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Revenue reality of a bestseller
November 18, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Revenue reality of a bestseller. Lynn Viehl's Twilight Fall was a top 20 mass market paperback bestseller. Here, she analyzes and posts her royalties and discovers "If I published only one book a year, and it did as well as this one, my net would be only around $2500.00 over the income level considered to be the US poverty threshold."
posted by HumanComplex (175 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Someone should alert Cory Doctorow!
posted by Ratio at 10:29 AM on November 18, 2009


My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication.

In 2050, they'll modify this practice so that you can get your withheld advance ahead of time. And then in 2100, you'll only get your ahead withheld advance once the book hits the shelf.
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I published only one book a year, and it did as well as this one...

...and I received no revenue from film or merchandise licensing...
posted by rokusan at 10:33 AM on November 18, 2009


Does this mean Sarah Palin is not going to get rich? YAY!!!
posted by bearwife at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I cenrtainly hope folks don't get into writing for the money!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2009


Also, I don't think poverty levels are calculated on net income, are they? "After I bought food and clothes and paid the house off, I've only got $50k left! I'm poverty-stricken!"
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


IT'S THE TYPOS! THE GLAMOUROUS TYPOS!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2009


Oh, for fuck's sake.

* This is the FIRST royalty check. While they will certainly dwindle significantly as time goes on, she can theoretically be getting these forever, with every re-printing.

* No mention of ancillary rights, like film.

* No mention of localized, international sales. They read books in Europe, you know.

* As a successful, published author, she's miles ahead of John Q. Firsttimer in her ability to market future writing.

Cry me a river.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:42 AM on November 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


...and I received no revenue from film or merchandise licensing...

Sounds like you're confusing Viehl with Meyer.
posted by effbot at 10:42 AM on November 18, 2009


$40k? Hell, I'd do it for free just to be on the Top 20 Sellers List.
posted by banannafish at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2009


Moral of story: Don't get stuck in a highly distinct genre, especially not one that is as inundated as paranormal romance is right now.

And if you do get stuck, don't quit your damned day job.
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You guys are so right! Fuck novelists! They make so many thousands and thousands of dollars! What whiny bitches!
posted by incessant at 10:44 AM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


I will share a secret with the author:

write, publish a book that sells lots and lots and lots of copies. Then see more and more and more royalties.
posted by Postroad at 10:44 AM on November 18, 2009


This would be more interesting if the glamour quote was even remotely accurate.

Either she has no idea what the poverty level is, or she completely misunderstands how income is calculated.

She says this book will make back her $50,000 advance in 2 to 3 years. If she's writing the equivalent every year her income is at least $50,000 a year, less 7.5% to her agent, or $46,250 a year. This is not barely above the poverty threshold, even for a very large family.
posted by ecurtz at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's nice to see that the paper industry is just now discovering what the music industry has known forever.
posted by mark242 at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I know there are other ways to make money from a book, but it's interesting to see an example of revenue from just the sales of the book. There seems to be a misconception that if a book is on the store shelves then somebody got rich. Especially if it's on a best seller list.

My mom goes to a Mystery/Crime writers convention every year and she talks about some of the writers (the keynote speakers mostly) that bragg about the great wealth to made in writing. But then some of the other writers lecturing talk about their day jobs or being fortunate to have a spouse with a good job, which I'm sure is closer to the norm.

But as said above, hopefully nobody is writing just for a paycheck. Except, of course for celebrity/current event cash-ins, which is an altogether different story.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2009


No mention of ancillary rights, like film.

I just wanna say, (a) this is not exactly guaranteed income, and (b) film options are often pretty miniscule amounts of money. Further, I think there's a misreading here: She isn't saying, "I'm a bestselling author, oh poor me;" she's saying, "This is me getting something pretty fucking great, and it turns out? I'd make more money sitting in a cubicle." There are certainly other plusses to being a professional novelist, like not sitting in a cubicle.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Synopsis:
Immortal Darkyn Lord Valentin Jaus and landscape artist Liling Harper are two lost souls. Brought together by fate, bound together by passion, Valentin and Liling find solace in each other's arms.


With any luck, she'll find the writing business unprofitable enough to not inflict any sequels on the world.
posted by dersins at 10:49 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is the FIRST royalty check.

No, the main article is about the second check (first year), and both articles discuss how things usually develop over time for the kind of books she's writing (she's written 42 novels, after all, so it's not like she's extrapolating from a single observation).

You're also completely missing why she posted the numbers, of course, despite her explaining that in detail in both articles.
posted by effbot at 10:52 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Hm, art doesn't pay well you say? Fascinating.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whoops, her agent gets 15%, bringing her down to $42,500.
posted by ecurtz at 10:53 AM on November 18, 2009


To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it

Wow. That's the way to take the reigns of the old career, Lynn.
posted by davebush at 10:56 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know this isn't the point of the post, but...

"Immortal Darkyn Lord Valentin Jaus"

COME ON.
posted by katillathehun at 10:57 AM on November 18, 2009 [22 favorites]


I don't think she is really bitching about the money shes making. On the contrary she seems pretty pleased with the books performance.

The message I got from this is that shes just trying to dispell the notion that if you get a book published, even if it does well, you're not going to be swimming in cash like Scrooge McDuck.

Plus, since i've always been curious about how royalties work on things like this, it's pretty cool to see some actual numbers.
posted by Nyarlathotep at 10:57 AM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: No mention of ancillary rights, like film.

There were 172,000 books published in the U.S. in 2005. There are well under 1000 movies made in the U.S. each year, maybe 1/2 of which are based on books. I think this is a situation that affects very, very few people.

That said, her book was a a top 20 mass market paperback bestseller. She's probably writing for a publishing house that cranks out niche paperbacks as fast as they can, as cheaply as they can. Isn't the (relatively) big money in publishing made from hardcover, which these books skip altogether?
posted by mkultra at 10:58 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sounds like you're confusing Viehl with Meyer.

Read the back of each book and tell me the difference.
posted by rokusan at 11:00 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


There are well under 1000 movies made in the U.S. each year, maybe 1/2 of which are based on books.

But for every film actually produced, the rights to twenty or thirty are purchased.
posted by rokusan at 11:00 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, with one book a year she is barely scraping by, good thing she was able to crank out 42 novels under 8 psuedonyms since her debut in 2000 (first link).

On preview, I think this falls under mkultra's "fast and cheap" description.
posted by roquetuen at 11:00 AM on November 18, 2009


You're forgetting that she also has to pay her employer's portion of Social Security as well as her own, and that she has the usual taxes on top of that. Add in that she's self employed so she's probably paying shitloads for health insurance. And taxes for creatives are so complex she probably needs an accountant to sort it all out.

I'm not sure she'd qualify as a midlist author, but that vast majority of these writers do not earn back their advances.

Add to this that you have people like banannafish that are happy to write for free.

I'm not going to name drop, so take this how you will, but I've been hosted in the homes of a fistful of authors' homes. Not one of them were living lifestyles I envied, and one I felt bad for (and shock). There's a reason Analog does fund raisers for sick writers.

Someone that knows what they are talking about really needs to pipe in here, but if you're not one of them, jumping on the cry-me-a-river bandwagon is trite.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:00 AM on November 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


It holds true in all fields of art that only a tiny handful of creators make most of the money being made by creators. If you're in it for the money, you need to be a publisher.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, the main article is about the second check (first year)

Umm, whatever, dude.

From the "here, she analyzes link..."

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall

She's pissy about the first check. And then remained pissy. She can make more money working in cubicle? Fine. Do that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:02 AM on November 18, 2009


Does this mean Sarah Palin is not going to get rich? YAY!!!
I think I read in the NYT palin got about a $20 million advance. you would have to confirm this independently, my memory is somewhat en par with two butterfingers dipped in a glas of ricejuice.

what I don't quite see is where these people - by that I mean authors as much as anyone else plying their respective trades - get off in expecting to be richly rewarded for their work anyway. you had a top twenty book and expected that to yield you untold millions by default? what would make you think that was an even remote possibility? did you not see what books retail for? has nobody explained to you how much labor would be involved both on your side as well as on all others? I keep reading about people complaining they are putting in a hard day's work and aren't adequately rewarded without noticing that everyone is doing the same as they are and are similarly less than rich. it's being extraordinary and unique, something everyone thinks they are but few really are, that yields such rewards.
posted by krautland at 11:03 AM on November 18, 2009


> Someone that knows what they are talking about really needs to pipe in here, but if you're not one of them, jumping on the cry-me-a-river bandwagon is trite.

