Friday, January 12, 2007

The Bottom Line

I'm am ravenous (I love that word) for knowledge of the publishing industry! I have 3 stats that I'm curious about and just would like some ball park figures? 1) How many books sold would constitute a successful first book? 2) What would constitute a nice yearly income of a successful author starting out? I know this is a tough question, but I need to have some idea as I plan my career. I cannot find anything on the internet! 3) What would constitute a nice advance for a first book?

Side note: I, too, love the word ravenous! I remember learning it in one of those SAT books and using it as often as possible.


Ah, great questions that every writer wants to have concrete answers to. If only I had them, and if only there were concrete answers. But alas, there aren't. Here's why.

1) What constitutes a good numbers of books sold? Well, that all depends on print runs and expectations. (FYI: Diana Peterfreund ran a recent poll on her blog to assess general print runs for new and established authors, and I'm anxiously awaiting her results.) If, for example, you have a 10,000 print run, and you sell all of them, well, then this is a fantastic sell through number and your publisher will be pleased. If, say, your name is Nora Roberts, and you only sell 10,000, your publisher is pissed. I think the thing to focus on instead, rather than number of books sold, is the sell-through and the percentage of books printed to books sold. That's what your publisher will focus on too.

2) What is a good income for a writer? Well, again, there's nothing concrete to say here. Why? Because what's more important is what's a good income for YOU. For example, I live in NYC, perhaps the most expensive place to live in the country. (Yeah, yeah, I hear you SF-ers - I know your rents are high there too.) So, what just covers my mortgage is going to be a FAT income for someone in Topeka, KS. Similarly, I probably wouldn't get by on that Topeka writer's income. Not to mention the whole other slew of factors: are you supporting only yourself? Are you the primary or secondary breadwinner? Do you drop dough faster than P. Diddy? And on and on. But I will say this: speaking from experience, it is certainly possible to earn 6-figures as a writer. But it probably won't happen the first year out (I think my first year freelancing, I earned something like 35k), and it probably won't happen if you don't spread your skills as far as possible. What I mean by that is that most 6-figure writers I know don't write exclusively for magazines - they might do corporate work or they might write books or whatever. That said, most writers don't make 6-figures. In fact, there was a recent survey as to what the average freelance writer makes, and I *believe*, though I'm not sure, since I'm citing this from memory, that the figure hovered somewhere around 40-50k.

3) Again, what would constitute a nice advance and what would constitute an advance that you'd dream of are two very different things. The average book advance is - breathe deeply - less than 10k. Yep, really. (Insert tears of sorrow here.) You're not going to get rich - most likely - writing books. At least not your first one. And probably not your second one. Write books because you really passionately want to, not because you're going to end up in an Aaron Spelling-like mansion. If you land a huge advance, it's the cherry on top. But don't count on it.

So...anyone want to add in specifics that I've overlooked? Maybe there's more concrete info out there than I think?


Lynne Reeves Griffin said...

I would add that while many first-time authors dream of the huge advance and large print run, most don't have the vast experience with book PR needed to achieve a respectable sell through rate. A small to moderate advance, coupled with a doable print run, equals another book deal. It's best to keep your eyes on the prize-- A writing career.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell said...

Just a note of agreement, Allison. When I worked for a corporation based in NYC, I was paid NYC salary rates even though I live here in KC (an hour away from Topeka, KS) and my salary was considered above average for this part of the country. I've often wondered how people on the east and west coasts make it as writers and then I realize that the pay must be affected by the cost of living in those areas.

Amie Stuart said...

Lynne makes a good point! As do you. I think one of the most important things I learned last year was that you really have to enjoy what you're writing, especially for those days it's too much like work.

You can also check out Karen Fox's Show Me The Money --it's current as to August 2006

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks, Amie - that's a wonderful reference. I do think it's solely for romance advances, but still, it's a good starting point.

Kristen said...

you've got it right. i hate when people think it's just so easy to write a book. or to be a writer. i'm a serious/commercial writer who does some articles on the side, but i am a big believer in having a real full-time career where you make decent $$. very few writers do...

Diana Peterfreund said...

If anyone would like to contribute to the survey, it's here:

For Hardcover:
For Trade Paperback:
For Mass Market Paperback:

I hear this question a lot, but there really is no "normal" answer. Just assume that these isn't much money involved as you plan your career. It's safer that way. I know people whose first book contract was fo 2k but followed it up with bunches of sales and are now earning a healthy amount, and I know people whose first book contract was for six figures.

Anonymous said...

Great insights, Allison, though a bit depressing. I live in NYC too and rents here are crazy, unless you're willing to live in a cupboard. I always dreamed of finding a really good paying p/t job that would give me enough to live on and plenty of spare time to write, but never succeeded in finding one. I managed to get along, anyhow, but it's been rough. I'm 42, at present, and feel about 102.