I don’t want to discourage anyone, but the truth is that there are at least 75,000 to 80,000 books published every year in America . . . maybe more. And this week I read that only about 200 or so writers make enough money to stay home and write full-time. I’d give you the source, but I can’t remember where I read that stat; I only remember that it slapped me upside the head with reality.
So should you stop writing? Of course not. But you do need to establish the reason why you write. Is it to get rich? To live comfortably and pay your bills? To serve God? Because you can’t NOT write? All or none of the above?
I started this blog to inspire authors to write the truth. Before you can do that, you need to wipe the scales from your eyes and look at publishing, especially CBA publishing, in the bright light of day. Take off your sunglasses and follow me.
You struggle for years to write your first novel, or your first seven, before you make a sale. Now you’re a debut author. If you’re fortunate, you may have a series planned that a publisher loves. But since you’re a new author they may not want to take a chance on whether you can deliver a manuscript every six months for at least three books (anything less is not a series). The editor acquires your first book.
Depending on the publisher, that first book may net you an advance of anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000. But remember, that money is called an advance because you have to earn it back for the publisher, and they want you to earn it back within the first year.
How do you do that? Your agent will negotiate a royalty rate, and most publishers will give you an escalating advance as an incentive to sell enough copies to pay back your advance. For instance, you may be offered 12% for the first 10,000 copies you sell; 14% for the next 10,000 copies, and 16% for every copy you sell after 20,000. That’s just an estimate. Some publishers set the escalating percentages much higher. The average CBA title sells about 4,500 to 5,000 copies. Publishers who pay you a $10,000 advance want you to sell twice the average or more.
Let’s say your book sells for $12.99, and you make 12% of the net amount (about half of the retail price) or about 78 cents per copy. Actually, it may be less depending on what your percentages are for selling into markets that demand a higher discount from the publisher. That’s why an agent is worth the 15% you pay her or him. After paying your agent you may make about 65 cents per copy . . . or less.
But you don’t get the entire amount of your advance up front. Normally, it’s paid out in thirds, although some are now dividing the advance into fourths. Abingdon still pays the advance in two checks.
Let’s say you are paid 1/3 of a $9,000 advance at contract signing: that’s $3,000. The next third will not be paid until the editor accepts your manuscript. You’ll be living on about $1,000 a month until you finish your second book. The last $3,000 will be paid on publication, which may be 9 to 12 months down the road.
You won’t see a royalty check for about 18 months—that is if you see one at all. Remember, you need to sell enough copies to earn out your advance before you are paid any royalties. You also may have high returns, and those will be subtracted from your total sales.
Can you quit your day job and live on $1,000 a month? Add it up. It takes most writers at least 6 to 8 months to write a book. Unless you want to live in a tent in the woods and eat off the fat of the land, you better keep working.
Of course, if you have several successful books that pay you regular royalties, you might consider a full-time occupation as a writer, but be prepared to supplement your income by teaching workshops, selling books at conferences, and helping other writers for a fee.
I can hear your wheels turning. “But you quit!” Yes, I did, but I jumped off a 1,000-foot cliff without a parachute. If it weren’t for the Lord’s peace that passes all understanding, I’d crawl under my desk, suck my thumb, and sob while I rocked to and fro.
For the moment, I’m still receiving a small stipend from Abingdon until I wind up the contract stage of the 2013 acquisitions. At the beginning of October, I made a $1,000 for editing a manuscript. Yesterday, I took on a work-for-hire assignment to write a children’s story for $500, and an author called me today to read her initial chapters for my opinion. That will pay me another $100 for four hours of work.
My husband’s Social Security pays our house payment, and I’m responsible for paying the rest of the bills: utilities, credit cards, medical, taxes. In January, I’ll collect my Social Security, which is $500 less than what I would have made if I had waited until I was 65 to draw it out. That’s slightly more than $1,000. But the government will deduct $1 for every $2 I earn. By then my work at Abingdon will have expired.
If you see Mike and I living in a tent on a beach in Florida, drop by and say hello. But I trust the Lord has a plan. I have contacts, and those contacts know the quality of my work. God has plenty for me to do. And that’s the truth.
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This is day #10 in the 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.