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Old 02-03-2010, 05:17 PM   #1
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This is how much a writer makes with a traditional publishing house

The-eBook-Reader posted this message on another topic, but I thought the information is so relevant that it deserves its own thread here. It's the first time I read a writer talking so openly about this topic and her words can be hepful, especially for those of you thinking of publishing. If you have self-published your work or chose a smaller publishing house, how does your experience compare with that of Lynn Viehl?

I know you are probably not writing for the money and that there are other factors when choosing how to publish your work, but it's good to know your options.

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Here's two posts about how much Lynn Viehl, an author with a book on the New York Times mass market bestseller list, has made off her bestseller, Twilight Fall.

http://www.genreality.net/the-realit...mes-bestseller

http://www.genreality.net/more-on-th...mes-bestseller

Long story short, her net profit after a year was about $25,000, with 89,142 total sales. And the publisher’s portion of sales on the book was around $453,840. She estimates about $250k net.

And it's not like this was her first novel or anything. It's the sixth in the series, and debuted on the Times mass market list at #19.
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Old 02-03-2010, 06:26 PM   #2
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A great post. I have a few comments though

1) She comments that she has not earned out her advance yet and once she does, she will get passive income from this book in future years. So, if you start at Year 0 with a best-seller your annual income will be low, but then in future years, your income will be advances from the new (which she said was about 50K) plus royalties on former books. She mentions this is book 8 in the series. If she earns just $1000 a year in royalties on each of these (assuming a spike in the backlist when a new volume comes out then that is almost 10k a year of passive income. Her 'salary per book' will not be known, theoretically, until she dies, so if you look at 'income per year' instead, it will be more than the 25k she mentions since it will include royalties on her past books. So the picture she paints of her annual income here is not totally accurate.

2) She sold in the vicinity of 80,000 books and make about 25k. That's about $3 a book. Let's say she cuts out the publisher altogether and sells on Smashwords for $5 a book. She gets 85% of that, so that's $4.25. To make the same 25k, she'd have to sell only about 6000 books. If she sells just half of the 80,000, that's $170,000 which is way more money even if it is fewer copies. So an author who is smart at self-promotion and gets a good rep can do a lot better as an indie, it seems.
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Old 02-04-2010, 07:56 PM   #3
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er... i must have missed something here. she was paid 25,000 and you say she made about $3 a book. 80,000x3 is 240,000, not 25,000. 25,000 for 80,000 books equals 31.25 cents per book.

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2) She sold in the vicinity of 80,000 books and make about 25k. That's about $3 a book. Let's say she cuts out the publisher altogether and sells on Smashwords for $5 a book. She gets 85% of that, so that's $4.25. To make the same 25k, she'd have to sell only about 6000 books. If she sells just half of the 80,000, that's $170,000 which is way more money even if it is fewer copies. So an author who is smart at self-promotion and gets a good rep can do a lot better as an indie, it seems.
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Old 02-04-2010, 08:50 PM   #4
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er... i must have missed something here. she was paid 25,000 and you say she made about $3 a book. 80,000x3 is 240,000, not 25,000. 25,000 for 80,000 books equals 31.25 cents per book.
You're right, Basschick. Makes me think of E. E. Smith PHD. He invented space opera, and worked at many jobs before and during his PHD candidacy.

He wrote in his spare time. He later said (in an article in the mid-1950's) that he made more money, and worked less hard, laying bricks that he made writing science fiction. He got top dollar in the pulps during his career, and had his books released in the indie press (and were top sellers in those presses) of the times. (They would later go into paperback, and stay in continual print for 3 decades...)

The more things change, the more they stay the same....
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Old 02-05-2010, 07:05 AM   #5
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25,000 for 80,000 books equals 31.25 cents per book.
Aaarghh!!! That's obscene. And that's why sites like ours, www.zuluexpress.com have come to be. Publishers are no longer a neccessary part of the equation.

eBooks are proving themselves to be the saviour of the art not the death that the big pub houses have been predicting. Reading is up among young people because they can read books on their iPhone and iPod (or a pretty pink Cool-er reader) which makes it a cool thing to do.

