Tag Archives: traditional publishing

Writing for a living

Over the weekend I attended a house warming barbeque and I got talking to cousin I haven’t spoken to in a while. They were telling me about an in-law who has recently moved back to Ireland and has yet to get a job and start supporting themselves. One of their alternatives to employment my cousin told me, was to instead write a book. I was not supportive. In fact I was even less supportive of the idea than my cousin is.

Hard information on how the average writer does in financial terms from their work is hard to come by. Based on the occasional article I’ve read and other anecdotal information, I believe this is where I fall on the old bell curve.

Bell curve

I published my first work in July of 2011 and since then I have sold a combined total of twenty seven and a half thousand copies. Of this twelve and a half thousand are the Nameless War, a little under eight thousand the Landfall Campaign, five and a half the Last Charge, with the balance covered by the Job Offer novella and the two tech manuals. What has this amount to financially? Well in three years after expenses and taxes I’ve made about the equivalent of one year of the take home pay from my day job. As a supplement, that’s really good. As an actual primary income, not so good.

In fact the situation is worse than that. The Last Charge was about my most efficient book; it took two years and about a thousand man hours to get it from the first word to the finished product. I have no idea how many man hours the Nameless War took but to say many, many thousands is probably no word of a lie. Of course all the expenses from living costs, editing, cover art, etc are all front loaded. You will have to pay these out months or years before you can hope to see a penny come back.

Okay but that’s self publishing, what about traditional publishing? I have never gone down the traditionally published road so what follows is deeply anecdotal.

Assuming you’re first time writer, based on what I’ve read, advances on a first book are likely at best single digit thousands, with little likelihood that there will be anything beyond that*. This is to be expected, there aren’t many lines of work out there where you immediately walk into the top job, you have to prove yourself and writing is no different. Also once again even with traditional publishing, that first book is going to have to be written before you approach a publisher, so you’re front loading the living costs while you write.

Does this mean I’m saying you shouldn’t even try? No, definitely not. What I am saying is that even you’re a really good writer with a compelling story to tell, writing is difficult way to earn money and if you get to the point where you earn minimum wage through writing, you are doing very well. Certainly for several years something else is going to have to meet the bills. It is worth remembering that even the boys and girls who’ve made it big in publishing were often several books in before they started to see major money.

So in conclusion writing as a means of earning a living. Possible? Yes. Easy? No. Fast? Definitely no.

 

 

* If any readers can offer better information I would certainly welcome hearing from you.

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Amateur or Professional?

As previously mentioned last weekend I was at Shamrokon – the Eurocon for 2014, which saw my debut as a convention panelist and something else I might be mentioning at a later time. But what I’d like to talk about the question of when does the amateur become professional?

To date in a little under three years the combined sales of my three titles are over fifteen thousand copies. It is always hard to get any serious data on what constitutes average sales. There was a report in the media a year or more back that suggested that the average self-publisher makes less than $500 from their books, which assuming it was true then or now, would put me well on the far side of that particular bell curve.

I’ve always referred to myself as an amateur writer but over the course of the con I got into conversation with a number of other creators, who felt that the word isn’t one that I should really be applying to myself. The argument was put that once being paid, a writer should call themselves a professional.

Before going any further let me to introduce the accountancy concept of materiality. It tends to be a big deal especially in auditing work, but basically it means at what point does a sum of money or figure matter or become material? For example ten thousand euros/dollars/pounds would likely be a material amount for an individual or small business but not so much for the Microsoft corporation.

Why do I mention this? Well my definition of professional writer has been: where writing represents the individual’s primary revenue stream – or in other words it is where they get most of their money. Clinical but it does get us to why call myself an amateur – my day job is the one that pays my bills, the writing income is a supplement.

