Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Reality Check for Authors--and Nosy Nellies

I don’t know of a writer who doesn’t dream of hitting it big. You know. Like J.K. or Janet or Nora. We write, of course, because we must. It’s wired into our psyche. An addiction. We can’t NOT write. But we all harbor hopes of starting that next big trend, being the talk of the publishing industry, getting that movie option, hitting those lists. Making tons of money and being able to make a living from our writing.

When you first start out in this business, you dare to dream. And dream big. As a pre-pub you indulge in all those motivational, get-psyched representations of imagined future success. You design a book cover with your name on it and tape it over someone else’s book. You superimpose your head on a RITA winner’s body. You replace J.K.’s name with yours at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. All in the name of chasing down and lassoing that dream.
But as most authors quickly learn that actually ‘livin’ the dream’ is much harder than pursuing it. A heckuva lot harder.

Even for New York Times Bestselling authors.

Exhibit A? A recent blog post by Lynn Viehl, located at If you haven’t already read this post, I encourage you to read it. It is quite illuminating.

And, sadly, depressing as hell.

This author had made a promise to her writer friends if she ever made the top ten of the New York Times list, she’d share information and statistics about this accomplishment so other writers could glean truth from fiction when it comes to discovering what goes into making a list and the benefits derived from same.

If you thought a book entitled TWILIGHT FALL would be chilling, waituntil you read this blog post.

All writers want to know what it takes to make ‘The Lists’ and what it means in terms of the cold, hard bottom line. The author does a great service to fellow writers in debunking some popular myths relating to what it takes to hit a list.

Myth 1: You must have a 100K plus initial print run.

Reality: We’ve all heard in order to make the lists you have to have an initial print run of 100 –150K. Not true. TWILIGHT FALL had an initial print run of 88.5K with an initial ship of 69K.

Myth 2: You must pimp your books at multiple writing conferences.

Reality: This author hasn’t attended a writing conference since 2003.

Myth 3: There are certain bookstores that report sales data to the ‘Lists’ and you must arrange to have a large number of your books sold there.

Reality: This author does not do book signings, does not order uber amounts of her own books from those ‘top secret’ stores. She never was approached by anyone offering to ‘get her on the Times list’ or pointed in the direction of persons who might be of assistance to her in making the list—if such people do exist, that is.

Myth 4: You must have substantial publisher support in terms of promotion and marketing.

Reality: As a ‘high, mid-list’ author the author suspects she didn’t rate a marketing campaign, however she did receive some publisher provided blog ads for the previous book in the series.

Myth 5: You must spend considerable time and money on self-promotion.

Reality: The author here admits she does little in the way of promotion. For TWILIGHT FALL she gave away some ARCs and mailed some author copies to selected reviewers and readers and that was about it.

Myth 6: Once you hit the ‘Lists’ you are raking in the dough.

Reality: The numbers for TWILIGHT FALL are roughly as follows:

  • Advance: $50,000 (with one-third withheld until the book hit bookstore shelves) minus agent’s 15 percent ($7,500), taxes ($15,000), and expenses with a net advance of $26,000.
  • Initial Royalties: $40,484 with $13,512 withheld as a reserve against return of books by booksellers
  • Actual earnings for first royalty period: $0. (Net earnings of $27K deducted from advance of $50K equals -$23,000 or amount left to ‘earn out’ advance)
And let’s not forget the first royalty statement isn’t received until the book has been out for twelve months—or longer—so an author waits an entire year to receive any royalties earned over and above the initial advance.
So much for rollin’ in the dough, huh?
There you have it. The cold, hard facts and figures of the publishing industry. Which is why when someone asks me how much I’ve made off my seven books generally implying it’s a healthy amount (you’d be surprised at how often this happens) I just smile and respond with, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
Works for me.
What was the most important info I gleaned from Viehl's remarkably forthright post?
Viehl's truth-sharing reinforced what I've known all along. The best mechanism you can employ to become a successful writer is to write the best damned, cutting edge, page turner story you can write--and do it before the next equally determined guy or gal.
Are you surprised at this author's experience? How does this information--or does this information alter or change the way you view your writing aspirations or your favorite authors? What other myths about hitting the 'Lists' have you heard or heard debunked?
I’m off to rake bags and bags of leaves, but I’ll check back often to hear your thoughts on Myths VS Reality in publishing.
~Bullet Hole~


terrio said...

