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Category : The Business of Writing
I've had several questions lately about how authors get paid…
Deonne wrote and asked, "Can you explain what an advance is, and how it is paid?"
Happy to. When an author signs a book deal with a publisher, he or she is usually paid an advance against royalties. Think of that advance as getting a loan against your future earnings. If the publisher has, for example, agreed to pay you a $25,000 advance, it means you're in the red that amount. As each copy of your book sells, your account is credited the amount you've earned. At some point, you sell enough copies that your book has "earned out" its advance. (So if you were paid $25,000 and you're earning $1 in royalty on each book, you'll earn out your advance when your book has sold 25,000 copies. Clear?) From that point on, you're making new money on each book. Your publisher will settle with you either quarterly or semi-annually, sending you a check for the money owed due to book sales.
Most advances are paid either in halves (half upon signing, half upon delivery of the manuscript) or in thirds (one-third upon signing, one-third upon delivery, one-third upon publication). Lately, publishers have been pushing authors to accept being paid in thirds, since it spreads out the payments a bit.
Dreema asked, "If my book doesn't earn out the advance, do I have to pay back the unearned advance?"
This is a common question, and the answer is "not normally." An advance is a shared risk — the publisher is risking that the author is going to write a good book, deliver it on time, and it's going to catch on with readers. The author is risking that he or she is going to take months out of life in order to create the book, then hand it over to a publisher who will do a good job of selling
Some good and bad news in the business of publishing…
1. Bad News: The financials for publishing look awful. I'm not an alarmist, because I happen to think the people racing out of the stock market are simply skittish, and that's made stock prices of publicly-traded companies artificially low, but we're seeing real problems with publishers and retailers. Harper-Collins announced that their sales were off 4.5% from last year (and, um, last year at this time they were 10% down from the previous year). Simon & Schuster and Hachette are also down. In fact, a report on the top 17 publishers of hardcover adult books reports that sales in September were down 30% (sales of trade paperbacks and mass markets were down 8%). Many publishers are announcing that they're trimming their lists. Some are cutting jobs (Rodale announced they were axing 10% of their work force). The chairman of Barnes & Noble flatly said he is expecting "a terrible holiday." Ouch.
2. Good News: On the up side of the business, there are numerous areas of growth. Children's titles are on an upswing. YA fiction is selling well. Harlquin is actually growing in a shrinking economy. And publishers are still in the business of creating and selling books, so they still need to buy books from authors. Things might be moving more slowly right now, but eventually publishers will remember that they need new books, and acquisitions will pick up. I see publishers working smarter and leaner — which is not a bad thing.
3. Bad News: There is a passing of the torch in publishing these days. Three excellent writers have passed from our midst. First, the wonderful mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away — the man who created Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and brought us all great cultural details about Native Americans in his books. Second, non-fiction writer Studs Terkel died last week. His book Hard
Here's some cool news: This blog was just given the "Writers' Inclusion Award" from Stepping Stone Magazine…so we're now officially an award-winning blog. :o)
Pierce had a question related to my last post: "Do you have specific recommendations for companies that can help beginning writers with creating the necessary tools for a business — letterhead, business cards, website, etc?"
There are countless companies that can print you nice business cards, and it seems like you can't swing a stick these days without hitting a web designer. So instead of naming a bunch of companies, let me simply tell you who I work with, and you can use that as a starting point, Pierce.
My logo, letterhead, envelopes, and business cards were designed by Kevin Burr at Ocular Ink in Nashville (www.ocularink.com). Kevin does great graphic design work. My website (www.MacGregorLiterary.com), which routinely garners great comments from people in the industry, was created by Nick Francis at Project 83 in Nashville (www.project83.com). Nick is simply the best in the business. You can find people who will do this stuff cheaper, but you won't find anyone who does it any better.
Tiffany wrote and said, "When I go 'live' with my author site, I want to have a different feel for my nonfiction, my suspense fiction, and my speaking pages. Do you suggest different marketing tools for each facet of a writer's business, or do you suggest we have something that represents us in all capacities?"
