Saturday, July 30, 2011
It still feels like a dream. Hope it does for a long time.
It's been just over a week since I got the call, and, yeah, my head is still spinning. You dream of something for years. You come close more times than you want to count, and when it finally happens, it still comes as a total shock. Not that I believe for a second that the ride is anywhere close to over. The challenges are still ahead. This is one of those things where finally getting on the horse doesn't guarantee you anything but a chance to get out of the gate. Still lots of ways to fall off. But that discussion is for another day.
Today, I want to talk about the word "deserve." Since I posted about my book deal here, on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else I could call, text, or e-mail, I've received a ton of great responses. And trust me, each and every one of your comments has just made it that much better. The only thing better than getting great news is sharing that news with the friends who have encouraged you all along the way. I know for a fact that I would not have accomplished the things I have without such great friends.
One thing I've heard a lot from people is that they know how hard I've worked for this and that I deserve the success. I have worked hard. I won't deny that. My awesome wife, Jennifer, and I have done school assemblies too numerous to count, edited reams of paper, attended tons of conferences, classes, library events, and all that writelry jazz. And I have no doubt we'll be doing a lot more work to make Grimville Case Files a success. I am a firm believer if you want your dreams to come true, you have to be willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears. The things we appreciate the most are the ones that we work the hardest to accomplish.
But the deserving part makes me a little bit nervous. I know what you mean. And I appreciate the thought. At the Whitney Awards this past spring, I saw several friends receive awards and thought, "Yay! That person really deserves that award." Not that the people who didn't win the awards were not deserving as well. But I really thought the books that won were some of the best I had read that year. They deserved to win because they were really well developed, the prose was excellent, and the editing was great.
But what does saying someone "deserves" to get a national deal mean? Is it saying you worked hard? Because lots of other people who have worked as hard or harder than I have haven't gotten a national book deal. Is it saying their writing is deserving? I've read lots of books that "deserved" to published and didn't. Is it like a kind of reward? Does that mean that people who haven't achieved that success yet are undeserving?
Here's my two cents.
First, I think it does take work to reach the point where you can achieve your dreams. I'm always amazed when someone whips out a first manuscript and sells it right away. I can tell you for a fact that I am a much better writer than I was ten years ago. The stuff I wrote back then did not deserve to get published. Sometimes even when it did get published. But I was determined to get better, and with lots of practice, classes, practice, books, practice, advice, and more practice, both my writing and plotting have improved. If you are willing to put in the effort to perfect your craft, you are more deserving than if you don't put in the effort.
Second, as most of you know, rejection sucks. No matter how much self confidence you have, how strong you think you are, having someone tell you that the art you worked so hard to create isn't good enough hurts like crazy. I've listened to or read a gazillion people talk about handling rejection, and it still sucks. But the people who succeed are the ones who somehow find a way to keep going. One of my favorite poems is The Race, about the kid who keeps falling and getting up. But I've played for years with a sequel called The Day After The Race. Because most of the falling and getting back up doesn't take place in front of the cheering crowds. It's just you, your closest friends, and maybe some family members. So if you've put in the work, and cried over the pain of rejection, maybe you do deserve to succeed.
Third, and this is the toughest part to swallow is that just because you deserve to succeed, doesn't mean you will right away. I can think of dozens of people just on this blog who deserve to live their dreams every bit as much or more than I do. If deserving was all that mattered most of my friends would be celebrating their own book deals right now. After you've perfected your craft, survived rejection after rejection, and persevered, it all comes down to a certain amount of pure dumb luck. Today, I happened to have an agent who recognized something I didn't and an editor with the same vision I had. Tomorrow it could be you.
Some of the best writing advice I ever received was from my first agent, Jacky Sach at Bookends Literary Agency. She told me that once you reach a certain point of writing and plotting skill, you become publishable. Then it's just a matter of continuing to write and submit until the right work gets in the hands of the right person at the right time. I think this advice applies whether you are seeking an agent, an editor, or self-publishing. The best don't always succeed first. But if they don't give up they will.
