This month my life took a detour through Stress City and I have been neglecting the internet. I really owe a good post to you kind folks, and rather than blogging about my cat’s excessive diarrhea, instead I think I’ll talk about something that is the source of many questions in my inbox: How authors get paid.
When you say you’re a writer at a party, people will either find this interesting, or back away from you like you just told them you lick dead squirrels, because a person who licks dead squirrels and a person who wants to write as a profession are generally the same degree of sane. However, once you are published and have gone through those doors, and some Very Important Someone in some Very New York City Office has deemed you passable, the tone changes. Now everyone wants to know how much money you make, if you need a second job, if you’re living off a trust fund, if you’re living in a van down by the river.
Mostly, people think you’re a millionaire, however uncommon that may be. So let’s talk this out. Keep in mind that there is NO guarantee the newly-sold author will make any particular amount of money. I know people who make four figures, and I know people who make seven, and I know a great many more who fall somewhere in between. There are a LOT of numbers between four figures and seven, after all.
Let’s say that your agent has just sold your manuscript to Joe Big Deal Publisher. Congrats! They are paying you an advance of $100,000! That’s good money. That’s more than the average American annual salary, according to the US Census Bureau. Awesome!
You and your agent have a partnership. For facilitating the sale, making sure your contract is fair and to your standard, and holding your hair back while you vomit, your agent will receive 15% of that advance. This leaves $85,000 for you. That’s still pretty sweet. Don’t buy a boat, but it’ll more than cover your rent and you’ll still be able to pay Sarah McLachlan off so she’ll make the sad animals on your TV go away.
Now, this next part is where the publishing experience varies: Payout. For the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll tell you how the standard payout goes for my publishers.
There are three tiers to your payout. After your agent has received her 15%, leaving you with a formidable $85,000, the payment is cut into thirds, and they are paid out as follows:
1.) Execution. You get $28,333 just for signing the contract. Whoohoo! Go drink some wine and call that snot Sally Hencher from middle school who called you pizza face in gym class. Tell her $28,333 can buy a lot of pizza.
2.) Delivery and Acceptance. Once your manuscript is sold, it needs to be edited. After you and your editor have completed this process (which may take a couple of months or so), the publisher deems the manuscript publishable and accepts it. Another $28,333 for you. You go, Glen Coco.
3.) Publication. Your book is published. $28,333. Just like that. Tada!
Now that your book is on the shelf, you probably want to know what you get per sale. You were paid an advance of $100,000. That means your publisher believes your book will make back that money and then some, and they don’t owe you or your agent a dime until they’ve earned back the money they’ve just invested in you.
I won’t get into the complexities of how bookstores purchase books from publishers or what happens when books get returned, because frankly it’s so confusing that I lose track of it myself. Let’s just say, for simplicity’s sake, that your book is available in hardcover for $15 and that your publisher receives 5% of each sale. The rest of that money goes to the retailer and whoever else got your book from point A to B. That’s $.75 in your publisher’s pocket. So that means your publisher has to sell 133,333 copies of your book before you start to receive a percentage of sales. These are known as royalties. So hang on to your advance and don’t spend it all in one place.
Now let’s talk about everyone’s favorite factor: How much The Federal Government gets off of your book! Aka taxes! Okay, calm down, stop jumping up and down like a kid going to Disney Land. I know this is exciting but we need to concentrate.
Let’s assume your book was executed, accepted and published in the same year (this is not likely, but again, for simplicity’s sake because math is stupid). According to the Federal Tax Brackets if you make $85,000 in one year, your federal taxes are going to be 28% of that. That’s a quarter of your advance, leaving you with $63,750. This is, of course, before state taxes. Those vary by region, so you’d have to look yours up by state. Here where I live in CT it’s 6%, so let’s go with that. Now you’ve got $56,100. Okay, still more than half. Really not bad for a year’s salary, especially if you also have a day job and/or a roommate/spouse/eccentric aunt contributing to the bills.
