Side note: why do authors feel guilty when we're successful? This poor lady is apologizing for not living up to glamorous expectations. The truth is, most of us live very mundane lives; the glamour only exists for the characters in our books.
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HONE$TY PO$T: An Average Traditionally Published Author's Pay
So, I'm going to talk about money.
Are you cringing yet? I am, a little. It's just one of those taboo subjects, you know? Sort of...tacky. But I'm an open book so I don't mind sharing some personal stuff for the sake of informing people. Mostly because I think there's a huge misconception out there - one that makes me feel bad almost on a daily basis. I get asked for free things a lot. I'd be willing to bet that I get as many requests for free books and swag as I get fan mail. It's just part of the industry, but when I have to say no and I get a sad-face response I feel even worse.
I'm not mean and greedy. I promise you. I'm just...broke.
Not broke as in "poor," but we're your average North American family working our butts off to keep our heads above water and be able to send our kids to college someday.
I'm going to give you the lowdown. Get ready. (And please know that I am NOT bashing my publisher. They are a business, so it's safe to say their goal is to make money along with spreading the love of reading.)
The day my first agent told me the publisher was going to make an offer I remember his exact words. My agent said, "Now, don't go thinking you're going to be able to buy a beach house." He then told me to try and stay grounded and focus on my family. So I braced myself. And he was right. There would be no beach house purchasing.
Shortly after my offer was made I came across a conversation on Goodreads that made me laugh. Some readers were discussing upcoming books and they mentioned one new author who was given over $100K for her book. The reason this was funny to me is because I knew that author and I knew her deal was about the same as mine. I got a $10,000 advance for my first book. Not horrible for a brand new author, but not $100K either. The average author does not get a huge advance like that.
The thing people don't realize about advances is that: 1)You don't get it all at once - you get the first half when you sign the contract and the second half when you turn in the final manuscript, 2) It's not "bonus" income - it's an advance on royalties you will make from your portion of the book sales, so when the book goes on sale you have to pay all of that advance BACK before you start getting paychecks, 3)You have to share that advance and all income made with your agent (not complaining, believe me, they earn their 15% and I'm happy to pay it!!), and 4)You have to put a percentage of that money away to go toward taxes.
Alrighty, so now you know how much I made for an advance. Glad we got that out of the way. Let's forge ahead into regular pay.
I got the offer for my book in October 2010. I received my advance in 2011. My book published in 2012. I did not get a paycheck during my publication year because all earnings went to paying back the advance. To summarize, over the course of my first two full years as an author I made a net of $6,000 (that's my advance total after paying agent and taxes). That is $3k a year to begin. Let that sink in....
I did not start getting paid until eighteen months after my book hit the shelves. From what I hear, this is completely normal for an average traditionally published author who hasn't hit any of the bestseller lists.
So, now that the long waiting period is over, how much do I make?
Well, when I sold books two and three, I got $15K advances on each of those. Yay for that!
My books are paperback originals - no hardbacks - and I make 6% of the paperback sales, 25% of the ebook sales. Publishers take a big chunk because they have a lot of employees to pay, and print costs are not cheap. Of my percentages earned I share 15% with my agent and put away approximately 15% for taxes. That means for every $10 paperback of mine that is sold I get $.60, and $.09 of that goes to my agent.
I make about $.50 from each book. Fifty cents. So it's not that I don't want to send books when people ask for them - believe me, I'd like to send a book to every person on earth who wants it! But I'd have to sell 60 books in order to send one internationally. Pretty crazy when you think of it like that, huh?
I read once that this is how it is for musicians, as well. They make very little from each sale. Now it's clear why musicians and authors get so upset when we come across sites where people have downloaded our books and music for everyone to enjoy without paying. Piracy sucks. I may be living my dream, but I still need to feed my children and pay my bills like everyone else. Being in the entertainment industry doesn't mean someone is filthy rich and it's okay to steal from them. (Whoops, I digress...tiny rant over.)
All-in-all, if you want to be a writer for a big six publishing house it's best not to go into it for the money. Go into it for the love of writing - the love of your story and the desire to share it. Those reasons make this job fulfilling on a level that no other job has ever been able to do for me. I love interacting with readers. I love making stuff up and crafting it into a world that will transport someone's mind away from the harshness of reality for a bit. That's what it has to be about. That has to be the pay to get you through when you're not actually getting paid.
I now have two books out and the third will publish in four months. With each year that passes and each book that publishes, things are more comfortable. In 2013 I made somewhere between a fast-food worker and a small town teacher - SWEET! I'm moving up in the world! :)
And I'm happy - so grateful. I truly am. Please, please don't think this post is about me complaining or being negative. I simply want to dispel the myth that all published authors are loaded with money. It's an unhealthy assumption that hurts and disappoints all involved.
Here are a few other author facts concerning funds that are not general knowledge:
1) Publishing houses do not send all of their authors on book tours. In fact, some don't send any, and some select only a choice few authors who are either huge sellers or who they're trying to promote into becoming huge sellers.
I have never been sent to any signing events. Anything I attend comes out of my own pocket (and just to give you an idea, full cost of attending an out of state event can cost around $1,000 for fees, hotel, food, travel, etc.) I'm lucky if I get to do one big event a year. As far as signings, I will generally only agree to signings that are in driving distance - day trips, woot! - or places where I'm already planning to travel. I have family in Atlanta and Dallas, so I've recently signed in those places when I've gone to visit my family.
2) Publishing houses do not provide swag for authors. Some might, but mine doesn't. All bookmarks and buttons, even launch parties, etc, are paid for out of pocket by the author.
3) Authors don't get a lifetime supply of free books. We get a certain amount of our books up front and after that we have to buy them (I get 25 of each book when it publishes). I can contact the distribution warehouse to order them at 50% off, which is awesome, but not free.
Unfortunately, we also don't get a bunch of free books by other authors. I naively thought this was going to be one of my author perks. I was very disappointed to find out I'd have to wait and buy the books on release day like the rest of the reading world, LOL! Poor me. ;) I'm a fangirl at heart.
4) Big publishing houses pay their authors twice a year. I now receive a paycheck every six months so we have to budget carefully.