Monday, October 17, 2011

It Makes Cents

This weekend I read a blog post about book advances—about how they could hurt a writer. After reading it, I realized it makes sense, yet I never really thought about it before.

For those outside of the writing community, the publishing world has changed since the ’60s and ‘70s where authors became rich off their talent, and a household name. Traditional publishing houses began tightening their purse strings, and grew hesitant on taking chances with new writers as opposed to committing to high profile names. If you look at the books out there now, you’ll see more than ever, books published by celebrities (90% of them written by ghostwriters). Writers became frustrated with the way they were treated by agents and publishers, so when they saw a market in technology they went for it. Writers took the opportunity to self-publish by utilizing e-books. You can learn more about e-books and self-publishing on Joe Konrath’s blog.

As for the book advances, traditional publishing houses, Simon & Schuster, Random House to name a few, give authors advances with their signing contracts. These advances are given because the publisher believes they will make a large profit on the book. Let’s say Marsha gets a $25,000 advance on her book. She will not make any more money until she sells enough books to hit the $25,000. Nowadays, this is very difficult to do because of all the competition out there. If Marsha’s hard cover costs $25.00, she would need to sell 1000 copies to hit $25,000. If her soft cover costs $14.95, she would need to at least sell 1700 copies. This is very difficult to do for an up and coming author.

Book advances can also hurt a writer’s chance to publish again through traditional methods if they didn’t sell their first book as predicted. Fortunately, publishing houses haven’t requested the money back on advances. Yet.

Today’s times show that people want things at their fingertips. Unlike me, most people don’t enjoy browsing around a bookstore, looking at the covers, reading synopses and leaving with an armful of books. Believe it or not, it’s only a matter of time before e-books outsell print copies everywhere (here’s a link regarding Amazon sales). Unfortunately, this means our brick and mortar bookstores will slowly disappear. Majority of people do not want to waste their money on a hard cover book—they look for cheap and usually online. I’m not saying selling large quantities of print books is impossible, but as a new writer without an audience, you had better have a great book and a fabulous marketing/promotion strategy.

Writing a book is a small part of publishing. There’s so much more involved in getting it together and ultimately promoting it. I could say that most writers dislike the promoting part of publishing. We want to write, not research on how we’re going to get our name out there. But the fact is if we don’t promote and have people spread the word, then the titles of our books will fade away in a warehouse or in the virtual world. Promotion is key in getting your book in as many hands as possible. Those authors who get large advances should use it for promotional purposes, because like self-publishing, writers who go through the traditional methods are basically in charge of marketing their book, too. Some publicity is given, but not much. Writers are up against hundreds of books published each day either electronically or traditionally. It’s funny that most people think authors are rich. Unfortunately, majority of writers are lucky to sell 40 books a year.

One last thing I’d like to share is an article regarding Penny Marshall’s Memoir. “Amazon Publishing won the rights to the book and will issue both a traditional print and a digital edition.”

Promote and prosper (as best you can),


  1. Hm. I think I'm good and depressed now.

    Interesting post (and links). I never really understood the whole advance thing. It reminds me of draw vs. commission from my old sales jobs. You say, "Fortunately, publishing houses haven’t requested the money back on advances. Yet." So that means they've just been cutting their losses?

    It's funny, before I began writing, I had several sales and marketing jobs, and I was always dying to get out of them one day and do something I *really* loved. And wouldn't you know, now that I finally discovered writing—I have to go back to selling and marketing again?! Arrrgh!

    p.s. did you see Footloose?

  2. Aw, don't be depressed. We write because we love it. All we can do is hope that enough people recommend it to others so we can share our writing with many.

    I assume the publishing companies cut their losses.

    See? You're a step ahead of the game. You have experience in sales and marketing. It helps.

    LOL! No I did not see Footloose. I don't know if I'll be able to see it at the movies. Maybe I'll rent it when it comes to video. How about you?

  3. No, I didn't make it to the show either. You can count on the fact that most movies I see are on DVDs.