Who cares if they're thinking is superficial, if it gets them reading then that's what matters.

I'm sure everyone is aware of eBook Week (www.ebookweek.com), a great initiative to raise global awareness of eBooks. We are thinking of having a cash giveaway where anyone who uploads an original eBook of their own work between now and the end of eBook Week goes in the draw to win.

I hope that doesn't sound tacky, but we believe we have a really good formula and the most user friendly eBook library out there but we need authors.

So, for those of you that are still here how much would it take do you think, to ignite a bit of a flash fire and get us some indie authors for our site?

Come on, don't be shy (try not to be too silly though), what do you say? $100, $500 maybe?? $1000???
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Old 02-05-2010, 07:23 AM   #6
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Oops. Sorry for the math mistake. My point is, this author could make a lot more money selling independently, EVEN IF that means she only sells half as many books. So I guess she has to choose between the fame and glory of the release from Big Publishing or between the desire for money
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Old 02-05-2010, 01:06 PM   #7
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Oops. Sorry for the math mistake. My point is, this author could make a lot more money selling independently, EVEN IF that means she only sells half as many books. So I guess she has to choose between the fame and glory of the release from Big Publishing or between the desire for money
Even 1/10 as many....
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Old 02-05-2010, 01:27 PM   #8
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Aaarghh!!! That's obscene. And that's why sites like ours, www.zuluexpress.com have come to be. Publishers are no longer a neccessary part of the equation.
Possibly not but I would submit that in most cases the professional, experienced editors and all the others who do the behind scenes work to polish what the author has written are, if not required, then certainly very helpful and add value to the final product.
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Old 02-05-2010, 10:51 PM   #9
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If people actually read the posts instead of only looking at the summary life would be easier.

She got a 50 k advance, paid her agent, taxes and expenses, resulting in a 26k guaranteed income.
First quarter released royalties were 27.7 k, second one 2.4 k (note the sharp drop-off). technically she has more income, but she'll only get that when the bookstores actually sell her books instead of returning them.

Actual sell-through was closer to 60000 copies then to the 90000 mentioned below, the 90k were sales to resellers ie they still had the right to return. And this was still good enough to be a NYT (mm) bestseller!!

At the same time she did not have to pay for editing, printing, distribution, negotiation with resellers etc etc etc. She proudly mentions she never did put any effort to make her own work better known.

We have someone with a 26 k guaranteed income for this book. Even if total sales would have been really low. Could someone now please explain how she could have done any better by self-publishing?

ETA: sorry total sales were for 11 months, not two quarters.

Last edited by Seli; 02-05-2010 at 10:55 PM.
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Old 02-05-2010, 11:11 PM   #10
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Cost one - agent goes away. Author keep agent fee.

item two - a dirty little secret they don't tell you about as a writer. Three strikes and you're out. If you don't hit (or come close) to your advance, you may find that no publisher will buy your next book. At which point your career goes pffft. If you're self publishing, the only one who can make your career go kaput is you. (And you may, or scale it down to a hobby. Despite what you hear, some very famous works were done as "hobby".)

So...If you tend to earn out your advance, as described (at 32 cent a copy, which is actually about 50 cents before the authors expenses), it'll take around 100,000 copies. If you sold 10,000 copies, self published at $3.50 a copy (out of 5 dollars) you make about the same money, as you forgo the agent expense, but include the other overhead expenses. If you sold the same 100,000 copies (unlikely) you'd net around $350,000.

These are the same calculations indie musicians have to make, determining if they should sign with a major label. They often find they make less money after major label hits that before they signed....