Since most of us here are storytellers or readers, let me give you a story example. Last week, my family and I went camping. As I walked around the lake, I saw lots of people fishing. Some of them had great gear and obvious experience. Others looked like it might have been their first time out. There were lots of people who appeared to have the right bait, the right equipment, and the right experience. They just happened to cast their lines into a spot where the fish weren't biting. Other people using exactly the same thing cast into a different spot and caught fish.
Do people deserve to live their dreams? Yeah, I think they do. But just because you haven't reached yours yet, doesn't mean you don't deserve to any less than someone who has. It just means you need to keep on casting. Sometime next week, I'll try to share my backstory with you, but suffice it for now to say that the book I just sold wasn't the first one my agent pitched. I started Zombie Kid first and it got a less than glowing review at an editor retreat. I took that to mean I should set it aside and work on something else.
The story I got my agent with was a YA title about a teenage demon who lives in Hell. I still love that story, and I think someday with rewriting it will get published. It would have been so easy to write off Zombie Kid. It would have been easy to decide I wasn't publishable when Demon Spawn didn't sell. But in reality, none of that was true. All I needed to do was cast different bait into a different spot in the lake.
Every time you sit down at the computer, every time you send off another query (or shudder, get another rejection) remind yourself that if you've put in the time and developed thick skin and polished your craft you do deserve to succeed. And you will. It's just a matter of time.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
I’m not going to be coy here. I’ve been waiting to make this announcement for nearly ten years. And yes it is the announcement almost every author dreams of making. If you’re a really bad person, (or have not read enough Curious George books to learn your lesson) you could skip to the bottom of this post. But humor me, and read this first. I promise I will keep it short.
Almost exactly ten years ago, I had a dream. The dream was that one day I would publish nationally. I have worked hard. I’ve learned so much. I’ve had two agents. I’ve come close more times than I can count. I’ve thought I had it made and seriously considered never writing again—and that was just in the last year alone.
I know you want to hear the news, but first, here’s what I’ve learned.
1) Never, ever, ever give up on your dream. There is always more you can learn, and when things feel the darkest is almost always when you are the closest to your destination.
2) Maybe somewhere, somehow, someone has done it without the help of friends, but I’ve never heard of them. I know that I absolutely could not have achieved my dream without the help of great friends including my family, my critique group, fellow authors, readers, many, many of you here on this blog, and my best friend in the world, my wife. When you are really depressed, friends make all the difference.
3) Patience is huge. No one likes to wait. I think it’s probably the biggest complaint of all authors. But one thing my agent told me recently is that it seems like the people who wait the longest end up getting success the quickest when it does happen. That was the case with me.
4) I totally respect people who decide to self-publish. It’s a different road that hopefully leads to the same place as taking the traditional route. But let me tell you, anyone who claims agents and editors are mean and looking to keep authors down is full of it. I love my agent, Michael Bourret, and I love every editor I’ve ever worked with. They have made me a better writer and maybe even a better person.
5) Finally, never underestimate the power of putting the next words on paper. The announcement I am about to make to you was not the first book my agent pitched. I’ll give you the full story in the weeks to come. But this happened because I was working on something entirely different while the book I thought would sell didn’t.
So here goes. Almost two years ago, I programmed my cell phone to play, “Back in Black” when my agent called me. Three cell phones and two books later, my cell phone finally rang. Of course when I answered, the annoyingly charming Michael spent ten minutes taking about my recent camping trip. Then he said, “Oh, by the way, I have some good news.” And yes it was the news I’ve been waiting all these years to hear.
My middle grade horror series, The Grimville Case Files had sold. Here’s the listing from Publishers Weekly.
Andrew Harwell at HarperCollins Children's Books has bought a new middle grade series, The Grimville Case Files. It stars three monster-obsessed boys who must solve "fiendishly funny" mysteries; the first in the series is scheduled for publication in spring 2013. Michael Bourret at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management brokered a three-book deal for North American rights.
