publish your book and get rich quick (not)

Over at the BookEnds blog, Jessica has a post about planning your future income — on how much an author might reasonably expect for an advance. In comments, someone mentions how easy it is to look at the Stephen Kings and Stephanie Meyers of the world and feel they, too, can write a book and make a million dollars and be set for life.

Some don’t seem to realize that bestselling authors represent only a small percentage of working writers. (Though, as an aside, I do wonder what Stephen King’s first advance was….) Based on some of the first-timer queries I get, it also seems there are a number of people who don’t realize how competitive the field is for becoming published in the first place, and how much more likely it is to get a $5,000-$10,000 advance for a debut than a six-figure deal. One should also note that not every book published gets made into a blockbuster movie.

It’s too bad this perception can set up unrealistic expectations for getting started and building a career in writing. But it seems prevalent from a number of different perspectives. So many writers who have garnered that first contract offer mention that they were immediately asked by family and/or friends — or even people they were only marginally acquainted with — how much they made (is it rude to ask?) and when they’d be sharing the wealth. Like they’ve won the lottery or something.

My favorite was a recent email I received from a real estate agent. I have no idea where they found my email address or what possessed them to contact me. They were asking me to let my clients know about a property they had for sale – a mountaintop retreat that would permit my client to work in peace and solitude. How much was this gem listed for? 2 1/4 million dollars.

Go figure.

29 responses to “publish your book and get rich quick (not)

  1. King’s first advance for Carrie was more than he was then making in a year as a teacher. I don’t recall the figure, but, he does mention it in On Writing. That said, it’s still not something to expect by any stretch.

  2. I have a couple authors on my flist and even though they got an advance and now get royalties, they still keep their day job. In fact, I read quite often in Writer’s Digest and other such magazines that state, “Don’t quit your day job once you get published!” Especially for first time published authors.

  3. The real estate agent makes me laugh. While I know some people work best in peace and solitude, a mountaintop retreat would almost certainly work wonders for me for a weekend and drive me to redrum in the long run.

  4. Writing for money…
    Interesting to see this since I recently saw this discussion on Nicola Morgan’s blog and then wrote about it myself (with the point of view of an unpublished) at http://clothdragon.blogspot.com/. I guess money is on everyone’s mind about now. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the first notice of upcoming property taxes coming in the mail recently.

  5. I read the last part of your post and had to laugh. The realtor was contacting you because you’re the agent to all these rich clients. Presumably, you’re taking home a nice chunk of all your clients’ income. Yet, she didn’t think you’d have an interest in a palatial mountaintop retreat so you could get away from the agenting rat race.
    But, on to the more important overarching point of your post: it’s certainly crucial for people to have realistic expectations for their career. It doesn’t mean you can’t dream big. It just means you can’t have that as an expectation. I think it’s important to put your best foot forward, and see where it goes from there.

  6. Something interesting to think about is how many would be authors read this and still think that it doesn’t apply. I know I’ve been guilty of the same from time to time, and I happen to also know more than a few others who think their unpublished writing is worth a fortune…

  7. I noticed on the other blog that some would-be authors are wondering if they should take a lower advance, that they feel more confident will earn out — and one anon saying to take the biggest advance possible and run with it, and besides, if a publisher pays a lot, they’ll push it.
    If you ever cared to talk about that, from the agent point of view, I’d surely be reading with interest. (My personal suspicion is that there’s a sweet spot of “not too greedy” and “enough that the publisher values what they pay for and pushes it,” which is more art than science to find…)

    • IANAA, but I’ve discussed this question with a number of writer friends, some of whom are very successful.
      If you “take a big advance and run”, and don’t earn it all out – you are a financial liability to the publisher. Your next book, if they agree to publish it at all, will net a lower advance that they find more realistic. And if you can’t earn that second advance back… well, I know writers who have switched pennames and changed the genres they write in, in order to start all over. It’s a pretty high risk career-killer.

      • That’s what my logic says to me, too. The one part that did make sense was the claim of “If they spend a lot for you, they’ll promote you harder because they have more invested in you.”
        Mr/Ms. Anon on the other blog claims to be with a second publisher now.

        • I think that’s only half true.
          Publishers will only offer a large advance if they think you can earn it back – and then some. If they see something in your work that makes them think you are, in fact, the next Nora Roberts or JK Rowling or whatever. There may be ad campaigns for specific books or series (I’m going to go out on a limb and say usually series), but 98% of the time the onus to promote is really on the author – signings, tours, word-of-mouth, websites, blogs, etc. You are your own marketing department.

