the first time, you’ll write your novel without knowing whether you will have it published and without knowing whether all your work will be realized in print. You write regardless of the outcome. You write never knowing where it will take you, or if you will be published, if you will ever make a dime, or if you will only make a dime.


How many jobs would you take knowing these kinds of odds? How many jobs would you take making an unknown salary? How many jobs would you take where you could work your arse off for weeks, months, a year, or more, and Maybe MAYBE get paid, and maybe not? Would you take that job?

You have to love this business and have a crazy amount of faith and hope and daring.

 I want this job—do you?

17 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

Yep. I want this job. So badly. Even after that deep-down look you just gave us. I'm ready.

And it RAWKS that you have a picture of Dwight here. Love!

Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) said...

Hey, love the new blog template! Nice.

As for the post, yup, everything you wrote is true and yet I still will sit down in five minutes with my coffee and write. Guess that makes me certifiable.

Here's even more crazy for you: I have a friend who's received a starred review in PW, a favorable review in the NYT, her book is featured on EW, and yet not a single copy of her book in my city. Not one. I have even told my local bookstore they'd be smart to stock her. Not exactly reassuring.

Terri Tiffany said...

Well I've been working at this job for almost five years--does that mean I'm vested yet?? Great post! I love your look now too:))

Sharla said...

Yep! Hire me!! Just can't quit my day job. :)

Marguerite said...

Sure seems like a lot of red tape! Hope it's not this hard to break into the cookbook scene!?

Pat Meece Davis said...

Kathryn - Interesting topic and so true. I love the writing part of this job but hate to take time away from the creative part to work on promoting myself - that isn't fun for me and doesn't come easily. However, I'm learning that selling is as important as creating, if I hope to get published.

Teresa said...

Hi Kat, love the new template!

Great post, you really captured the whole process from beginning to end. Let me just say, I have no intention of quitting my day job anytime soon. ;-D

Oh, and I'm crazy too.

john bord said...

A great lament for the book writer. It was my dream years ago but I did not have the discipline you point out plus I liked to eat.

So I went on to other ventures to acquire food money and housing.

Today I write little articles and I am looking at doing a vanity press publication of some of the better stories. Just for the fun of it. I would like to get enough to be able to go to the buffet and get a county fried steak n piece of apple pie.

Writing is very lucrative but takes lots of starvation getting there and sometimes the soup kitchen is still a reality.

thx

Titus said...

Ooh, I like the look. Ooh, I love the post.
Join the crazy gang...

Analisa said...

Can I get a ghost worker to do it all for me....Ok maybe not.

Love that you put the pic of Dwight up. LOL

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

This is a great post! Thanks! You didn't mention the self-employed people out there. A lot of people look down on them for some reason, but it seems like that job is just as difficult, if not more so. Either way, it's a lot of work and takes a lot of passion and skill!

Angie Ledbetter said...

All true. What's the deal with the MOST important jobs on the planet paying beans (or nothing at all)? Parent, spouse, teacher, religious occupations, care giver, emergency workers...I've done the majority of these "jobs," and, yeah, they're more a vocation than a money-maker. Same as writing. It's an inner need that must be fulfilled. After all -- money ain't everything. Thankfully. :)

Glynis said...

I was a nurse so writing is no different for me. All work no pay ;)

Karen said...

uhhhh, yes?????

jessica bern said...

I was a stand up and then a commercial actress.

I get it. You gotta really want this stuff and well, I guess I did and I do

Debra said...

Guess I'll just keep my night job...

Kerry said...

You writers are c.r.a.z.y. but I am so glad you are out there doing it. Don't stop, don't stop.