Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Personal Mission

So Monday I wrote about what it takes to put a book together – as in a physical book, with cover, pages with words, etc. One person commented. I know it’s not exciting stuff and it can be overwhelming. I also know most of you don’t find it relevant at all, but, honestly, you should.

If you’re a writer, you might be thinking that your publisher will do all this for you. If you have a good understanding of what it takes to produce a book, though, you can see why the publisher wants a fair share of your pie. You can also sound more knowledgeable when you communicate with your publisher and agent. And if you consider self-publishing, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into.

If you’re a reader – as in you read others’ stories, but don’t write your own – I think it’s also important to know these things. In fact, I’ve made it a personal mission to inform readers of all that goes into a book so you can understand why they’re not free or next to free. I know we can’t all afford to go out and buy every single book we want to read and, instead, we borrow from friends or the library. But it bugs the crap out of me when someone broadcasts on the Internet that “I’ll never pay $10 for a book! I’ll wait to buy it at a garage sale, even if it is my favorite author.”

Side-note: It really, really burns me. A book brings hours of entertainment. People will willingly pay $10 to see a movie that might be two hours long. They’ll pay $20 to buy a DVD they might watch a few times, so two to eight hours. But they balk at $15-$20 for a book that provides hours of entertainment, something to look forward to every evening for a few days (or longer, depending on your reading speed) and, if it’s really good, many more hours of daydreaming about the characters and the story. And you’re actually using your brain! Bonus!!)

But that favorite author won’t be around forever if he or she isn’t supported and that even applies to the big ones. Because nobody gets paid for re-sales, trades, sharing, etc. If stores and distributors aren’t making money, publishers aren’t making money. If publishers aren’t making money, authors are the ones that suffer. They get mid-listed, fewer resources are invested in their projects, which means even fewer sales…and the downward cycle continues. They get stuck in a deep rut in their careers.

Most authors don’t write for the money, but most of us would like to be able to write full-time. But we all have bills to pay. Unfortunately, nobody makes much money off a book – not publishers and especially not authors. You have to sell millions of copies to make millions of dollars. Seriously. An author is doing well to bring in about $1 per copy sold. Obviously, borrowed, traded, found, stolen and garage-sale books don’t count.

Numbers may vary but since an author gets paid as a percentage of sales, the more the book’s price, the more the author receives. So they might get $1.50 instead of $1. On a $15 book. You’ll find discussions in many places of higher royalty rates, but royalties are complex. A 20% royalty is not usually 20% of the list price. There are all kinds of calculations that go into it. No matter how we’ve crunched the numbers, from major publishers to indie presses, it basically comes down to about $1-$1.50 per book.

Surprising? It was when I first figured it out. Depressing? It can be. Discouraging? Maybe, but only if you let it be.

My point is that I hope more readers will be less likely to complain about book prices if they understand that 1) nobody makes a ton of money unless the book sells a ton of copies; and 2) the author gets a tiny amount of each sale.

I also hope that writers take the initiative to learn about the industry and all of their options. Everybody wants a piece of your pie. It’s just the way it is. All you can do is write an amazing book and then market, market, market.

That was supposed to be today’s post – what goes into marketing a book. But I went off on a tangent. Sorry. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

What are your thoughts? Anyone want to join me on my mission to educate readers?


  1. I couldn't agree more! Especially on the "profits" to be had in a book. We'd all love to be bestsellers, but...

    As for hours of entertainment vis a vis dollars spent, good point! I wish more people looked at it that way, especially the part about engaging your brain and imagination.

  2. I'm in, I'm in! I really don't think the public realise how hard it is to make a living as a writer. I've put in a good four months work on a non-fiction book, plus maybe a month or so on promotion if I added it all up, and so far I've got... around £90! That's six months' work for £90 (so far, anyway...)! Woohoo! :) No, we certainly don't do it for money!

  3. Great post!! I buy lots of books. Sure I try to buy them at Wal-Mart, KMart, etc to getthem a little cheaper, but you will never hear me complain about the cost of a book!! I LOVE them to much. If I really want the book, I don't think twice about paying full price. Keep up the good works, I love your books.

  4. Palindrome, Really the best marketing is readers' word-of-mouth. I'm sure you did make a difference!

    Jill, Unfortunately, most people don't think about the value they get from a book, except avid readers. The multimedia books they're talking about for ebooks might change that, but then you've changed the definition of a "book" anyway.

    Talli, No, the public doesn't realize what goes into producing a book or how hard it is to make a living. Unless you are or know a writer very well, you have no idea the literal blood, sweat and tears that go into the story...let alone the rest of the process. Good thing we love what we do!

    Martha, buying cheaper NEW books doesn't affect the author - in the short-run anyway. The retailer still had to buy the book at the same wholesale price as the rest. They use books as loss-leaders. Unfortunately, in the long run, as readers become accustomed to those cheaper prices, the retailers might start demanding the wholesale price be reduced (like what Amazon tried to do with ebooks). That would hurt the authors in the long-run. Being both a reader with a limited budget for books and an author, I can see both sides clearly. It's tough. Hopefully, the industry will work this out...and to the benefit of the author!


My fave 3 Cs - coffee, chocolate and COMMENTS!