That probably depends on the writer, Tiffany. I think you can have projects that share an audience on one site, but they need to be somehow related. If there are widely divergent aspects of your business, you may want to have different websites. For example, if the speaking you're doing is on time management, but the writing is on dog grooming, you'll be hard pressed to make those work effectively
How bad are things on the financial side of publishing? Publisher's Lunch today offered some startling facts:
-Barnes & Noble stock is down 19% from their high last month.
-JohnWiley is off 25% during that same span.
-Scholastic is down 26% since September 19th.
-Amazon has lost 31% over that same time.
-Hachette's parent company Lagardere is down 31.5%.
-News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, is down 36%.
-CBS, which owns Simon & Schuster, is down 40%.
-Borders is down 44% in the past 30 days.
-Books-a-Million is down 49% over that same time.
-And PW Daily reported that Atlas & Co. has been forced to delay its Spring 2008 list due to economic issues.
Want some happier news? J.K. Rowling earned $300,000,000 in this past fiscal year, according to Forbes magazine.
I am suddenly awash in questions, so let me jump in with a couple of recent requests…
1. Tina wants to know, "What steps would you say are important for an author to try and study the market? (I'm trying to match a project to a particular publisher, and I'm not sure how to go about doing that.)"
If you want to get to know the market, read frequently, and read outside your genre. If you're trying to target a particular publisher, by all means get their catalog or study their website, figure out which books they do well with, and read several of those titles. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local paper, etc) and take a close look at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. com to see what's working in the market. Make sure to pay close attention to who publishes the type of books you like to read, and who does a good job getting books onto the bestseller lists, since all publishers are not created equal. Stay on top of Publishers Weekly and the online Publishers Lunch (and, if you're interested in CBA, take a look at Christian Retailing Magazine) to find out the most recent news in the industry. Keep tabs on the economic climate in publishing and bookselling (right now it can be summed up: "stinko"). Many pubishers produce a style guide — ask for one and follow it carefully before submitting. And by all means talk to some people who know what they're doing, so that you don't get steered in the wrong direction.
You raise a good point: It's important to study a publisher before sending them a proposal. HarperOne may be a great place for your memoir, but it's a probably all wrong for your YA novel. Harvest House may love your gift book about dogs, but they're all wrong for that commentary on
A heapin’ hunk o’ questions came in while I was on vacation, so let me catch up with them.
Mike wrote to ask, "Could we talk about making money through publishing in ways other than writing books? Like manuscript critique, reading submissions for publishers, writing reviews, etc. Do you think there’s value in these sidelines?"
There’s certainly value in these endeavors, Mike, but in most of them there’s not much money. Let’s put these publishing activities into two categories: the EXPERIENCE group, and the INCOME group…
In the EXPERIENCE group, an author finds ways to get more involved with the industry, learn about the craft, and make connections. To that end, he or she can write book reviews, create a column in a local newspaper, review movies or restaurants, read submissions for an agent or editor, participate in a blog, send an e-zine, regularly post articles on a web site, and send in a short piece for a book of collected essays (like the Chicken Soup or God Allows U-Turns books). All of those are great ways to get some experience and exposure. None of them will pay much.
In the INCOME group, a writer can set up an editorial service, offer to critique manuscripts for a fee, do copy editing for publishers (who are always looking for good copy editors), create magazine articles, do some collaborative writing, help authors strengthen their proposals, do contract evaluations (if you know what you’re doing), or take a job with a publishing-related company. That could mean working part-time doing office work for an agent, or helping a marketing company with author tours, or even taking a job at Barnes & Noble. When I was a free-lance writer, I wrote study guides for people. I have a friend who works for a travel company and writes traveler-related stories. Another friend puts together a newsletter for one of America’s largest home builders, another is paid
I’ve had a number of questions recently from people in the beginning stages of their careers…
Deann wrote to ask, "As a beginner, is it a good idea to get published in an anthology? And what do you think about newer authors setting up book signings and doing readings from anthologies? Is that just good local PR?"
