Welcome to 2018. I hope you’re all having a great one. I wanted to start of this post by addressing a somewhat common theme among certain writing communities. And that is that authors who write commercial fiction are “only in it for the money” and are therefore bad people since “writing for money” is bad.
With all due respect, I consider that frame of mind ridiculous. (And also, with all due respect, if you see my tax return you’ll note that I’m certainly don’t doing any of this for money.) I make no apologies that my end goal is to make a full time living writing fiction. I think it’s an honorable goal for anyone with a passion to try to build a career pursing it as well.
And if you don’t agree with me, that’s your prerogative, but don’t hate on the writers who believe it’s their calling to sell their fiction to an audience. They have every right to do just that and it in no way “cheapens” the craft or anything like that at all.
Okay, so with that rant out of the way, I wanted to take a quick look at money for authors–new authors in particular.
I’m on record saying (over and over) that I believe the best way to make a full time living writing fiction is to publish traditionally and follow these steps:
- Write a good book.
- Send out queries to agents
- Sign a contract with a agent
- Wait for a publisher to sign a deal
- Accept a tiny advance
- Hope you make your advance and start collecting royalty checks
While I did take a semi-traditional approach by signing with a small press to publish Holy Fudgesicles, I still plan to do the query thing for my next novel. But that is where part of the problem lies. Signing a deal with a Big (Five? or are we down to Four now?) publishing house isn’t something you do overnight. Not even on Venus where a day takes about 243 Earth days.
Getting an agent is like applying for a job. You query and query and query and maybe you get a request for pages, but usually get nothing except maybe an occasional form letter rejection, and that’s not even the standard due to the volume of queries literary agents receive. Anyhow, after you get an agent, they start doing the same thing with publishing houses, and after they eventually get an offer, you still have to wait 18-24 months to see print. And even then, you have no guarantee of any sales or money past your advance, and if you blow it on poor sales, you’re pretty much done with that publisher.
(Hey Jason, Why are you trying to do this again? Shut up and let me dream!)
Anyhow, if you’re hoping to make a quick buck off your writing, the traditional route is most likely not for you.
If the typical advance for a new author is somewhere between $2,000-$10,000 and the typical royalty is between 5-15%, and then your agent takes 15%, and the government takes 10-30%, plus as a self-employed author, you need to pay another huge chunk toward Social Security and Medicare, so you’re not left with a lot. If anything at all.
So, yuck. Now, putting money aside, there are a million other reasons to try to get down the path of traditional publishing, but that’s not the point of this post. We’re looking at profits here.
And with profits in mind, let’s look at how much it costs you to get published with a traditional publisher. (And by traditional, I’m including the smallest of the small presses all the way up to Penguin Random House and HarperCollins.)
To get published with a traditional publisher costs you NOTHING. ZERO. They pay you. If you give a publisher one red cent, they are not a publisher. They are a vanity press (or “hybrid” or whatever else they want to be called today.) Remember that, and do your research before signing a contract.
Bleh. Back to the original topic…
While publishing traditionally doesn’t cost you anything but time (and sweat, blood, tears, and possibly your soul), like I said up there, it takes forever, and if you’re looking for a quicker route to the pay window, maybe self-publishing is the road you should take.
Self-publishing could cost anywhere from zero dollars up front to a couple of thousand. It’s entirely up to you. You could draw a stick figure with your non-dominate hand, scan it, upload it to CreateSpace, and wait for those royalties check to start flowing in.
Likewise, you could pay for professional editing, cover art, proof-reading, marketing, and all of that other fun stuff, and end up with a really well-done professional product. Then publish to Amazon Kindle and see what happens.
And if you’re willing to take fate into your own hands and either do the hard part (everything besides actually writing your book) and you don’t want to split profits with you agent or wait two years to see print, then self-publishing can sound rather appealing.
And if you self-publish and ebook to Kindle, your royalty could be as much as 70%.
It’s really interesting. I’ve got some traditionally published writer friends who haven’t made a lot, and then I’ve got some self-published writer friends who have made a fortune.
I still think that if you’re good enough, the better long-term plan is to seek an agent and get a deal with a larger publishing house. But if you’re not really looking to replace your day job and just hoping to make a quick buck or two on the side with your writing, then maybe a good short-term plan is self-publishing.
It’s hard to say, and it’s entirely up to you. The world of publishing is certainly changing and the best thing we can all do it try to make the best choices for ourselves as writers that will help us reach whatever writing goals we have. And have fun doing it.
Thanks for reading, and if you’re published (traditional or self) leave a comment and let us know if you’re happy with the route to publication chose.