Yup, the level of snark in here is pathetically unworthy of MetaFilter. I suspect jealousy.

Excellent post, and I'm glad she's putting this information out there. Transparency is good.
posted by languagehat at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


Based on a $7.99 cover price, and 43785 copies sold, the publisher got $349,842.12, of which she took home $27,721.31, or 7.92%

I wish I got 8% of the money my work has produced (for my employers).
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


That said, she should get more.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2009


I think a lot of people would be surprised to find out that a NY Times bestselling author writing one book a year only makes $42,500/year. That's not as dramatic as being just above poverty level, but it's a hell of a lot less than the gazillions of dollars people tend to assume.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2009


> you had a top twenty book and expected that to yield you untold millions by default? what would make you think that was an even remote possibility?

You didn't actually read the linked post, did you?
posted by languagehat at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2009


Read the back of each book and tell me the difference.

A few tens of millions of dollars, I would guess.
posted by delmoi at 11:05 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you're in it for the money, you need to be a publisher.

Oh boy. Someone hasn't been paying attention to how many publishers have closed up shop in the last few years.

The publishing industry is weird. The writers are getting rich, the editors aren't, the book sellers aren't, the publishers aren't. In the end, it's like the lottery. Or maybe the World Series of Poker. Some people get by, most don't, and some are hugely successful. Everyone stays in it hoping for a bracelet.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:07 AM on November 18, 2009


Too bad she's being forced to write books..

oh wait..
posted by HuronBob at 11:07 AM on November 18, 2009


Read the back of each book and tell me the difference.

Yeah, because the books target roughly the same audience, let's for the sake of snarkability assume that the same economic realities apply to both authors, despite one of them selling roughly three orders of magnitude more books than the other. Great thinking there.
posted by effbot at 11:08 AM on November 18, 2009


you had a top twenty book ... it's being extraordinary and unique, something everyone thinks they are but few really are, that yields such rewards.
posted by krautland at 1:03 PM on November 18


what

Being in the top twenty isn't extraordinary?
posted by joannemerriam at 11:08 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


For more nitty-gritty details, technical writer Peter Cooper breaks down his payments in his post What I’ve Earned (And Learned) From Writing “Beginning Ruby”. While the focus of that article is his desire to see ebook copies of his given away, he breaks down the income per book, second editions, and whatnot. Different field of writing, similar concern (getting more books sold).

Does this mean Sarah Palin is not going to get rich? YAY!!!

The lecture circuit is where the money is. While there is a range of cost options, $15,000 a pop isn't bad for an hour of chatter.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:11 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Typo in my above: The writers aren't getting rich, the editors aren't, the book sellers aren't, the publishers aren't.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:11 AM on November 18, 2009


Based on a $7.99 cover price, and 43785 copies sold, the publisher got $349,842.12, of which she took home $27,721.31, or 7.92%

I wish I got 8% of the money my work has produced (for my employers).


I worked it out for my company... based on annualized Q3 revenues I get about 12.5% of the average per-employee gross revenue. I don't even get paid a lot relative to other employees in this org - I'm sure there are a non-trivial number of people making twice what I do.

Anyway, she gets less of the gross than I do but not by several orders of magnitude or anything.
posted by GuyZero at 11:15 AM on November 18, 2009


Again - I don't think she's crying poor here. I think she's pointing out that even with a book on the best seller list you're not guaranteed a world of wealth. The poverty line comment is a bit of a stretch, but I think she's just saying that you don't get to write one book and then sit back and live the high life off the royalties. Maybe when you're getting a bunch of checks for various books you're moving into a bigger house, but it seldom (if ever) happens from just one book.

I thought this was great look at the internal workings of writer's compensation, but I'd love to see a few cartoonists at various levels do the same thing, since that's a field I'm more likely to go into. Or at least so I have a more accurate response when somebody sees me sketching and says "you should do that professionally - you'd be rich." Everyone seems to think that if you get a cartoon in magazine or newspaper you're loaded. Granted, I'd LOVE to be in a newspaper or magazine....
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:16 AM on November 18, 2009


She still probably got paid a lot more than the hot model guy with the deeply mysterious magic eyes on the cover of her book. And an argument could be made that he brought in more new readers than her name did.

Snark over. I actually think this is an interesting and something people should realize, even though I was never really under the impression that anybody writing books -- even (or especially) mass market paperback like that -- is going to make very much money.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:16 AM on November 18, 2009


Krautland, you got me digging on the subject of Sarah Palin's expectations from her single book, and I am sorry to say that she appears to be in a different economic league. Seems so wrong.
posted by bearwife at 11:17 AM on November 18, 2009


She still probably got paid a lot more than the hot model guy with the deeply mysterious magic eyes on the cover of her book

It takes an awful lot less time to get your picture taken looking hot and deeply mysterious than it does to write a book. He's got to stay in shape and good-looking, but a busy model can do revenue-generating work several days a week.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:23 AM on November 18, 2009


You didn't actually read the linked post, did you?
posted by languagehat at 2:04 PM on November 18 [+] [!]


C'mon, seriously, when did that ever stop anyone from commenting?
posted by fixedgear at 11:25 AM on November 18, 2009


Mefi's own John Scalzi writes fairly frequently about the financial reality of being a full time writer. Since the odds of him popping in on this post to offer his perspective are probably slim, you'll have to go to his blog.
posted by COD at 11:25 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, because the books target roughly the same audience, let's for the sake of snarkability assume that the same economic realities apply to both authors, despite one of them selling roughly three orders of magnitude more books than the other. Great thinking there.

It wasn't the similar audience, it was the similar crappiness. I couldn't get through three pages of either without my eyes starting to hurt from all the rolling. Yours too, I would imagine.

My obtuse point was that getting wealthy 'from' writing books is seldom done through selling books alone. It might even be impossible, but so what? Licensing and merchandising and ancillary revenue are always the goal, and those can easily outstrip mere book sales.

The fact Meyer struck marketing gold and Viehl hasn't (yet) with similar crap just underscores this, I think, and her cherry picking of a single revenue stream as if it's her only possible source of income is disingenuous at best, as others have pointed out. DaveBush's point above about how Viehl didn't even seem to care about fostering her own economic performance is also related. If you don't try to make money, you don't make money? Really, how surprising.

I think she's pointing out that even with a book on the best seller list you're not guaranteed a world of wealth.

Yeah, I guess I don't see the need to announce this 'surprising' discovery. Did anyone really think writers got rich from writing? Is there some part of our population that thinks writers have wealthy, easy lives?

In terms of stress per dollar, it's always been a poor career choice, and I think that's a pretty widely understood thing. I don't know any aspiring novelists who are trying to write for the money, which is probably also a good thing, in terms of the quality of work we enjoy as readers.
posted by rokusan at 11:31 AM on November 18, 2009


The writers aren't getting rich

Actual writers, no. Infamous characters who sign multi-million dollar deals to have their picture on the cover of some ghost-written bunk, yes.

That's probably your problem right there.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:31 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think I read in the NYT palin got about a $20 million advance.

Palin's advance was more on the order of $1.25 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but let's not go overboard.
posted by briank at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I guess I don't see the need to announce this 'surprising' discovery. Did anyone really think writers got rich from writing? Is there some part of our population that thinks writers have wealthy, easy lives?
posted by rokusan at 1:31 PM on November 18


Yes. I'm a writer. My co-workers often say things like, "Oh, you just need to write a bestseller and you'll be able to quit this place and live the high life." And while they're teasing me a litt,e they're perfectly sincere in believing that writing a single bestseller is akin to winning the lottery.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2009


She's pissy about the first check. And then remained pissy. She can make more money working in cubicle? Fine. Do that.

I don't get where you're getting this from. Her first sentence is: "A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there."