My editor is the totally cool Andrew Harwell who you can follow on twiiter at @andrewasalways. My agent is the rocking Michael Bourret of Dystel and Goderich. The first book in the series comes out Winter of 2013. It’s called Zombie Kid, and it may be the funniest and scariest book I’ve ever written.
I promise to have more info on Farworld book three soon, but for right now, I am celebrating my head off. Thanks for hanging with me all this time. I couldn’t have done it without you.
This paragraph is for all you bad bad people who skipped straight to the end of the post. Go back and read from the top. Those of you who got here win my undying respect and a virtual pat on the back. That is all!
Friday, July 15, 2011
(I’m going to be on vacation until next Thursday, so I am posting now before we leave. See you after a few days of tent and hot dog life.)
First, I won’t give away any spoilers, but let me just say that HP7P2 was fantastic! Everything I could have hoped for and more. Not only was it a great film adaptation, but it made me want to go back and read book 7 again, just to re-experience some things. I’m also curious if the movie actually didn’t a better job of clarifying a few points. This is one I will absolutely see in theaters again. And can I also say what a kick I get out of midnight showings? It reminds me of how we used to go out at midnight to buy the new HP book as a family and then spend the next four or five days reading together every spare minute. Good times!
Second, maybe it’s just me, but I laughed my head off at this article on the most awkward place editors and agents have received pitches. The hotel one would have completely freaked me out!
And now with appetizers and salad out of the way, let’s jump to the main course. (Can you tell it’s lunch time, and I have food on the brain?)
Today I thought I’d tackle a question that gets brought up at a lot of author panels. Who do you write for, yourself or your readers?
I’d love to be able to say that I lock myself in a dark office (but not too dark or I couldn’t see the keyboard) and write purely for myself. It sounds so cool. So noble. And I absolutely believe that lots of people do write for themselves. I’m just not one of them.
When I write, it’s all about the readers. If I write a funny scene, I’m thinking about how it will make them laugh. When I write action scenes, I’m intentionally trying to elicit an “Oh my gosh!” or two. When I reach the aha moment, it’s all about having the reader put down the book just before the big reveal and go, “Aha, I know who did it.”
As a kid, I used to tell stories. Have you ever seen the movie, “Stand by Me,” where a group of boys goes in search of a the body of a missing boy? Remember the scene where the main character tells the story about the pie eating contest while the boys are sitting around the campfire?
That was totally me. Except the stories I made up were usually action adventure—albeit often kind of silly adventures with titles like, “Captain Weenie and the Little Purple Man.”
The whole goal of my stories was to keep the audience amazed and glued to the story. When I got done, the best thing I could hear was, “Tell us another one!”
That’s still how I feel about writing. I could write without getting paid for it. I could write without getting published. I could write even if my sole readership was a half dozen friends. But I would have a really, really hard time writing if I was the only person who would ever read my story.
How about you? Who do you write for?
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Right around the time when personal computers were busy becoming a reality in schools and homes, (shortly after the dinosaurs went extinct for my younger readers) I joined the cross country team at a community college in Saratoga, CA. I say joined, but as I recall, it was more like misled. It’s been a few years, but I recall thinking I was signing up for a cross country course to complete some P.E. requirement.
As it turns out, West Valley College had an incredibly good CC team. They had won the community college state championship something like twenty years straight. I liked running, and had actually done a couple of years of CC in high school. But never anything like this. I knew I was in a little over my head when one of the first practices was ten miles of five/sevens. One mile run at a five minute pace; the next at a seven minute pace to “rest.” And that was an easy workout.
Needless to say, I was seriously trashed in every practice, and meets were even worse. I remember buying a big gulp, a 64 oz Sprite, and a bottle of Gatorade after school every day and swigging the three drinks down in a bizarre icy, sweet, salty mixture. I also recall waking up night after night with terrible cramps in my calves.
I’m not in this picture. I would have been way down around the corner!
It was seriously trial by fire.
But what I also remember was running a 10k that Halloween at under a six minute pace. Something I had never done before. What I discovered was that hanging around people who were really good at what they did, forced me to become better. I not only raised my goals as I tried to keep up with them, it also made me see that real people I knew personally were accomplishing things I thought were out of reach.