Still, I do know writers who have number of titles to their name – through traditional publishing – who still have day jobs because that is what is necessary to bring in the necessary funds. But because it has gone through traditional publishing, no one would question their credentials as professional authors. Self publishing doesn’t have quite such a clear line and for my tastes as-soon-as-being-paid fails the test of materiality. Ten sales doesn’t make you a professional, nor does a fifty but a hundred thousand does. Where is the line? I’m not sure but think I am a bit close to it than ever expected.

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Branding, Oblivion and Big Breaks

As you many have heard the  big news in writing in the last week is that male debut writer Robert Galbraith has been… lets say outed as the female and decidedly not debut writer J.K. Rowling. The full story can be found on BBC and I recommend you read it.

It’s an interesting story because it does show fairly graphically the problems faced by a new author and the power of branding. Depending on which source you read, in the time between launch in April and the Outing the book had sold somewhere between five or fifteen hundred copies in I believe hardback. Which, lets be honest is not that impressive a number. Even if we assume the writer got a pound for every copy sold (which she certainly did not) that’s not going to yield anything close to a living wage, especially if we consider that under the old school book-are-sold-in-bookshops model that a titles first few months are the make or break. After that it it will be sent back to make room for the next new release. Even in the new world of electronic publishing as I have experienced it, the first couple of months are the best you’re ever going to get for title.

It’s worth dwelling on the following facts.

  1. This book was written by someone who can clearly string words together.
  2. But stripped of the ‘Big Name’ was turned down by at least one editor and probably others (doubt many will admit to it though)
  3. This is a book which has made it past the Gatekeepers.
  4. So by conventional publishing logical that means it is ‘good’
  5. It has received all the support traditional publishing can offer in terms of editing, cover art, etc
  6. Has received good reviews from fellow writers in the genre
  7. Still hasn’t sold very well
  8. At least not until ‘The Big Name’ is revealed.

Probably more by accident than design J.K. Rowling has offered us a really interesting live demonstration on the limitations of traditional publishing and the power of a writers Brand. Traditional publishing could sell very few Robert Galbraith books, J.K. Rowling on the strength of her name alone could sell them by the shed load.

 

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Exactly zero reasons to link to Amazon (unless you live in the real world)

A few days ago a post went up on the Booksellers website berating writers for putting links to their books on Amazon. It was followed a few days later by another on the Melville site going by the catchy title ‘There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon’; there are links to both articles at the bottom of this post, be advised in both cases the tone is aggressive. The gist of each post is that authors should seek to support their local book – indeed that they have a duty to.

Now I will clear, I like bookshops, I like wandering around them, I like buying books and I have a home where books are colonizing most flat surfaces. My books however, have never been sold in any of Dublin’s bookshops. They were briefly sold in a hobby shop owned by an acquaintance of mine but didn’t sell fast enough for me to feel it was an experiment worth repeating. I have never approached any of the city’s book shops because I don’t believe it is worth my time. The nature of self publishing and print on demand would make it a bit problematic but even were I traditionally published I doubt it would make much difference.

One of the accounting and economic concepts that can be applied to the business writing is that of Opportunity Cost.  It is basically the idea that all resources are limited and a resource spent in one way can not then be spent another. I’m pretty sure I’ve made this point before, a writer is a small businessman/woman. They have to be business like. Which is where these proposals come unstuck.

I am based in Dublin, Ireland. The majority of my readers are in the UK but I have also that I know of, had sales in the USA, Romania, Brazil and New Zealand – which is about as far away from me as you can get without leaving planet Earth. A link to Amazon offers the casual visitor from almost anywhere in the world a chance to purchase my books. A link to a Dublin bookshop offer a chance to buy in one tiny little piece of the world. In essence these proposals are asking writers to make their own financial interests subordinate to that of the book shops, which is not realistic. So in short if independent book shops wish writers to engage with them they need to remember this is a business – writers can and must be business like. There is no debt owed, only however much or little independent book shops can do for us. If the independent book shops wish writers to engage with them, then they have to  give those writers a good solid reasons for doing so.

Bookseller

Melville House

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords and paperback.

The Job Offer, currently only available on Kindle.

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