Saturday, August 20, 2005

the money

Because romance is one of the top-selling genres, most people assume that romance writers are instant millionaires. (snicker, snort). I've heard things like we "sit back and watch the money roll in." Uh. Right. Or people feel sorry for us because they all know the NY publishers pay dirt.

Reality=somewhere in between. Yes, there are top sellers like Nora. But do this--go into a bookstore, any bookstore. Stand somewhere in the middle and turn in a slow circle. See all those books? See the thousands of books? If all these writers were making six figures, there would be much more money pouring into the economy.

A lot of aspiring authors ask me how much money they can make--what they really mean is, is being a writer worth the copious amounts of time you have to spend writing?

The truth is, hour for hour, word for word, no, you'll probably never be compensated for the effort you put into it. Even if you have a hit, most publishers take a year or more to send you a royalty check (even the ones who send you statements in six months hold back about 30% against returns). And if your book tanks, then all you get is that small advance, and likely the publisher will say so sorry, bye-bye.

So, when you start, you go through a lot of sweating and a lot of pain for little money. Of course, if and when your career takes off, things start to snowball (you can be earning royalties on several books at once, plus getting advances for future books). But the first years are pretty lean, even if you are an instant bestseller.

Writing is about delayed gratification. Even e-publishing can take some time--you don't get any money until your book is published, because e-pubs (right now, anyway), don't pay advances. That's the danger of e-pubbing; you can sell a book, they can hold it for a year or more before they publish it, and you don't see a dime until they put it up for sale.

Most e-pubs publish pretty quickly at this point, but as more and more authors come on board and the lists get more crowded, it's going to take more time before your book comes out. Delayed gratification again. (Nothing against e-pubs, because I'm also e-published, and it's fun).

What I'm getting around to is that if you're looking at writing as a way to make a quick buck, look elsewhere. If you're an extremely savvy marketer and know how to predict the pulse of the reading public, then you might have an instant bestseller.

Most people don't. Most people write a book because they want to write it, and have no clue about the market (that was me five years ago). But they assume that they'll write from the heart, and everyone else will love what's in their heart, and they'll be an instant bestseller.

Well, the reading public does not always care about what's in your heart. If it's an ultra-sexy werewolf and your book's coming out today, then they might. If it's an insightful romance about fifteenth century Germany, maybe not. Doesn't mean it's not a great book, but the readers just don't feel like reading it.

So what do you do? Write from the heart anyway. Then go to the bookstore, look around you, and see what people are buying. Better still, go to Walmart or Target or wherever, and see what's there, because that's what's selling the most. Can you marry what's in your heart with what's on those shelves?

And is your writing good, strong, and entertaining to read? That's another step a lot of people skip. Skill. I don't think I'm the world's greatest writer, but every book I try to make my writing better. I write my first draft fast, but then I go through every word and try to make it the best it can be. Many readers tell me my books are page-turners, which I love to hear, because it means I succeeded in making my writing smooth.

So put it all togther: what's in your heart + understanding of the market + skill. Still you might not have an instant bestseller, but you'll have a pretty darned good book.

Will you make a ton of cash? Maybe, maybe not. What you will have is knowledge that you wrote a darned good book. It will fulfill you in ways you didn't know you could be fulfilled.

Write only for money, and you'll write shallow books that you'll be tired of writing very quickly. Write a strong book, put everything you have into the journey, and you'll be satisfied, whether you make a million or your $1K advance and norhing more.

My wisdom for a Saturday evening. :)



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