This same concept applies to a lot of other things in life—including writing. You hear a lot about networking. Sometimes it refers to getting to know someone who knows someone. Like, “You should really go meet Tiffany. Her editor is here at the conference and maybe you will get a chance to mention your WIP.” Or, “Mike is going to tell his agent about me.” This is also know in certain circles as schmoozing. Some people are better at it than others.
There is also social networking. You know, the woman who has 72,000 Facebook friends, 5,000 blog followers, and twitters, podcasts, and newsletters her way into the homes (if possibly not the hearts) of anyone and everyone who might buy her books.
Those both have their places, (No, I won’t elaborate on where those places might be) and they have been written about quite a bit. But the networking I want to focus on has much more to do with building a net of friends and far less to do with working.
Ten years ago I joined a critique group. At the time, no one had really heard of any of us. Yesterday, I had dinner with that group at a fun little Thai restaurant in American Fork. Over the course of the dinner we discussed an upcoming national release, well known agents, submissions, acceptances, foreign rights, movie options—all from this small group of writers.
I forget the numbers, but together we’ve published something like fifty or sixty books, won multiple awards, have at least three literary agents that I know of, have written movie scripts, nonfiction, novels for all ages . . . you get the point. It’s fun to tell people about my group, because they usually say something like, “Wow! How did you manage to line up such a group of successful authors?”
The truth of the matter is that we weren’t successful when we met. We were just a bunch of writers, trying to get better with each other’s help. I guess you could credit luck or serendipity or something for the fact that all of us have published books since those early days. But I don’t buy it. I think it has much more to do with the net we have created.
Imagine a big rope net for a minute. It can be useful in a couple of ways. For one thing, it can catch you when you fall. For another thing, it gives you handholds to climb. I like to view friendships that way. The great thing about finding and keeping good friends is that when you are struggling, they are there to support you. More than once I’ve been cheered and buoyed up by my friends when I’ve had a writing setback.
In addition, spending time with people who are accomplishing what you hope to seems to make it that much more attainable. You know the old saying, “Success breeds success.” I firmly believe that is true when it comes to writing friends. It’s easy to see a stranger get a big book deal and think, “Oh, he must have known someone.” Or, “She’s so much better than I ever could be.”
But when it’s the person you’ve edited, critiqued, encouraged, given stupid little joke holiday gifts to, and just rubbed shoulders with, it lights a fire inside you. You realize that the success you are yearning for is maybe not out of reach. That person may be a rung or two higher than you at the moment, but they are on the exact same net. You only need to reach up and pull to get there too.
A couple of years after I joined my critique group, I met another friend. He and I had each published a couple of books at the time. But of us with with very small Utah publishers. His was slightly smaller than mine, so he was impressed with what I’d done. The truth of the matter though was that we both had a dream of being full time writers. I say a dream, but it was more than that. It was a belief. Over the years, we’ve taken turns pulling each other up that net. Not so much by introducing each other to agents and editors—although there has been some of that. But more by encouraging and challenging each other.
Most of you probably know the person I’m talking about is James Dashner. Just before he left for a trip to Georgia, he sent me a text about a manuscript I currently have on submission. It was short and to the point. “It’s gonna happen!!!” To me that note sums up what writing friends are all about. They are the ones who keep telling you, It’s gonna happen, until you believe it yourself.
You can spend all your time chasing after the newest rising star. I’ve spent plenty of time reading blogs of successful writers, trying to vicariously experience book deals, tours, foreign rights, and all the other glamorous aspects of being a writer. But there’s something special about seeing friends like James, Rob Wells, Ally Condie, Lisa Mangum and others succeed from the ground up.
If you are committed to becoming a successful writer, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to find other writers with the same goals and become friends with them. Start building your net now and see how much it helps you climb and pads your falls!
Friday, July 8, 2011
I know you are all like, “What? Two blog posts in less than one week? Who is this imposter and what has he done with Jeff Savage?” Rest assured, it really is me. The thing is, after my last post, everyone commented on how much I depressed them. And while that may be good for certain pharmaceutical manufacturers, I hate it. The last thing I want to do is have a depressing blog.