As far as I can tell, she then pretty much proceeds to do that. Royalties are a mysterious business to those outside the trade; most people hear "best selling author" --- especailly of the kind of books you can find in supermarkets and drugstores --- and think they must be rolling in it. This woman is esablished, "high mid-list," as she says, and she's making in the low five figures per book. These posts don't read pissed-off to me, just blunt. After all, for every author like here there a dozens if not hundreds of wanna bes; I think she's trying to suggest that even becoming pretty successful in this field won't necessarily make you financially comfortable. Yeah, yeah, artists are famously starving and all that, but when you hear "Best-selling author" you don't think "just about middle class."
posted by Diablevert at 11:39 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Based on a $7.99 cover price, and 43785 copies sold, the publisher got $349,842.12

Yes, because publishers sell direct to the public. And the writer banks a fixed percentage of every copy of the book the moment it hits the shelves, which are apparently there free of charge. And the writer's merely one interchangeable cog in that value chain rather than its entire raison d'etre. And for the writer there's no withheld royalties, no expenses written off against royalties, no advance to be paid back, no cost-of-living expenses during the writing of the book. Just pure eight-percent skim. Simple math. Man, us writers live large, yo. We're the mafia captains of the media world, making the rounds and pocketing that fat publishing dough.

I could try and re-explain, from my own experience as the author of two nonfiction bestsellers in a country much less populous than the US, the point she was trying to make - which is that even bestselling authors, who presumably should be able to think of themselves as professionals at least as valuable to society at large as junior ad copywriters or legal secretaries or somesuch, can barely make a living wage from their writing alone.

But fuck it, the snark already flows too thick in here, and it's apparently way out of line to even suggest that writing's a profession someone might dream of doing full-time for passable pay. Guess I'll just get back to crying my own river. She's a beaut, as you can see, so no need to further encourage me.
posted by gompa at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


And an argument could be made that he brought in more new readers than her name did.

Or maybe it's just because her book has Twilight in the title and involves vampires.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:43 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


In regards to Palin's book, HarperCollins plans an initial print run of 1.5m copies. I don't know how that sits vs other best-sellers, but I imagine that celebrities with a vaguely colorful story get a much larger first run, so the much higher advance is probably to scale. They might get a better ratio than unknown authors, but that would be because the publishers are set to sell a lot more copies from the get-go.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:45 AM on November 18, 2009


Twilight Fail
posted by Zambrano at 11:45 AM on November 18, 2009


Oh. Well, that's more than I make.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:49 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


from the first link:
Since 2000 New York Times bestselling author Lynn Viehl has published forty-two novels under eight pseudonyms in five different genres
So even if we assume that the rest of her novels only net her an average of $500 a year in royalties, that's another $20,500 on top of the royalties she's reporting for her bestselling novel.

That's hardly poverty-level.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2009


In regards to Palin's book, HarperCollins plans an initial print run of 1.5m copies. I don't know how that sits vs other best-sellers,
posted by filthy light thief at 1:45 PM on November 18

Orders of magnitude different. Most of the people I know who write bestselling paperbacks have an initial print run of about 10,000 copies.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2009


The speculation out there, in the article I linked to above and a related blog, is that Palin's total advance is a lot more than 1.5 million -- rather, that is likely just one of her advance payments. Does anyone know why she stands to make so much more?
posted by bearwife at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2009


So even if we assume that the rest of her novels only net her an average of $500 a year in royalties

You're right, even if you assume the existence of a stable revenue stream there's no good reason to assume exists - particularly since I bet a good proportion of those 42 books are out of print - she's doing A-OK.

C'mon by the gompa estate, I'll show you the gold-plated east wing I built from assumed royalties.
posted by gompa at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never mind, I think joannemerriam just told me as I was posting my question.
posted by bearwife at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2009


As a point of comparison, here's what a literary agent describes as a good deal for a writer, for a hardcover or paperback publication.
posted by Prospero at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


"My obtuse point was that getting wealthy 'from' writing books is seldom done through selling books alone. It might even be impossible, but so what? Licensing and merchandising and ancillary revenue are always the goal, and those can easily outstrip mere book sales"

Licensing and marketing what, exactly? These are mass market paperbacks, the kind of thing you see in supermarkets and drugstores and airport kiosks. The readership base is middle-aged women, not teenagers. You're not going to be selling toys and trapper keepers and t-shirts. Even huge authors aimed at the adult market don't do a lot of merchandising -- I mean, I think Danielle Steele had a perfume once, but that's about it. Radom data point: A search on ebay for "Mary Higgins Clark," a far more prominent mass-market author, turns up 4,000-odd book, about 100 DVDs and 3 collectibles, all of which are autgraphed author photos.

I think the range of books suitable for merchandizing is actually pretty small, just like the chance of selling movie rights is pretty small. Lynn Veihl's reality is the reality for the vast, vast majority of mass-market authors, and I'm not seeing a big wave of keychain sales that's going to come along and change that.
posted by Diablevert at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I really don't see the supposed whining Viehl is supposed to be doing. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to make that kind of money from writing (the advance on my first novel came to a little bit less than $800, such are the realities of writing in the language of a country of three hundred thousand people*) but it seems a fairly level-headed demystification of how being a published writer in the US works and as such is valuable. The opprobrium it's faced here is somewhat ridiculous.


* Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely thrilled to tiny shredded bits that I'm getting published and I certainly never got into writing to make any kind of money... I'm perfectly happy to have a job that supports me while I write.
posted by Kattullus at 12:00 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Palin's Book Advance: $1.25 Million...How does that compare with what other political hot shots got for their books? Well, former First Lady Laura Bush reportedly received $1.6 million for her memoirs. George W. Bush was rumored to have gotten a $7 million advance for his upcoming book on the toughest decisions he made as president. Hillary Clinton was paid $8 million upfront for her autobiography. Meanwhile Bill Clinton topped everybody, with a $15 million book advance for My Life. What do Palin and all of these folks have in common? They were all repped by Washington power lawyer Bob Barnett in negotiating their deals."*
posted by ericb at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or maybe it's just because her book has Twilight in the title and involves vampires.

The book mentioned above does indeed share a name with Stephanie Meyer's book. However, Lynn Veihl's book is the 7th of a series; the fist book in the series was published in April, 2005. Ms. Meyer's book, Twlight, came out in October 2005.
posted by Diablevert at 12:11 PM on November 18, 2009


If we talk about Palin, this thread is a lock for 2000 comments, right?
posted by rokusan at 12:21 PM on November 18, 2009


Wait, so she gets $47,000 in royalities for one book? Presumably she would write more than one, such that many books were selling at once, right? Obviously sales of previously published books are much lower, but she does get royalties from them.

What is the shock here? why is this "bad"? If you told me that Thomas Pynchon or Cormac McCarthy only made $47k per year, I would take that as evidence that there is something wrong with the publishing industry.

Twilight Fall is a mass market, lowest common denominator novel. She makes as much as a middling computer programmer or accountant. Why should she make any more than that? No one has pointed to anything about her books that sets them out from the rest of the bodice-rippers or Charmin-soft softcore fantasy books that are everywhere these days.

Novel-writing isn't anything special. Yes, it is hard. So is replacing the transmission on a 1992 F-150 or doing other peoples taxes. If she doesn't like it, she can negotiate something else, or tell her 15%-agent to do it for her.

Ironically, the only thing that seems to set her apart from other novelists in her genre is the fact that she's sharing the royalty info with the public.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:24 PM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


If she doesn't like it, she can negotiate something else, or tell her 15%-agent to do it for her.

She doesn't seem to not like it, though. In fact, she seemed quite pleased.
posted by dng at 12:28 PM on November 18, 2009


There is something wrong with this world when someone can make that much money writing a bunch of crap.
posted by snofoam at 12:33 PM on November 18, 2009


Mass market paperbacks have a very short shelf life. I don't know how many books she has that are still in print, but those books that came out in 2005 or 2006 probably aren't still selling for her.

Viehl isn't looking to make any kind of point. Newly published authors have a tendency to spend hours and hours obsessing about what their Amazon rank really means, or whether they can earn out their advance, or--well, everything. I say that as a writer with my first novel coming out next year. And it's very useful to have those numbers demystified a little bit.
posted by Jeanne at 12:36 PM on November 18, 2009


Wait, so she gets $47,000 in royalities for one book

I'm trying to work it out myself. I wish she'd given us the numbers before taxes as these are different to the agent fee and expenses, which are the cost of doing business. It looks from the second statement that the book has earned $30,155 against a $50,000 advance, though she says it will earn out in about 6 months. Still, she's probably not going to be making much per month on this book after that, The money for her is in continuing to knock out new books. At her current rate of two books a year, assuming she's not getting improved terms her gross income, or rather L VIEHL AUTHOR CO.'s gross revenue is not going to be much more than $100k. Her agent takes $15k, I'm guessing about $10k for expenses, so gross income before taxes should be in the region of $75k from two new Top 20 NYT bestselling books per year. That's fascinating. I would have assumed it to be much higher. I'm glad she shared this info.
posted by IanMorr at 12:37 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


All the big money is in poetry.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:39 PM on November 18, 2009


All the big money is in poetry.