  8. Possibly the real estate agent figured the only people foolish enough to try to write professionally are already independently wealthy…
    I’d be interested in knowing more about the topic mentions above, too.

  9. I suspect that one of the things that drives wannabe authors is the dream of making those big bucks. Actually, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, as long as it’s used positively as another motivation to fight through the doldrums and writer’s blocks that happen. If it becomes an obsession, then that’s a different story.

  10. And let me say how shocked I am that you didn’t pass on that real estate listing to your clients! I can only assume you were keeping it for yourself…

  11. You should post a link to the mountaintop retreat listing. I want to check it out, maybe imagine Castle puttering around in it, feeling lonesome and anxious.
    I read Donald Maas’s notes about writers who make six-figure incomes in his free ebook, and it’s pretty clear what it takes (usually) to reach that point.
    I wonder if he’d get the same results now as he did then.

  12. I actually wouldn’t want a huge first advance. The possibility of not earning it out and ruining your chances for the next project are too daunting. I’d rather have a nice normal amount I can hope to conquer and give myself a black, not red, mark on the ledger.
    Plus, I don’t plan on quitting my day job. I work in a bookstore. Seriously, why would I stop working?

  13. Big Money
    Surely enough money to be able to take enough time off from the day job to actually have time to complete the next project would be nice. No? And learn French, and paint a masterpiece, and compose a sonata, and yadda yadda. πŸ˜€ Who was the science fiction writer that said specialization was for insects? Anyway, I digress, and that last comment probably made some people hate me. I think everyone fantasizes about those mountaintop chateaus, especially since so many of the characters in our stories seem to have them. πŸ˜› Oh and they’re all beautiful and rich, must have been from all those book deals. πŸ˜€ And, I know people who, and this may or may not include me, who would write a book for $5 and a bottle of absinthe.;)

  14. I’ve had to explain how little I might earn to my boyfriend a few times. I don’t even tell anyone else in my RL that I’m writing. I don’t need to be hounded with Are you done, yet? Are you published, yet? Well why not?!
    *shudder*

  15. Maybe if all your clients pool their money together and then rob a bank…

  16. So many writers who have garnered that first contract offer mention that they were immediately asked by family and/or friends — or even people they were only marginally acquainted with — how much they made (is it rude to ask?) and when they’d be sharing the wealth. Like they’ve won the lottery or something.
    I had a short story accepted by a charity anthology – no payment, the story was basically a donation. I burbled about it at work and my boss asked, “You’re not quitting, are you? I mean, you sold something.”
    I had to assure her there was not enough money to buy even a postcard of the Cayman Islands, much less set up a tax shelter there.

  17. Chateau?
    2-1/4 million?
    Hm…
    Will they take a check?
    — Ulysses.

  18. Well Jennifer, I have no idea where they found your e-mail either, but I can guess what possessed them to contact you: desperation.
    They wanted you to go annoying your clients, so they could clear a commission likely to exceed 100 grand? And I suppose they wanted you to do this for free!

  19. If I can make a note on about a previous topic waaaaay back-I recall people talking about cover letters and how nervous they made them. (Understandably!) But I came across a new resource recently that might be of help for that and some common pitfalls for writers.
    I thought I’d share it and see if you had already heard of it. It’s called “How Not To Write A Novel: 200 Classic Missteps and How to Avoid Them” by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
    Have you seen it before?
    I enjoyed it because the examples are so extreme that even if you realize you’ve made one of the mistakes you can not help but laugh.

  20. I’m sure Scholes can afford it. No problem. Besides, he needs the extra room for those twins.

  21. The real estate agent Mumbai property makes me proud. While I know some people work best in peace and solitude.

  22. My favorite was a recent email I received from a real estate agent. I have no idea where they found my email address or what possessed them to contact me. They were asking me to let my clients know about a property they had for sale – a mountaintop retreat that would permit my client to work in peace and solitude. How much was this gem listed for? 2 1/4 million dollars.
    LOL! Usually a lot of writers are looking for apartments in NY City and not 2.25 million dollars house; it seems they get inspired by this bustled city. Never the less, some of them will eventually get rich enough to buy such a “gem” they’re all (secretly) dreaming of.

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