But writing a book is also considered owning a small business. Yep. That means whether you repair cars, shingle roofs, or write a book, it’s all the same category to the state. Again, this varies by region and contains so many variables that I won’t drive you nuts with the specifics. Here is a resource to get you started on that. It can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For the sake of this post, we’ll leave it out and call your total a solid $56,100. Referring to my average US salary link, this falls to the low-middle end of the American average salary. About as much as you could make doing a number of other jobs that typically require some kind of degree. Not terribly exciting for the inquisitive party guests, I’m afraid. So when people ask writers how much we make, now you know why a great lot of us shrug and say, “It’s a living.”
ETA: As someone pointed out, my math was off on the state tax. The state tax of 6% should be deducted from the $85k. I’ve amended the total to the correct amount. Math is hard.
Romance writers do what they love, and they get paid for it. They hone their craft, like any other writer. They value their work, and they speak with an honest voice, telling the stories that they want to tell. I can’t imagine anything more feminist.
#GrishaTrilogy inspired gel manicure for #SDCC and #FierceReads Block Party at the Grove! Thanks to Amy at @nailserviceusa for the beautiful work. #nailartclub #nailart #RuinandRising #ShadowAndBone
I can haz this manicure?
Tuition-Free NY would account for about 1% of New York State’s entire budget. An investment of 1% would provide free tuition for hundreds of thousands of students every year. It would offer them future opportunities, increase post-graduate purchasing power and keep them in the state for at least five years — per the legislation — to contribute to our local and state economy. It would provide revenue to New York in the process, all of which contributes toward paying down that already-modest 1% upfront investment.
Tuition-Free NY and programs like it will pay for itself by keeping bright, young minds in-state, maintaining a highly educated workforce and encouraging community service.
NOTE: It’s not too late to enter to win a first 250 word critique that will be featured on Writability! You have until tonight (7/21/14) at 11:59PM to enter. :)
So I recently (as in last week) finished writing my twelfth manuscript. It’s fun and quirky with lots of nerdy references, but by the time I’d reached the end, I kind of had this sinking feeling.
The problem, you see, was that I wasn’t really excited about it. At all.
I’d noticed pretty early on that the first draft excitement that usually lasts me a pretty decent way into the first draft writing process, dissipated unusually fast. I liked the characters, but the more I wrote, the less confident I was about the manuscript. And it had nothing to do with the writing—I don’t expect much, writing-wise, from first drafts—but I was very quickly losing the desire to continue.
I finished it anyway. And I like the manuscript. But considering all the revision necessary to bring a manuscript from first to finished draft, I need to more than like it–I need to love it. Or at least, I need to love something about it, whether it’s the idea, or the potential behind the idea, or the characters or…something.
As of right now, unfortunately, I don’t. So this is going to most likely be an insta-trunk for me.
However! That doesn’t mean I’ll never go back to it. And it doesn’t mean it won’t ever get revised. And it also doesn’t mean it was a waste of time.
Practice novels, to me, are important. I’ve learned from the past, that especially after I’ve taken a first-draft writing hiatus (and considering the last first draft I finished before this one was last year’s NaNo novel, I’d done just that), I sometimes need to pound out a manuscript just to remind myself that I can. Just to prove that I haven’t forgotten how to first draft or I haven’t lost the ability to write something new.
Sometimes I need space to play around with new ideas or genres or whatever the case may be. And sometimes I need to write something that I don’t like as much as I’d hoped before I can dive in to something I adore.
That’s the value of practice novels—not in the manuscript itself that you inevitably put away, but in what you learn from writing it. And sometimes it takes me a little while to figure out what, exactly, I got from writing it, but it does, inevitably, click into place eventually.
In the meantime, I’m happy to be done with it so I can move onto something else. Something, I hope, that I’ll be excited about from start to finish.
Have you ever written a practice novel? What was your experience like?
Currently on Paper Hearts, my writing advice book that I give away for free on WattPad, I’m going over some of the common specific problems people have and giving answers to what I do to surmount them. This is an on-going project, so if you have questions you’d like me to cover, be sure to let me know!
(Also on Wattpad: two free short stories set in the Across the Universe world—one of which has nearly 100k reads! eep!)