So here I am again. Not to do some kind of rah-rah post where I tell you how great you are and how you can do anything. (Although you probably can do just about anything if you want it enough.) That would just be too weird after my last post. I think I might come across as some sort of emo cheerleader. “Rah, rah, rah. You can do it! But you won’t make any money. Boo hoo!”
Instead what I want to do is discuss the ups and downs of being a writer and how you find your happy place.
I could have sworn there was a Disney movie that talked about finding your “Happy Place.” But either I am a really bad searcher or this is no such movie. Br’er Rabbit has his laughing place. Winnie the Pooh has his thoughtful spot. Disneyland is apparently, “The Happiest Place on Earth.” At least until your fourth day of waiting in long lines, being hot, and paying too much for food. Then it sort of becomes a cranky place. Which is why at that point I bring my laptop, grab a table in New Orleans Square near an electrical outlet, and eat pastries while I write all afternoon. Then I find my inner happy place again. But no happy place movie I could find.
So I’ll do do without the “Disney Movie Analogy” (DMA for those of you in the know.) Instead, I’m going to reference an awesome presentation I saw by a wonderful author and genuinely one of the nicest people I know, Aprilynne Pike.
How can you help but liking someone who sits on random stairways in a neon blue tutu asking passersby, “Hey, buddy, need any writing advice?” And if you haven’t read her YA romance series Wings, you are definitely missing out.
Okay now that I have offended Aprilynne, and hopefully made it up to her. (Did I mention what a great writer she is? And totally hot?) Let me try and get back to my point. At an ANWA conference (this one, not this one, and definitely not this one) a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend tutu girl’s class.
She had about seven pieces of paper that she taped to the wall. I don’t have the exact notes but they ranged from something like, “I am the worst writer who ever existed, and I should never put pen to paper again,” to, “I am the greatest writer ever and I have nothing left to learn.”
Aprilynne talked about how over the course of her writing career, sometimes just days apart, she ranged from one emotion to the other.
I just signed with one of the most successful agents around. I am the greatest writer. Even she couldn’t sell my first book. I am the worst writer. I hit the New York Times bestseller list with my first published novel. I have nothing to learn. I just got hammered in my 13 page editorial letter. I should never put pen to paper.
Through the class she gave example after example of the ups and downs of being even a NYT bestselling author, and how both extremes are equally bad for you.
When you get too down on yourself, you lose the confidence necessary to create your best work. You start to doubt your instincts and instead of going with what you feel, you start to write for someone else. Or, even worse, give up writing altogether.
On the other end of the spectrum, having so much confidence that you stop learning can be just as crippling. I overheard a moderately successful author once say that he no longer needed writing advice because he was too good for that. I cringed when I heard his words and I still cringe now. You might have so much experience and talent that it’s harder to find information which is helpful to you. Or you might have learned a lot of the basic information that is taught in many writing conferences. But the best authors I know are always learning and improving. They are always open to advice, whether they choose to take it or not.
Aprilynne’s point was that the best place for an author is probably somewhere around, “I am a really good author, and I deserve to get published. But I still have more I can learn.” That’s the happy place you need to reach.
So how does that apply to my earlier post about making enough money to write fulltime?
Let’s say you never read my royalty post. On the one hand, you’d still have the starry-eyed optimism that publishing a book would set you up financially for the rest of your life. Optimism is a good thing. It’s what keeps us all writing and striving for success. On the other hand, when you published your first book and discovered the truth, it might devastate you. You might quit your job as soon as you got an agent, or even before. When you realized what a bad financial mistake you had made, it might be too late to change your plans.
Now you know.
It’s okay if your initial response was, “Wow, that totally sucks! I thought it was much easier to make lots of money writing.” There’s nothing wrong at all with being bummed out that the world of publishing is a tough business. But the key is to get over the depression and take a look at the world with new eyes and additional knowledge.