Well, yes.
posted by dersins at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


The opprobrium it's faced here is somewhat ridiculous.

I don't feel anyone is arguing that being a writer is easy. I'm sure the vast majority of published writers make basically nothing off their work.

That said, the claim by Ms. Veihl that bestselling authors are scraping by just isn't backed up by her own numbers. Her imaginary scenario of a single best selling book a year already puts her far above the poverty threshold. She also isn't writing one book a year, she's writing four, and so is every other author in her genre. The revenue REALITY is that she did pretty well for herself this year (I'll refrain from speculating, but see no reason her other advances would vary by orders of magnitude from that for Twilight Fall.) She is no longer a struggling author, why is it unfair criticism to point that out?
posted by ecurtz at 12:42 PM on November 18, 2009


the claim by Ms. Veihl that bestselling authors are scraping by

Where does she claim she's scraping by? She clearly states "if I published one book a year..." and walks us through how a NYT bestselling book has made her a net of $24,517.36. She has a family of four, the poverty line is $22,050.
posted by IanMorr at 12:50 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


For the first time ever, I'm not reading the whole thread before posting:

Cut this woman some slack. She's being very brave by posting her numbers. Writers are like actors--most of us live cheaply in order to do what we love.

I'm not sure it's still true, but until very recently, the life of the average book and the average magazine was about the same. We all hope longtail theories prove to be true, but we don't yet know that they will for everyone.

Now I have to go do some writing work. I'll come back and read the thread tonight, most likely.
posted by shetterly at 1:01 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Except she doesn't walk us through that. She walks us through the scenario of a single book, not one a year, counts only the first year's income on that book, excludes the $9000 of return withholdings which she'll be getting in her next check, and the $22,000 poverty threshold is based on gross, not net, income.
posted by ecurtz at 1:06 PM on November 18, 2009


Thanks, IanMorr, for the explanation of her claim that she would be near the poverty line if she had to support her family.

I don't think this was intended so much as a complaint than as a wake-up call for fellow authors, aspiring authors and readers. I saw the original post when she put it up in April because my wife is about to have her first romance novel published - while we both knew it's not a road to riches, this information definitely brought us down to earth. It's been great to show friends and relatives who don't understand why she didn't quit her crappy day job the moment she got a contract.
posted by smartyboots at 1:16 PM on November 18, 2009


She walks us through the scenario of a single book

Which is why the post is called 'Revenue reality of a bestseller' and talks about the revenue an author makes from a single New York Times Bestseller. You are all getting hung up on one small paragraph in there where she compares the financial performance of a single bestseller to a well known metric for measuring a level of income. Seriously. It's a fascinating article, and neither it, nor she, is deserving of the level of snark in this thread.
posted by IanMorr at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a lot of needless hate and snark here. As an aspiring writing, I would have expected a better financial reward for a best-selling novel so I'm glad she's shared this information.

That said, the claim by Ms. Veihl that bestselling authors are scraping by just isn't backed up by her own numbers. Uh, $25,000 is poor for even one person if you live almost anywhere in the US. It may not be "poverty-line" poor (for one) but you sure as shit are struggling.
posted by shoesietart at 1:24 PM on November 18, 2009


She says:

"My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0."

No, your actual earnings were $27,721.31. It is just that you already received that money. In advance. That's why they call it an "advance."
posted by spilon at 1:25 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My first novel was literary fiction, a paperback original, put out by a mid-sized independent press in New York. It took me two years to write, which I considered (and still consider) speedy.

So far, including foreign rights, a movie option, royalties, and advance, I'm hovering around $6000, before taxes and agent.

I know one writer of literary fiction who makes a living. All the others I know are independently wealthy, teach, work other jobs, or are just straight up poor.

As shetterly said, Writers are like actors--most of us live cheaply in order to do what we love.

This didn't stop my (bitter, elderly) neighbor from gossiping about me: "You know what he does? He's a novelist. Those people make millions!"
posted by dontoine at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


She's no Tom Clancy.
posted by biffa at 1:39 PM on November 18, 2009


It is indeed a fascinating article, which is why I'm discussing it. I'm just pointing out that the "one small paragraph" (which is in 24 pt. bold text inset into her article and quoted in the summary at the top of this page) is simply not accurate. The claim in her scenario is wrong. That doesn't mean her basic point about making a living as a writer is invalid, but it does mean we aren't necessarily merely snarking when we draw attention to the mistakes.
posted by ecurtz at 1:42 PM on November 18, 2009




> I really don't see the supposed whining Viehl is supposed to be doing

Well, that's because you read and paid attention to the linked text. If you'd just briefly cast your eyes over it while not being able to read because you were instinctively rolling them, you too would be able to offer mindless, ill-informed snark. Get with the program.

I know a family whose late breadwinner was a singer who was briefly popular among a certain group of music lovers. Because of this everyone assumes they're rolling in it, when in fact they barely have two nickels to rub together. Never underestimate the power of jealousy and ignorance combined.
posted by languagehat at 1:50 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


But as said above, hopefully nobody is writing just for a paycheck.

That explains why there are so many blockheads writing.

Samuel Johson:

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
posted by VikingSword at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2009


I know a family whose late breadwinner was a singer who was briefly popular among a certain group of music lovers.

This is a wonderfully obfuscated statement.
posted by Jairus at 2:00 PM on November 18, 2009


COD:

"the odds of him popping in on this post to offer his perspective are probably slim"

Not really.

I don't find anything particularly objectionable or incorrect in Ms. Viehl's numbers. I suspect the point she wishes to make is that even NYT bestselling authors are not necessarily rolling in cash, and most authors don't actually make it onto the NYT lists.

A couple of observations:

1. The trick isn't necessarily making it onto the NYT list; depending on the particular list and the particular week, it's possible to get onto the list with as few as a couple thousand units sold. The trick is staying on the list after that first week, and then reappearing on the list with one's next book. A book that hits the NYT list one week and then drops off the next may not end up selling all that many copies in aggregate.

2. Conversely, it's possible to make a fair amount of money and sales and never hit the list at all, as long as your book sells a steady amount, week in and week out. In a number of ways, this is a harder trick to pull off than getting on the bestseller list, and I suspect overall few authors manage it.

3. Someone upthread noted there are other revenue streams an author can benefit from, and this is true: foreign sales, film/tv options, audio and other rights can add up. But it's important to note that most of these are contingent on one's books doing well in their original release and that not every novel (or novelist) can assume these as a revenue stream -- nor can authors expect each novel to have the same level of ancillary success.

4. The key to (relative) author success, as Ms. Viehl implies, is to write often, so that when something of yours hits, there are other books for readers to find, and so that one's backlist can become a continuing source of revenue in aggregate, even if each individual book brings in a relatively small amount. Of course, selling enough so that a) you get to write more and b) one's backlist stays in print are both challenges in themselves, and luck is most certainly involved. But for most novelists, that's what to aim for.
posted by jscalzi at 2:14 PM on November 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


She clearly states "if I published one book a year..."

While actually publishing 4.2 books a year.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:27 PM on November 18, 2009


"Novel-writing isn't anything special. Yes, it is hard. So is replacing the transmission on a 1992 F-150 or doing other peoples taxes."

I disagree. You can learn to put in a transmission or do people's taxes and just keep doing that the same way and make money. You can't just re-write the exact same novel and earn a decent living.
Of the many groups of people who deserve to earn a living, I'd be hard pressed to argue against serious artists. I'll grant, not everyone is a genius. But offhand - Stephen King, I think the guy deserves to make a buck. I've read his stuff. Not great literature, but it's good storytelling, it passes the time, I am entertained, and that's pretty fair value contrasted with a good many other things.
There are plenty of rip-off mechanics, tax cheats, etc. So the 'bad author' thing doesn't cut any ice with me.

