The Future of Authors

Jon Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle writes:

Apparently writers are now having to work twice as hard to stay in the same place. The New York Times reported last weekend that best-selling genre authors are now expected to produce two full-length books a year, rather than the traditional one.

When people want an author, they really want that author. They are unwilling to wait 11 months or whatever it would be for the next installment. Fans of whomever apparently gobble up whoever’s backlist immediately – and cheaply too; old books are so satisfyingly inexpensive.

It is also considered useful if the author produces an additional 40,000-word novella for e-book publication. This will presumably fill the void between the two books a year. All that popularity is very nice, of course, and lots of writers would love to be cursed by it, but jeez. About 140,000 to 200,000 words per year? Plus a plot? That’ll be interesting.

It used to be a commonplace that a writer who wrote too fast would create an error-filled, cliche-jammed manuscript. That still may be true, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Writers are now commodities, like corn or pig bellies. They’re measured in bulk. The more words Lee Child writes, the better he is.

Writers also need to commodify themselves on Facebook and Twitter. They need to drop mordant observations into the data stream, gathering followers and fans so they can announce the pub date of their next novel, “Honor the Blood” or “Chain Saw” or whatever it happens to be, in with their lively descriptions of their fascinating lives and thoughts.

Honestly, I could write at that pace if writing was my full-time job. But with the amount of time I spend on revisions right now, plus needing to format and design my books and cover, blog, and market everything, I’d end up pulling down more than 40 hours a week. The hope is, however, that as I grew more of a following, I could market and blog a bit less. Also, with some cash, I could hire people to do my covers and formatting for me. The goal would be to shrink my work week to 35-40 hours a week… unless I felt the overwhelming desire to write more.

Two other points to make about this article. One, it’s confirming what I’ve already said: authors need to sell themselves as much as their work. Authors need to become celebrities because, as books go digital, pirating will ensue. Unlike the recoding and movie industries, I don’t think digital is a bad thing (and I don’t lock my books up with DRM), but I accept the fact that pirating will happen. That’s where your celebrity comes in. Just as bookstores sell a lot of things other than books, so too will authors have to sell a lot of things which aren’t books (just wait; I’m already working on my CafePress products, to be released along with my first book). That’s just where things are heading for all artists.

The other striking point about the article is what’s between the lines. The link to this article was originally posted in the Amazon authors’ forums (a place where independent authors gather). People there pointed out that traditional publishers are apparently pushing social media marketing (which is, lets face it, the bulk of today’s marketing) onto their authors.

For e-books over $2.99, Amazon gives writers 70% royalty. The industry standard is no where near that amount. According to Fiction Factor, the average royalties on paperbacks is 7.5% and hardbacks is 15%. They don’t mention e-books, but I believe that authors are only making about 8%-10% on their e-books when a publisher has control of it.

70% versus 8% is a big difference.

If I understand print-on-demand books correctly, I will get to name my price above and beyond the publishing cost; I assume Amazon then takes a percentage of that. But it looks like I could make $1.00 or more per book–which is the same or more than if I went through a publisher.

As the indie authors on Amazon asked, if you have to do your own marketing anyways, why would you choose to make less money with a traditional publisher?

Even if you pay money for a book designer and an editor up front and out of your own pocket, you still stand to make more money doing it yourself because you only pay for those services once. When you contract your book with a major publisher, you will share your profits forever for the benefit of having them design your cover and do the edits.

Food for thought.

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2 comments on “The Future of Authors

  1. Wallace says:

    Interesting figures to contemplate. As I understand it then, if I sell a $29 hardback book thru a traditional publisher, I’d get 15% in royalties, or about $4.35 a book. But if I sold an ebook thru Amazon for $6.25, I’d get 70% in royalties, or about $4.38 a book. Except for being able to actually fondle the physical book, it seems everybody wins with an ebook release. The author gets about the same in royalties while the reader gets the book for less than one fourth the price.

    With a paperback, it’s even better for the writer. For a trade paperback of $13, the author would only get $0.98 and for a mass market paperback of $8.99, the author would only get $0.67. In all cases, selling the book on Amazon as an ebook for $6.25 would get the author as much money as selling a tradition hardback for $29, but would let the reader buy the book for substantially less than the price for even a mass market paperback.

    Since a lot of mass market books are traded or given away or even discarded after use, having it as an ebook allows the reader to keep the book without having to clutter up their house with a lot of mass market books that then have to be packed up or thrown out every time they move. Plus many ebooks can be leant between holders of the same ebook reader for free, and the book automatically comes back to the owner after a set time. No more leanding your favorite book only to see it lost by a friend.

    The only down side of an independant ebook publishing is no advance from the publisher, no big marketing plan, and no distribution to literary review companies that will read your book and give a widely viewed review. With an ebook it’s all up to the author to market, publicize, and promote their own book. Of course, if it takes off, there’s a lot more money going straight to the author and no middle man to pay.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Advances for new authors are not usually much (and forget being published in hardback unless you’re publishing highly academic non-fiction). Somewhere on this blog is a link to a site that compared profits for science fiction/fantasy writers who did and did not have an agent (they proved you almost always make more money having an agent). If I remember correctly, they had stats on advances, and average was somewhere between $3,500-$5,000. I did see someone reference an advance as low as $2,000. So, you’re only talking 1-4 months’ worth of income; not enough to live on while you write the sequel.

      And it’s sounding like they’re not offering a big marketing plan. Or maybe they draw it up and say, “Get to it!” Even before I read this article, I had read that publishers expect you to do a lot of your own marketing. The newer you are, the more they expect you to do; they spend most of their time, money, and energy on a sure thing–the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts.

      Yes, they can get you reviews (which, btw, a self-published author can buy from certain places; not sure that it’s worth the money, but it’s an option if you feel it’s necessary). The other thing they can do is get you in a physical bookstore. I might can get a local, independent bookstore to carry my book–especially if I buy the book myself and give it to them to sell on commission–but I’m not going to get Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble to carry it. Even though book sales at physical stores are gradually declining, they still obviously sell enough books to turn a profit.

      Although, I was reading in a marketing book that Bridges of Madison County was only put into independent bookstores to start with. They were able to advertise that they had a book almost no one else had (because, let’s face it, most towns only have one independent bookseller) and it created such a buzz, that sales exploded.

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