Okay, royalties don’t work exactly the way I thought they did. I now have more information to plan my next move. Maybe you decide to focus less on money and more on writing a great story. After all, that’s something you can control. Maybe you decide that rather than quitting your day job after one book, you might need to wait until three or four. Maybe you come up with a different marketing strategy, a different publishing strategy, or a different timing strategy.
The key is to avoid extremes. Don’t let the steepness of the mountain keep you from climbing it. Instead, use the information about the geography to attempt the ascent better prepared. The fact of the matter is this. Not everyone who writes a book will become a fulltime writer. But everyone who doesn’t write a book will absolutely not. You know the rules. You understand the game. Thicken your skin, focus your energy, and resolve that you are going to be the best writer you can be. Let everything else work out however it will, while you control the things you can.
Okay, so maybe that was a little bit of cheering. So sue me. At least I don’t look like this guy.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Along with, “Where do you get your ideas?”, “What are you working on these days?”, and “How do you get published?” the question I seem to get asked the most often when someone discovers I am a published author is, “Do you write fulltime?”
Those of you that have followed my blog for a while or who have studied up on the subject probably know how difficult it is to make a living writing novels. I have done it off and on. Sometime by choice, sometimes not. (Actually, it’s always by choice. Sometimes it’s mine, sometimes it’s my ex-boss’s.)
I’m not sure most people realize exactly how hard it is, though, and why. So today, boys and girls, break out your calculators, it’s math time!
Let’s start with the basics. Since not everyone knows how an author gets paid, we’ll do a couple of definitions.
Royalties—This is basically a fancy word for the money the publisher pays you. It is typically a percentage of sales. It can be based on retail (the price listed on the book) or net (what the publisher actually charges the bookstore.) Hardback rates are higher than trade paperback which are higher than mass market paperbacks. You can also get royalties from movie rights, foreign rights, etc. (See below)
Advance—This is what the publisher pays the author up front. The idea behind advances used to be that you would get about one year’s royalties (based on what the publisher thinks they can sell.) Some publishers have been lowering advances, and lots of smaller publishers don’t pay any advance at all. As an author, you don’t start getting royalties until you’ve “earned out” your advance. More on this later.
Foreign rights: When your publisher buys your books, they are actually buying rights to your work. This means they have the right to publish in certain formats and certain places. If you sell world rights, they have the right to sell and publish your book anywhere. If your sell US rights only, your agent can then sell additional foreign rights to publishers in different countries.
Movie rights: Same as above except instead of the rights to a certain country, this is the right to make a movie based on your book. Typically these are broken into options and actual rights. An option (often about 10% of the rights, but can be much more or less) gives the buyer the option to try and get the movie green lit. The option is usually for 12 or 18 months. If a company options your book and gets the funding to make the movie, then they exercise the option and pay you the rest of the money.
Agent Commission: This is the fee you pay your agent for selling various rights. usually it is 15% for US rights and 20% for foreign rights (split between the US agent and whoever they use for foreign rights.)
Taxes: I’ll bet you already know all about these. And if you are too young to have paid taxes yet, just wait!
Okay, with all the legal mumbo jumbo out of the way. let’s talk numbers. Let’s imagine you’ve just written a great vampire robot urban dystopian fantasy romance. You sent it out to only the very best agents, and, of course, all of them beg you for it. You sign with the top agent and twenty-four hours later, she sells a three book deal for six figures per book. (The aforementioned example may be a slight exaggeration, but we’re thinking big right?)
You call your father-in-law and tell him, “In your face, Pops! I DO deserve your daughter!” Then you tweet, blog, facebook, and e-mail everyone you know with the message, “That’s right homey. I’m the real deal now,” and immediately begin pricing boats and lakefront cabins.
But hold the phone. Before you get ahead of yourself, maybe you should do just a little bit of math, to figure exactly how much money you are really making here.
Let’s start with the basic deal. Three books with a $100,000 advance each. Now, not to bring you down or anything. But this size of advance for a new author who isn’t already a household name is ultra rare. Not that it can’t happen because it does. But most advances look a lot more like this. The average advance, when there is an advance at all, is closer to $5,000 than $100,000. But again, let’s go with the big advance, because that’s what most authors dream about.