What rankles is that there is more money in merchandising, all that other parasite advertising crap, than there is in actually creating the thing itself.
And I see this as endemic in the U.S. (et.al) right now. So much so that some people's knee jerk reaction is 'get out of it if you don't like it.'
Yeah, fuckhead - go shill like everyone else. How dare you actually produce something?
I'd love to see that. Ideas, new stuff, just stop. The parasite to organism ratio is waaay too high. A guy putting a transmission in a truck - yeah, he is doing something worthwhile. And it is genuine work.
But most of the really profitable business seems to be in ripping off people doing something worthwhile.
Only damn reason artists get paid next to nothing is precisely because they love what they do and can be exploited for it.
God forbid our problem is that writing is a profitable business such that we have too many writers in the world and not enough currency traders or sweatshop managers or health insurers who's job it is to reject claims or speculative bankers or mob lawyers.

Yeah, last thing we need are people with the guts to follow their dreams and the brains and talent to create something with their head and their hands. There just aren't enough people who will numbly sit in cubicles, or screw other people over for money, because that there is what we should be valuing, not this passion for life and ideas crap.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:37 PM on November 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


I see the anti-creative wing of MeFi is out in full force today.
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on November 18, 2009


She clearly states "if I published one book a year..." While actually publishing 4.2 books a year.

Hello, that wasn't her point. Her point is that a best selling novel earns its writer about $25,000. That amount for a family of four, which is what she has, is just above the poverty line. I think she says this to put it into perspective. She never said that she lived at the poverty line or that she only had one book.

She is merely sharing what one best selling novel earns for the writer. I think that this is interesting information and it is what she had promised to share with other writers.
posted by shoesietart at 2:46 PM on November 18, 2009


> This is a wonderfully obfuscated statement.

Thank you, that's what I was aiming for!

> While actually publishing 4.2 books a year.

Are you having trouble with hypotheticals today?
posted by languagehat at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2009


All the big money is in poetry.

Seriously, if you want big money: video games

`Call of Duty` setting entertainment records.
"Call of Duty" franchise made $550 million in worldwide sales during its first five days. The game is blowing past records set by other media. It was far above the record $155 million opening weekend for the Batman movie "The Dark Knight" last year.
There ya have it. The leading edge of big money art.
posted by stbalbach at 3:00 PM on November 18, 2009


You can learn to put in a transmission or do people's taxes and just keep doing that the same way and make money.

No, no, please let's not trash mechanics and CPAs in support of authors! I love books, and hence love and respect anyone able to write one (assuming it isn't absolute dreck.) But that doesn't mean that mechanics and accountants are mindless automatons who always are dealing with the exact same car or exact same tax return. Being a mechanic is tough, and being a CPA is diabolically tough. That's why we take our cars and taxes to people who know what they're doing.

Having said that, of course I do agree authors should be paid better. It is amazing how little gifted artists usually earn.
posted by bearwife at 3:03 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can I be pro-creative endeavours and anti-viehl? I applaud this article and the sentiments behind it. That said, of the three books I have given up on not a quarter of the way through in the last 20 years, two of them were hers.

So it's not really a surprise to me that she's not rich. Carry on.
posted by Aquaman at 3:05 PM on November 18, 2009


bearwife: No, no, please let's not trash mechanics and CPAs in support of authors! I love books, and hence love and respect anyone able to write one (assuming it isn't absolute dreck.) But that doesn't mean that mechanics and accountants are mindless automatons who always are dealing with the exact same car or exact same tax return. Being a mechanic is tough, and being a CPA is diabolically tough. That's why we take our cars and taxes to people who know what they're doing.

My take on what Smedleyman was saying is not that he thinks being an accountant or mechanic is not worthy of respect, but that being a writer is very insecure. If you keep doing your job well as an accountant or as a mechanic you have pretty solid job security but writers can be a single failure away from destitution their whole careers. Or, in fact, be destitute their whole life. God knows there are plenty of examples of dirtpoor writers.
posted by Kattullus at 3:10 PM on November 18, 2009


Seriously, if you want big money: video games

I was listening to a podcast the other day with Peter Watts, who you migh remember from the Vampire Domestication slideshow, or for making a biggish splash on the internet by giving away his novel for free and getting heavily promotion on Boing Boing.

So anyhow, for all the Cory Doctrow big-ups and the boost from giving away freebies novels still don't make him much money, and in fact his books are out of print at the moment. The way he actually makes money from doing writing is videogames.

I'm not entirely sure this is a great development.
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


(Rather laughably i think they might start talking admiringly of the comics industry for a bit. Comics don't earn you jack shit. Everyone from the comics industry with any sense is desperatly trying to get out of it and get and into, you guessed it, videogames)
posted by Artw at 3:13 PM on November 18, 2009


My take on what Smedleyman was saying . . .

I have no quarrel with that interpretation, and am happy to assume that was what was meant.
posted by bearwife at 3:24 PM on November 18, 2009


Hello, that wasn't her point. Her point is that a best selling novel earns its writer about $25,000.

This is indeed her point. It's also a damned dirty lie. Her article makes it clear she earned more than $42,000 from this best selling novel, at least when using "earned" the way most of us are using it here, and the way it makes sense to compare it to income or poverty levels.

Are you having trouble with hypotheticals today?

Hypothetically she makes $42,000 a year, not $25,000. She doesn't understand the math. Or she's just massively disingenuous.

Now I'm off to stew in my own logic and scheme up new ways to hate artists with my CPA and mechanic pals.
posted by ecurtz at 4:00 PM on November 18, 2009


Yeah, she's being completely disingenuous.

Sure, it's very difficult to make your living from being a novelist. On the other hand you can be a novelist and also have another job. That's also difficult but it's difficult in a different way.

As "exhibit A" I put forth Glen Cook who wrote much of his Black Company novels while working on a GM assembly. Like literally while he was on the line. I assume he was composing the next couple paragraphs in his head and then writing them down when he had a minutes pause. That's hard. Making "only" 50k is not.
posted by Justinian at 4:21 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There were about 480,000 fiction titles published in 2008. Of these, a few hundred (assuming a lot of overlap each week) ever got to the top twenty mass market bestseller list. So in a country of over 300 million, you can be in the top one percent of your game and still come nowhere near to cracking six figures.

I have no dog in this snarkfest, but I do find that an interesting and somewhat dispiriting number.

(Any information on how this compares to other best seller lists? Hardcover fiction? Graphic Novels? Young Adult?)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:36 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


(All figures US centric, sorry)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:37 PM on November 18, 2009


There were about 480,000 fiction titles published in 2008.

I would bet a not insignificant sum of money that this figure is grossly incorrect, depending exactly what you mean by "publish" and "titles".

Secondly, hardcover is where its at these days, not mass market paperback.
posted by Justinian at 4:58 PM on November 18, 2009


To expand a bit, I would be willing to bet that the 480,000 number includes all languages, all countries, self and vanity press books, books with print runs in the single digits, and STILL includes rather a lot of "pulling the numbers out of thin air".

For comparison, there are roughly 500 new SF novels published per year in the United States (I am most familiar with SF). 500. Does it strike anyone as plausible that SF accounts for 0.1% of novels?
posted by Justinian at 5:19 PM on November 18, 2009


This might help: Books published per country per year

No fiction/nonfiction breakdown though.
posted by Artw at 5:36 PM on November 18, 2009


Where did the 480,000 come from? In 2004 there were 10,000 fiction books published.
posted by Gary at 5:38 PM on November 18, 2009


Previously (featuring the marvelous cstross and jscalzi).
posted by digitalprimate at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2009


The link to Wikipedia is citing numbers from "Bowker's Books in Print" database which gets info from 83,000 US published. Let me say that again. 83,000 US publishers. So those numbers are useless in this context since it clearly includes self and vanity published print runs of 1 copy and so forth. Unless someone thinks there are actually 83,000 real publishing companies in the United States? Naaah.