This is not the stuff big media wants to talk about...
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Old 02-06-2010, 07:25 AM   #11
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Cost one - agent goes away. Author keep agent fee.

item two - a dirty little secret they don't tell you about as a writer. Three strikes and you're out. If you don't hit (or come close) to your advance, you may find that no publisher will buy your next book. At which point your career goes pffft. If you're self publishing, the only one who can make your career go kaput is you. (And you may, or scale it down to a hobby. Despite what you hear, some very famous works were done as "hobby".)
LOTR was a hobby sure. In this case this was her 7th published work or thereabouts), and her net take was usually 30-40% whatever that means. Tobias Buckell gathered data on first advances and IIRC those were around 7k.


Quote:
So...If you tend to earn out your advance, as described (at 32 cent a copy, which is actually about 50 cents before the authors expenses), it'll take around 100,000 copies. If you sold 10,000 copies, self published at $3.50 a copy (out of 5 dollars) you make about the same money, as you forgo the agent expense, but include the other overhead expenses. If you sold the same 100,000 copies (unlikely) you'd net around $350,000.

These are the same calculations indie musicians have to make, determining if they should sign with a major label. They often find they make less money after major label hits that before they signed....

This is not the stuff big media wants to talk about...
Lots of assumptions and really big targets, especially for an unknown writer. She'll still need an editor/proofreader to look at her work, make sure people can find her work, be able to sell the copies for the amount you suggest ($1 to $2 seems more prevalent to be honest).
Writing is still more difficult to sample than music.
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Old 02-06-2010, 07:26 AM   #12
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***If you sold 10,000 copies, self published***

How many self-published titles have you come across that have approached anywhere near this figure in sales? Neil
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Old 02-06-2010, 10:30 AM   #13
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Honestly, if it meant selling anywhere close to 100,000 books, getting on the NY Times bestseller list and taking home 25k in a year, I'd take that publisher's deal quite happily.

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Old 02-06-2010, 10:31 AM   #14
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Marketing is the unfortunate beast that cripples the indie author. Marketing takes a lot of time and effort. The indie author, who most likely has to support him/herself with another occupation (or two), doesn't have the time or expertise to really hammer at the marketing parts.
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Old 02-06-2010, 10:53 AM   #15
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What Kemp said.

The marketing machine sells more product than quality. Look at Dan Brown. Multi million unit seller. Writer of absolute dreck. Do you think it's the high quality of his work or the sensationalism and press that moves copies?

Same thing with Twilight.

Remember Oprah's thing with James Frey? HE WROTE A FAKE MEMOIR!!! OMGZ NONONONO...Hrm? He wrote fiction? Made it sound like his own life!? Let me buy!

The Kite Runner, would that have been as big of a success were it not for review copies that the NYT praised, ARCS that all the other big name publishers send out? All of which culminated into Oprah saying READ THIS BOOK! And people did..

Indie authors unfortunately are limited to blogs, which work great for genre fiction. But if you want to break out and be the next Hemmingway or something else literary, you're kind of stuck on your own. Traditional media tends to turn up its nose at "self published works" or "independent publishers." They're buzzwords that equate to crap in the big ivory towers.

If you have the backing of a marketing machine, you can self publish and probably do quite well. Look at Jeremy Robinson. He was a self publishing marketing genius.

And he designed his own cover and layout. Made his own trailers and viral games. Created an eye catching website and whored himself out everywhere he could. I don't know about editing, I'm sure he had some help with that.

Scalzi built his following on blogs and articles that he wrote for different websites and newspapers. Sanderson wrote ten novels that no one wanted to touch before Elantris broke him out.

With that said, how many actual SALES have self pub's generated? I think I read somewhere that the "best selling" author on smashwords sold somewhere in excess of 250 copies. Then on the same token, there are people who put stuff up on smash for free and have thousands of downloads. Does that equate to actual sales? I don't know.

Tobias Buckell is one of the few "big name" midlist writers who lost money from his free release of Crystal Rain. I was reading on his blog that the series was put on indefinate hiatus because he didn't earn out his advance. So the Cory Doctorow formula of test the waters and tease the crowd doesn't always work.

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