Someone sent me a link to this last week and though I read it, I didn't realize it was S. Meyers talking. I must have really been out of it.

I don't know how any writer could read this and NOT be depressed. Not that I had any illusions regarding making millions off of a writing career, but then I never think of it as my future sole means of income. For writers who do, I think it might be dangerous to let them read this.

Revealing the truth in glaring light always seems to take the sheen off something. Another reason ignorance is sometimes good for the psyche.

Bookmobiler said...

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”Can you really afford to lose any readers?

It is amazing the things people will ask an author.


RachaelfromNJ said...

That's not Stephenie Meyer. That's author Lynn Viehl. It says it on the bottom of her post and Meyer doesn't have another series besides the Twilight one that's also how I knew. I kept wondering what Twilight Fall was since Meyer's is just Twilight. So this isn't Meyer. It's a different author.

RachaelfromNJ said...

And since internet typing is so impersonal, I hope my post didnt come across as snotty or anything. I was just letting you know it's not Meyer. I dont mean it rudely or anything. We all make mistakes.

Kathy Bacus said...

I just went back and reread the blog again and realized you are right, Terrio. I made the same mistake regarding attribution and apologize. The blog post is by another author. I've changed the blog accordingly. Still, the reality of Lynn's experience is sobering.

~Bullet Hole~

Kathy Bacus said...

It's true, you never know what questions you get from people, Bookmobiler. Insensitive ones, too. You wouldn't believe how many people--strangers no less--upon hearing I have triples would come right out and ask me if I used fertility drugs...!


~Bullet Hole~

Kathy Bacus said...

Thanks, Rachael! Thanks, as well, to Tori, who gave me a 'heads up' so I could change the blog. I gotta read these things--and research more carefully in the future.

Thanks again, ladies!

~Bullet Hole~

RachaelfromNJ said...

Hey Kathy!
Not your fault. It is hard to see who the poster is since it's so small under the article. It's still very fascinating and interesting to read about. Thanks for posting this.

Kathy Bacus said...

No problems, Rachael. I appreciate you being on your toes. And rest assured you're not stepping on mine when you correct a mistake I've made.

Thanks again!


terrio said...

So I'm not that out of it? Whew! Good to know. And that was very difficult to tell who was talking, I remember that when I read it.

I love that people have forgotten that triplets used to come about the old fashioned way. LOL!

Keri Ford said...

Had I read this a few years ago when I still believed authors just raked in the dough when they sold their first book, then yeah, I would have been disappointed. I know better now :O)

I thought it was amazing of her to make that post.

Gemma Halliday said...

I thought this post was great! I loved seeing the real numbers. And, while the $$ side isn’t spectacular, I found it heartening that sometimes all it really takes to hit a list is a well written book and a few loyal readers. (Just wanted to add that I know Ms. Viehl has published quite a few books prior to this one, so I’m assuming building that reader base have helped quite a bit. Plus, she’s very prolific – pubbing around 6 books a year I've heard – so, if you multiply what she got for this book times 6… she’s not doing terribly.))

And, Kathy, I’m with you – I’m always amazed how people have no problem asking how much I make as a writer. Um, do I ask what your salary is? No. Just because I write books instead of push pencils doesn’t mean it’s any less rude. Lol!


Jenyfer Matthews said...

Yes, pots of money would be wonderful, but personally, I'd be pleased with the numbers Lynn reported!!! :) But I'd make sure to go to a conference or two, just write off the expense on my taxes, HA HA!