Gary's figure of 10,000 is more what I would expect. That puts new SF at roughly 5%, which feels much more intuitively correct. Definitely makes a lot more sense than 480,000.
posted by Justinian at 5:48 PM on November 18, 2009


I would bet a not insignificant sum of money that this figure is grossly incorrect

You'd win, too. Decimal point malfunction. Mea culpa. (The one percent was a bit of a tip off as well.) Figure from here and here.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:57 PM on November 18, 2009


It's still a shitload of books, mind.
posted by Artw at 6:05 PM on November 18, 2009


$42,000 dollars a year before taxes? It ain't official poverty line, but then again the "official" poverty demarcation in this country is absurdly low. If you want any kind of upward mobility, that is.

What do people think this is 1979? $42,000 a year isn't shit. Sure. You aren't starving and you likely ain't want for a bunch of material crap like iPods, but you sure as shit aren't able to afford a decent house in a major city or sending your kids to college on that. Not without incurring a huge pile of debt.

What a sad state of affairs that a successful person in a creative field gets shit on merely for wanting a little more than what an Outback Steakhouse Manager can earn.
posted by tkchrist at 6:08 PM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


This, and the record royalty stuff, is good news for me, because it reinforces my plan to keep my day job, develop creative things on the side without having to report to agents and managers and distributors, and sell them myself for whatever small amount the market will bear. The amount I'll make will be small (I'm shooting for $8,000-$24,000 over the next ten years) but compared to these numbers that get kicked about publicly, I won't feel like I'm missing out on anything. Then, when I have collected enough money in my "creative-shit-I-do-that-people-also-pay-me-for" fund, I'll go buy myself a nice daily driver MG TC and enjoy every moment of driving it.
posted by davejay at 6:11 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


What a sad state of affairs that a successful person in a creative field gets shit on merely for wanting a little more than what an Outback Steakhouse Manager can earn.

There's fuckin' room to move as a fry cook. I could be manager in two years. King.
posted by Artw at 6:13 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


What do people think this is 1979? $42,000 a year isn't shit.

$42,000 is actually slightly more than median income for people who work full time in the US. Be reasonable.
posted by ssg at 6:35 PM on November 18, 2009


How dare you actually produce something?
I'd love to see that. Ideas, new stuff, just stop. The parasite to organism ratio is waaay too high.


Someone else wrote a book about that. It mostly sucked.
posted by electroboy at 6:36 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


What a sad state of affairs that a successful person in a creative field gets shit on merely for wanting a little more than what an Outback Steakhouse Manager can earn.

An Outback Steakhouse manager has a tough job. Why does someone who writes airport novels about longhaired vampires with man-titties deserve more than someone who has to work a double shift with a bunch of teenagers who hate him and comes home every night smelling like blooming onions and beef fat?
posted by electroboy at 6:54 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once again I wonder what people who pull this champion-of-the-working-man shit do for a living, if anything.
posted by Artw at 6:56 PM on November 18, 2009


There's fuckin' room to move as a fry cook. I could be manager in two years. King.

Speaking of royalties, Eddie Murphy wants his. And so does this guy.
posted by electroboy at 7:09 PM on November 18, 2009


"Top 20 BESTSELLER!" seems to imply they should all be peers or something. Anybody know what the curve actually looks like as you move down the top 20 ranks? Is this even a meaningful description? It isn't if No 2 sells half as many as No 1, or if there's a massive break somewhere in the scale with the bottom 15 places all wallowing in roughly equal obscurity.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:21 PM on November 18, 2009


If you're in it for the money, you need to be a publisher. (Pope Guilty)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAAAAA—*cough* *cough* *wheeze*

Oh, lord, no. We don't make money. And our companies don't make much, either. Have you seen trade publishers' profit margins? Traditionally, they've been at about 4-6%. According to the 2008 Bertelsmann annual report, Random House's Return on Sales for 2008 was 8%.

If you're in it for the money, you're in the wrong damn business.

*goes back to editing a spreadsheet of Fall 2010titles, and gets excited about the books she'll be publishing then*
posted by ocherdraco at 8:22 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Westlake's The Ax is a particularly good glimpse into the world of bestsellerdom, by the way, if anyone's interested. It does a good job showing the sheer toil and abuse and barely-remaining-middle-class that goes into writing popular fiction and how it can twist you.

Re: the sort of ongoing discussion here/everywhere about monetizing art, I think William Vollmann once said that you shouldn't become a writer unless you're prepared, like Melville, to die in poverty and almost universal revilement after writing a masterpiece. This is true, of course, but what Vollmann neglects to mention is that the reason Melville could write Moby-Dick is that he'd had a series of hits with his south sea-type novels earlier. He'd been nurtured and compensated. There are the obvious exceptions, such as Kafka, but I wonder if, as a society, we're willing to limit ourselves to them.
posted by Football Bat at 9:03 PM on November 18, 2009


Obiwanwasabi: Like the esteemed Scalzi said upthread, the curve varies a hell of a lot from week to week. Some books get on and hover at #14 for seven weeks, others break the top ten for a single week and then drop entirely off the radar. (The one at #14 is, in this instance, almost certainly the stronger book.) Some weeks you have Neil Gaiman and Dean Koontz and Sherrilyn Kenyon, other weeks you have Lynn Viehl and Stephanie Laurens and Lorna Barrett, all of whom have perfectly respectably careers despite the fact that none of them are household names the way the people on the first list are.
posted by MeghanC at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2009


- All the big money is in poetry.
- Well, yes.


Holy shit. Read that link; it's the happiest, strangest news you'll see all week:

Lilly Heir Makes $100 Million Bequest to Poetry Magazine

This gift has suddenly turned Poetry from a struggling journal little known outside literary circles to one of the world's richest publications. Mr. Parisi said it was by far the largest single donation ever made to an institution devoted to poetry.

''There just isn't anything to compare it to,'' Mr. Parisi said. ''We will be the largest foundation in the world devoted to poetry. It's a huge responsibility, as I'm realizing every day more and more.''


I realized I loved Poetry when I read Another Plot Cliché in the July 2006 humor issue:

Another Plot Cliché
by Rebecca Hoogs

My dear, you are the high-speed car chase, and I,
I am the sheet of glass being carefully carried
across the street by two employees of Acme Moving
who have not parked on the right side
because the plot demands that they make
the perilous journey across traffic,
and so they are cursing as rehearsed
as they angle me into the street, acting as if
they intend to get me to the department store, as if
I will ever take my place as the display window, ever clear
the way for a special exhibit at Christmas, or be Windexed
once a day, or even late at night, be pressed against
by a couple who can’t make it back to his place,
and so they angle me into the street, a bright lure,
a provocative claim, their teaser, and indeed
you can’t resist my arguments, fatally flawed
though they are, so you come careening to but and butt
and rebut, you come careening, you being
both cars, both chaser and chased, both good and bad, both
done up with bullets that haven’t yet done you in.
I know I’m done for: there’s only one street
on this set and you’ve got a stubborn streak a mile long.
I can smell the smoke already.
No matter, I’d rather shatter
than be looked through all day. So come careening; I know
you’ve other clichés to hammer home: women with groceries
to send spilling, canals to leap as the bridge is rising.
And me? I’m so through. I’ve got a thousand places to be.


This is just astonishingly good news. What a wonderful problem to grapple with.
posted by mediareport at 9:16 PM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Toby Buckell did an author advance survey that I contributed to. It's from 2005, but the numbers wouldn't have changed significantly.

So even if we assume that the rest of her novels only net her an average of $500 a year in royalties

Don't. Royalties vary wildly. Usually on the low end of wild.

Samuel Johson:

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."


People love to quote that, but someone who goes into writing expecting to make money has to be the greatest blockhead of all. Be a doctor, get an MBA, sell drugs, do anything but write if you want to make money.
posted by shetterly at 9:19 PM on November 18, 2009


I DO NOT MAKE MONEY BLOGGING

THIS IS AN INJUSTICE

PEOPLE SHOULD GIVE ME MONEY

HOW AM I EXPECTED TO SURVIVE ON MY BLOGGING INCOME I ASK YOU
posted by mightygodking at 9:23 PM on November 18, 2009


An Outback Steakhouse manager has a tough job. Why does someone who writes airport novels about longhaired vampires with man-titties deserve more than someone who has to work a double shift with a bunch of teenagers who hate him and comes home every night smelling like blooming onions and beef fat?

But as noted above, we're talking about the top few percent of all writers with these wages. I dunno about you, but when I think of the top restaurant managers, I think of managers at places like Mort's and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, who make 6 figures.