When you’re starting your career as a writer, it’s pretty much a good idea to get ANY bylines you can. So participating in anthologies is one good way to get introduced to the business. You should also consider looking to get published in magazines, e-zines, and web sites. If you’ve got a local newspaper, by all means try to get into that regularly. Think of it as learning to play the piano — it takes lots of practice time and performing in plenty of dumpy school recitals before you get to be the star onstage at the concert hall. What you’re looking for is a chance to perform somewhere. (Or, if you prefer sports analogies: Think of it as learning to play baseball — it takes lots of practice time, and playing in plenty of American Legion games before you get to sign a contract with a major league team.)
As for anthology participants doing readings… It’s not a bad idea, especially if you have some other pieces to read and talk about. But I sense from your question that you’re wondering if a writer might be over-selling herself. And my answer is "maybe." Still, it’s good PR for your career.
Ashley emailed me and said, "I’ve been working on my novel for months, and finally got the first few chapters to a place I feel comfortable. But when I sent them to my editor, she hacked it up and told me what to improve. So I worked on those things, until she approved of my new, revised work, and I send them
Danny wrote to say, "You’ve offered some basic ideas for those of us trying to make the move from part-time to full-time. What else do we need to know?"
I can think of several things that might be important…
First, invest in a separate business phone line. You can write it off as a business expense, and it’ll help you separate your private life from your professional life.
Second, invest in the technology you need. Let’s face it, if you plan to do any serious internet research, you need a fast computer and high-speed internet. (This may sound obvious to most of you, but I was speaking at a conference recently where nearly every writer in the class claimed to have dial-up. Yikes! I wondered if they were also listening to 8-track players and watching black-and-white TV.) The fact is, you’re paying for what you need and don’t have. So if you’re trying to get by with a cheap-o computer, you’re making a mistake. (And here I’ll offer an unsolicited commercial: I finally went to an Apple MacBook a year-and-a-half ago. In that time, it hasn’t crashed once. Just so you know.) The same goes for software, a printer, and whatever bells and whistles your particular type of writing requires. Organizational theory teaches us that things don’t get less complicated over time; they get more complicated. So educate yourself on the complications, then spend the money to bring your office up to date.
Third, invest in a great web site. People used to think of web sites more or less as freeway road signs — something you passed by on the way to your destination. Now we understand web sites are interactive places where we can get information, ask questions, and make comments. If you want to build a readership, think about spending some serious cash to create a dynamite site.
Fourth, invest in great business cards, stationery, and brochures.
I’m not really in the state of confusion. I’m in the state of Washington. But the two apparently border each other. A week in the mountains with no cel service, no internet, no emails — and no chance to update my blog. Sorry! I’m back at it.
Dianne wrote to ask, "If I really wanted to move from being a part-timer toward being a full-time writer, what advice would you have? What are the steps I need to take in order to make the transition?"
I can think of a long list of things you should consider…
1. Find a place. Make this your writing space and designate it as your office. (If you’re serious about this, make that your official home office and start looking into the tax deduction you can get from the IRS for establishing a home office.)
2. Establish a writing time. Having a block of time dedicated to your writing is probably the first step every professional writer takes on their way to a writing career. You want to have a protected chunk when you’re not checking emails, answering phone calls, or meeting people for coffee to bitch about how little writing time you have. For many authors, it’s simply "morning." When I began writing full time, I set aside 6 to 8 every morning to write (I had one job and three small kids, so I couldn’t do it later in the day). I would get up and write every morning before going to the office… which was amazing, since I’m really not a morning person. But it was the discipline of sitting and writing for two hours every morning that really helped me flip the switch in my head and get me going on a writing career.
3. Create a filing system. All it takes is one office box and a set of files. You can arrange it alphabetically by topic, and create