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Apr 15, 2009

Show Me the Money

I always find it interesting to see how much money authors actually make. We all know that J.K. Rowlings is the exception, not the rule; but real dollars-and-cents figures are guarded more closely than goblin's gold.

I found this breakdown from one helpful e-publisher, New Concepts Publishing, about the average payout over three years for various Romance sub-genres:

Average payout over three years (contract period) $450.00

Science Fiction/Futuristic range: $127.89--$8455.46

Paranormal range: $78.00--$5673.50

Contemporary range: $55.18--$7913.78

Historical range: $75.16--$3863.12

Romantic Suspense range: $124.24--$1977.20

Fantasy range: $44.00--$4774.80

Remember, all of these are actually in the Romance genre, so you sf freaks, contain your jubliation unless your aliens have their sexy on. I suspect mainstream fantasy and sf sell in much lower numbers. If anyone has any real figures, ballpark or specific, I'd be interested.

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Small e-presses are probably the first step above vanity presses in terms of renumeration. (Some snobs would also say in quality, and this is sometimes true, but not always; some small presses are even more particular about their books than large presses, since they have limited budgets and time.) The figures above also refer solely to royalties. (These small presses are usually royalty-only.) What about advances?

What about the big, mainstream presses? Here's what the NY Times had to say about advances (emphasis mine):

In the preface to “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Dave Eggers broke form by telling the reader he received $100,000 for the manuscript, which — after his detailed expenses — netted him $39,567.68.

...As a payment to be deducted from future royalties, an advance is a publisher’s estimate of risk. Figures fluctuate based on market trends, along with an author’s sales record and foreign rights potential, though most publishers I talked to cited $30,000 as a rough average.

...The numbers can sound much bigger than they are. Take a reported six-figure advance, Roy Blount Jr., the president of the Authors Guild, said in an e-mail message. “That may mean $100,000, minus 15 percent agent’s commission and self-employment tax, and if we’re comparing it to a salary let us recall (a) that it does not include any fringes like a desk, let alone health insurance, and (b) that the book might take two years to write and three years to get published. . . . So a six-figure advance, while in my experience gratefully received, is not necessarily enough, in itself, for most adults to live on.”

To break that down, start with $100,000. Pay your agent 15,000, and you're left with $85,000, divided by 5 years (2 yrs to write, 3 to be published) and you have an income of $17,000 a year, which doesn't include medical insurence or work-related expences -- publicist, anyone? Travel expences for your book tour? Maybe some publishers cover that, but I wouldn't count on it. This breakdown is even more fun if you start with the "industry average" (?) advance mentioned above, $30,000. Pay your agent, and you have $25,500. Divide by 5 years and your income is $5,100 per month.

A minimum wage of $7.75 per hour (the rate in Illinois) translates to $16,120 annually. Now consider the amount of education needed to hold a minimum wage job and the minimum level of education needed to write novels.

I'm just telling you what you already knew, right? The person who seems to have a hard time grasping it is my educational loan officer.

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The cartoon is by this totally cool dude who doodles cartoons on the back of business cards. That is so gimicky. Don't you wish you'd thought of it first? Me too.

You might wonder if you can make more money selling business-card cartoons than blogging or selling novels, and the answer is apparently, no.


Sophie Lawson said...

Fortunately, I am not giving up my day job...oh wait, they laid me off! Fortunately, I have promising positions at the local Safeway bagging groceries...oh wait, they let me go because I spent all my time in the restroom working on my computer. Hey, I'm not in this for the money anyway, just the joy of creation!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Great post!

And yeah, my loan officers are similiarly unwilling or unable to understand this.