The point isn't crying about making "so little" money. It's illuminating that a best-seller author doesn't make nearly as much as I- or I reckon most people- assumed.
posted by jmd82 at 9:23 PM on November 18, 2009


Jesus, the folks who think she's whining really need to get a clue and learn how to read.

Sorry, it needs repeating.
posted by mediareport at 9:27 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I cannot remember where I read this story, but I can remember that I read it and am not making it up.I wish I could find the source; this isn't apocryphal, though it sounds like the kind of thing that would be.

At a book-signing (woman novelist, hard-cover book, if any of that helps someone find this on The Google), a man waited said right to her face, "I spent $30 (me: probably $24.95, but whatever) on your shitty book, I want my money back." She opened her purse and handed him eighteen cents, and told him that's what she made on his copy of the book.
posted by tzikeh at 9:31 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


mightygodking: I DO NOT MAKE MONEY BLOGGING

THIS IS AN INJUSTICE

PEOPLE SHOULD GIVE ME MONEY

HOW AM I EXPECTED TO SURVIVE ON MY BLOGGING INCOME I ASK YOU


I think you may have an image problem there, mightygodking. I'm pretty sure that after reading your many fine posts the common populace thinks to themselves: "I want to financially reward, in a handsome manner, the person who wrote this hilarious yet heartwarming post, but who might that person be?" Then they look at the url and see 'mightygodking' and think: "Oh, that person is a mighty god king. Surely a person of such magnificence has no need of my munificence, indeed, it would only trouble their already busy life, with all their subjects and servants, clerks and clerics, waiting breath-baitedly to fulfill their every wish and whim. I will instead purchase the newest single by Katy Perry through iTunes." I suggest you change the name of your blog to "poorchurchmouse.com" (which, I might add, is available) and watch the cheddar wheel in.
posted by Kattullus at 9:41 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


$40k? Hell, I'd do it for free just to be on the Top 20 Sellers List.

Have you ever considered the advantages of having an agent?

Here's my card ...
posted by krinklyfig at 9:58 PM on November 18, 2009


The amount of sheer vitriol and wah boo hiss is this thread is dismaying. First her intention in putting this information out is misinterpreted as being "whining", no matter how many times it has been explained that she is not doing anything of the sort; and then she's slagged off for daring to make a living at all from her writing, or for writing crap, or for noting that what she earns is not nearly what someone might expect from the magic phrase "NYT Bestseller". Bitter much, you guys?
posted by jokeefe at 10:18 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I spent $30 (me: probably $24.95, but whatever) on your shitty book, I want my money back." She opened her purse and handed him eighteen cents, and told him that's what she made on his copy of the book.

Funny but very untrue. Not your story; the idea that she only made 18 cents on a hardcover sale.
posted by Justinian at 10:53 PM on November 18, 2009


If the retail price of a hardcover is $30, the writer made around $3, maybe a little more or a little less.
posted by shetterly at 10:56 PM on November 18, 2009


There IS a Japanese word for "yes"!
posted by Artw at 11:09 PM on November 18, 2009


Will: I thought (mostly from things Charlie [Stross] had said) that authors made closer to 20% than 10% on hardcover sales. But you'd know better.
posted by Justinian at 11:48 PM on November 18, 2009


Justinian, his figures would be more current than mine, so some people might be getting 18 or 20% royalties. This is from my last contract:

Mass Market Paperback: 8% of the first 150,000 copies, 10% thereafter.

Hardcover: 10% of the first 5,000, 12.5% on the next 5000, 15% hereafter.

Trade Paperback: 6% of the first 25,000, 7% on the next 25,000, 8% thereafter.
posted by shetterly at 12:02 AM on November 19, 2009


First her intention in putting this information out is misinterpreted as being "whining", no matter how many times it has been explained that she is not doing anything of the sort

I think most people are reacting to the quote in the FPP, which is ridiculous and certainly shows that she isn't just putting the information out there, but has some sort of agenda.

Let's break it down:

If she only published this one book in a year (we know, however that she publishes 4 or so on average), she would make about $41,000. The federal poverty threshold for a single person is just under $11,000. We might not want to call that whining, but by trying to equate making $41,000 from the sale of a book to being eligible for food stamps surely indicates that this isn't a simple statement of facts. We also know that her marginal tax rate is relatively high (she paid $15,000 in taxes on $41,000 of net income), so we know that she made a fair bit more money during the same year (which makes the poverty comparison even more ridiculous). She also guesses that her publisher made a quarter million dollars publishing her book, which is very unlikely. If she really is trying to inform by writing these articles, then she'd do well to get rid of the outlandish claims, because they undercut the simple presentation of the facts.

Finally, you can "explain" some point or other to people until you are blue in the face, but they don't have to agree with you.
posted by ssg at 12:03 AM on November 19, 2009


She stated in her comparison that she was using the poverty threshold for a family of four. She did make an error in comparing pre-tax to post-tax income, but realizing that the poverty threshold calculations are based on pre-tax income takes some digging.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:34 AM on November 19, 2009


Thanks for the data, Will. That actually sounds familiar; I was probably remembering the top end numbers for the sales after 10,000 hardcover sales.

In any case, 18 cents on a hardcover sale is simply amusing hyperbole.
posted by Justinian at 12:48 AM on November 19, 2009


Why do they screw you on the trade paperbacks? Because they're non-strippable? Why does that matter? So confused.
posted by Justinian at 12:50 AM on November 19, 2009


I know she is using the poverty threshold for a family of four, but if we take the quote at face value, it doesn't seem reasonable to make that assumption. I'm taking issue with the quote in the FPP (which is also in big, bold type at the top of the article).

She did make an error in comparing pre-tax to post-tax income, but realizing that the poverty threshold calculations are based on pre-tax income takes some digging.

But it isn't just pre- versus post-tax income. She is making the claim that an author who only earned $41,000 in a year would pay $15,000 in taxes, when it is in fact her, earning much more than $41,000 a year, paying $15,000 in taxes on $41,000.

Either she is incredibly bad at accounting (and so we shouldn't have much faith in any of the numbers that she presents) or she is twisting the truth to her own ends.
posted by ssg at 12:53 AM on November 19, 2009


I don't think she's whining, and it's interesting that she's posted these figures. However, the poverty level stuff is a bit confusing to me.

ecurtz: She says this book will make back her $50,000 advance in 2 to 3 years. If she's writing the equivalent every year her income is at least $50,000 a year, less 7.5% to her agent, or $46,250 a year.

roquetuen: Wow, with one book a year she is barely scraping by, good thing she was able to crank out 42 novels under 8 psuedonyms since her debut in 2000 (first link).

If she gets a $50,000 advance on each book which she just about manages to pay back, then she makes about $50,000 per book.

If she's published 42 books in 9 years, i.e. 4.67 books a year, wouldn't that mean she's making $233000 a year in royalties?

I realise that not all her books might be as profitable as the one listed here, and for sure it's a lot of effort to write 5 books in a year, but the figures presented here don't seem anywhere near the poverty threshold to me.

Or am I making some mistake in those calculations?
posted by Mike1024 at 1:04 AM on November 19, 2009


But it isn't just pre- versus post-tax income. She is making the claim that an author who only earned $41,000 in a year would pay $15,000 in taxes, when it is in fact her, earning much more than $41,000 a year, paying $15,000 in taxes on $41,000.

You're right, assuming standard rather than itemized, she'd be paying about $4375 a year in taxes on $41000 in self employment income after various dependent children credits, etc...
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:21 AM on November 19, 2009


Or am I making some mistake in those calculations?

Paying her agent, health care, travel expenses, toner, etc... out of the advance?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:24 AM on November 19, 2009


You didn't actually read the linked post, did you?
I did. she was talking about the perception people had had about the financial windfall a nyt list book would probably generate and I was referencing exactly that. perhaps you didn't read my reply.
posted by krautland at 2:25 AM on November 19, 2009


Why do they screw you on the trade paperbacks?

I was wondering about that myself. That contract isn't recent. I hope the going rate has improved. Emma and I are both fulfilling old contracts, so anyone with newer data shouldn't hesitate to speak up.
posted by shetterly at 6:26 AM on November 19, 2009


Not your story; the idea that she only made 18 cents on a hardcover sale.
posted by Justinian at 12:53 AM on November 19


If it was bought from a book club, that might be all the apocryphal author made.