So great, 300k. That’s a lot of money. Before you get to spend it, though, we need to deduct a few things. Right off the top, your agent gets 15%. No problemo. She deserves it. She got you this great deal. And hey, what’s $45,000 between friends?
So we’re now down to $255k. Still a lot of money. But don’t forget Uncle Sam (If you don’t live in the US, it might be Aunt Coroline or whatever, but taxes are still taxes.) Ballpark of what you will pay in taxes is 30% of the $255,000 or $76,500. Ouch! That’s a pretty big bite.
But, hey, you still have $178,500, right? Maybe you get a slightly smaller boat and the cabin will have to be a trailer for now. But still, you can tell your family of Doubting Thomases that you are a full time writer.
Except the thing is that you don’t exactly get all that money up front. Best case, your contract looks something like this:
1/3 of your money on signing.
1/3 of your money on acceptance.
1/3 of your money on publication.
Because you are signing a contract for all three books, you get 1/3rd of all books right away (in publisher speaking this is probably 3 months.) So your first check will be for about $60,000 after agent commission and taxes. That’s going to have to last you until your book one manuscript is edited and officially accepted. Then you get the 1/3rd of book one only. That’s another $20,000.
So, yeah. This year, you are probably good to go, with $80,000 in your pocket after taxes.
How does next year look?
Part of that depends on when your book comes out. There’s a pretty good chance your book will be released more than a year after you sign your contract. So let’s say you sign your contract in November and your release date is a year from the following spring. That means you won’t get any more book one money for 18 months or so. The good news is that between now and then you will turn in book two. The bad news is you already got 1/3rd of your book 2 money.
So year two revenue looks something like this:
1/3 of book two money, or $19,833 after taxes.
Wait, really? Is that all? How am I supposed to live on less than $20,000? have you seen my boat payment? What if my father-in-law finds out?
Hopefully there is some foreign rights money coming in. But those often tend to look like $1,233.00 foreign rights Poland. And they take a long time to get. UK and Germany can be pretty big.And there is the possibility of movie rights. But it’s entirely possible that your first two years of income after taxes will be well under $130,000. And to make things even nastier, many book contracts are now spread over over four payments that can take as long as five years to pay out, with things like 25% on hardback release and 25% on paperback.
And that’s on a BIG deal. Let’s say you only sign a one book deal. Now your first two years look like this:
Year 1: $39, 600
Year 2: $19, 800
And if your advance is $20,000 instead of $100,000 . . . well you get the picture. And then there’s insurance, marketing, travel . . .
Is there any shred of good news here? Well yes there is. Remember that advance thing? Once you earn enough royalties to earn that out, you start getting more money. Let’s say your advance on book one is $25,000. And let’s further say that you earn about $2 per hardback. If your books takes off and you sell 50,000 books, you actually earn $75,000 (before taxes and commissions <grin>)
If you continue to write books and if those books keep selling well, eventually you can get a nice little income stream flowing in. Add movie rights, foreign rights, audio books, e-books, and it gets even better.
The fact of the matter is that most writers have a day job. There are a few fortunate authors who can make a full time living writing novels, but it’s not easy and it almost never happens overnight. Those rare instances you hear about where the author gets a seven figure advance do happen, but they are so rare as to fall into the winning the lottery type of odds.
So what do you do? Well first, write because you love to write not because you need to make a quick buck, lost your job, or dream of a cabin on a lake. Second, set your goals and work toward them. It may be true that only a few authors can write fulltime, but the very fact that some do means you have a chance. If that’s what you want, go for it.
And if your father-in-law gives you any crap about how little your writing pays, ask him how much he makes from his hobbies. “How’s that whole golf pro thing working out for you Dad?”
Writing may not be the best paying gig in the world. But the very fact that someone is willing to pay you is pretty dang cool. Though not quite as cool as a huge advance (in case any editors are out there reading this.)