Or am I making some mistake in those calculations?
posted by Mike1024 at 3:04 AM on November 19


Her agent will be taking 15% of her advance. But no, I don't think your figures are substantially wrong. Just remember you're talking about her income, and she's talking about her net from a single bestseller, which are clearly different things.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:07 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]




But as noted above, we're talking about the top few percent of all writers with these wages.

That's a fair point, but I was responding specifically to someone decrying the fact that someone in the creative arts made the same as a steak house manager.
posted by electroboy at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2009


Two points:

- While it seems that the author expects to earn out with this book, the stat I've heard is that 50% of books never do. I can't tell if "on average I generally net about 30-40 percent of my advance" means in the first year or what, but it's not unreasonable to assume that most of her books don't generate ongoing revenue.

- Reserve against returns (which is not a super simple topic - scroll down a bit for the explanation) means that even if the book earns out, the author won't see all of the revenue for some unspecified length of time determined by the publisher.

She doesn't expect it to earn out until two to three years after it was released. That means that her $27k net covers a two to three year period before she makes any more money on that book. I don't find the tone whiny at all, and I think it's very enlightening to see the difference between my mental picture of a NYT Bestseller's value and the reality.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


("My take on what Smedleyman was saying is not that he thinks being an accountant or mechanic is not worthy of respect, but that being a writer is very insecure." - yep.)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:54 AM on November 19, 2009


Once again I wonder what people who pull this champion-of-the-working-man shit do for a living, if anything.

I'm a champion of everybody! I'm an artist and I work in the "pink-collar" sector as my day job*. I've sold over $1,000 worth of art in the past... five years. In the meantime, I wipe other people's butts to pay the bills.

*As a nanny. My shirts don't actually have collars since they have to go through the wash at least twice a week. Per shirt. Sometimes more. I should just buy stock in Tide.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:16 AM on November 19, 2009


Yeah, I am not sure why this thread isn't friendlier than it could be, but speaking as an author I just wanted to say how useful it is to see a NYT bestselling author's royalty statement.

The main revelation here is what a tiny piece of pie so many people are fighting over or just how narrow that little pyramid is that they always tell you about. The middlemen definitely made more money than I did off my efforts.
posted by Kirklander at 1:38 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


$42,000 is actually slightly more than median income for people who work full time in the US. Be reasonable.

Median income. God. That's is so sad. Like I said this isn't 1979.

Jesus. I swear you people have been brainwashed.

Be reasonable?

It's totally unreasonable. It's why, when you factor in debt, the middle class is shrinking at an alarming rate in this country. Wages have been totally static for thirty god damned years while rich people just keep getting richer.

It'd be reasonable if the US had safety nets for "median income" people. If the US had reasonably priced health care, housing, and higher education.

But it doesn't.

The fact is $42K before taxes, and insurance, and savings for your kids education, leaves most people with very little in retirement, upward mobility and security. You'd have to live in a blighted community or smaller town to afford decent housing on $42K. In which case good luck finding decent education for your kids and good luck continuing to make $42K for very long.
$42,000 a year before taxes and insurance and all the rest demands that, if you are married, both people have to work. And why families are so fucked up and don't even know each other.

It's only blind dumb luck or extreme or creative fiscal and material discipline that prevents the Median Income family from becoming downwardly mobile.

Look. I will admit that in terms of material wealth in the US we are, most of us, rich. Absurdly rich. Part of that is wrapped up with our addiction to consumerism and corresponding debt. My parents were children of the depression. They ate boiled newspapers to survive. My father made $24K as a captain in the US Army in the 1960's with three kinds. He retired as a Colonel with 40K a year in 1974. He sent all of us to college. There is no way in HELL he could do that now. No fucking way.

In terms of real, secure, future building wealth, most so-called "median income" people live on a precipice only one car accident or one cancer diagnosis away from abject poverty and misery.

We have traded REAL wealth, real security, for credit. Yet corporations are profiting more than ever before. Year after year. Even now during the worst economy since the depression top level executives who received bail outs are still trying to driving UP thier salaries. Meanwhile they are using the crisis as an excuse to bust unions and drive down workers wages.

We. don't. get. paid. enough.

So again I say $42,000K a year ain't shit. I can't believe people are shitting on this woman for having the audacity to point out she ain't a millionaire and maybe wanting a slightly larger share of the profits from her OWN FUCKING LABOR.

Just goes to show you the level of self hate Americans practice.
posted by tkchrist at 3:18 PM on November 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


In terms of real, secure, future building wealth, most so-called "median income" people live on a precipice only one car accident or one cancer diagnosis away from abject poverty and misery.

Which is why a decent, single-payer, socialized health care system would be the most stabilizing and productive course of action possible in terms of restoring a real standard of living in the US.
posted by jokeefe at 3:44 PM on November 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's a fair point, but I was responding specifically to someone decrying the fact that someone in the creative arts made the same as a steak house manager.

You missed the point entirely. Or perhaps I bungled it. The problem is... ok... think of it like this:

She owns the product of her labor (what ever you think of the genre or the art or whatever). She is the product... she IS the steak restaurant... and she is getting less compensation than the manager.

She, her product, is in demand. One assumes that a product in such demand garners a high percentage of profit for the manufacturer and creator. Alas, her poor math skills not withstanding, it does not.

My other point, which should be obvious, is that people saying she shouldn't complain becuase 42K is a reasonable income have either grossly over estimated their own fiscal futures or make way more than that and have equally lost touch with what life is like for "median" income folks. IOW: If you think 42K is upwardly mobile middle class your are in for a sad awakening.

Anyway. This author expected herself as a best selling author to have done better than just being a wage slave. And I think she has a very fair point.
posted by tkchrist at 3:47 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which is why a decent, single-payer, socialized health care system would be the most stabilizing and productive course of action possible in terms of restoring a real standard of living in the US.

I could not agree more.
posted by tkchrist at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2009


She owns the product of her labor (what ever you think of the genre or the art or whatever). She is the product... she IS the steak restaurant... and she is getting less compensation than the manager.

She owned the product of her labor. But she sold a piece of that product in exchange for someone printing, distributing and promoting it. So essentially, she's the farmer that provides the steak.
posted by electroboy at 5:20 AM on November 20, 2009


"So essentially, she's the farmer that provides the steak."

And if there's one group that doesn't get fucked over on a regular basis in the U.S., yeah, it's the farmers.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:57 PM on November 20, 2009


You're saying the US needs Supernatural Romance subsidies, so it can build up a Supernatural Romance surplus and start putting that shit in everything?
posted by Artw at 12:59 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Goddamn supernatural romances. I will never forgive Laurell K. Hamilton.
posted by Justinian at 1:53 PM on November 20, 2009


So there's a possibility I might get paid not to write supernatural romance novels? Because I'm already the world's leading expert at that.
posted by electroboy at 2:36 PM on November 20, 2009


"You're saying the US needs Supernatural Romance subsidies, so it can build up a Supernatural Romance surplus and start putting that shit in everything?"

Of course not. You're taking it too literally. I'm saying we need to put high fructose corn syrup into all novels, not just to sweeten the supernatural romances.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2009


late to the game, but someone mentioned YA (which I write; five months after my two-book deal sold, I should be seeing the first of five partial advance checks -- the last I'll get when the second book is published, 2.5 years from now(!!)), and I recalled a blog post by popular YA author Susan Beth Pfeffer where she gets similarly transparent about publishing finances.

Here, bestselling author John Green breaks down advance/royalty structure, and argues why massive advances are bad for authors and publishers both.

I'm sure I've run across more like this, but I can't remember them now. I'm impressed when authors are so publicly honest about their finances, because in reality, it's sort of embarrassing.
posted by changeling at 7:08 AM on November 21, 2009


justinian asks shetterly: "Why do they screw you on the trade paperbacks? Because they're non-strippable? Why does that matter? So confused."

Trade paperback royalties are on the low side because the cost of producing, manufacturing, and distributing a trade paperback is not all that much less than the cost of producing, manufacturing, and distributing the same book in hardcover, but the cover price is ten or twelve dollars lower. In general, margins are thinner in trade paperback than in either hardcover or mass-market.
posted by pnh at 4:45 AM on November 22, 2009


That makes sense, thanks Patrick.
posted by Justinian at 4:39 PM on November 22, 2009


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