Sunday, November 29, 2009

Being a NYT bestseller isn't all it's cracked up to be

In her latest blog posting, author Lynn Viehl graciously shares some more details about how much money she earns from one of her novels. This type of information is typically unavailable, and I applaud Lynn for sharing her personal data with us. This is a follow-up to her first reality-check posting. Please, go read both of these and then come back - they are well worth your time. Don't worry, I'll wait for you.

Here are some things that I took away from the both postings:

With traditional publishing houses, it's a constant waiting game. You wait to hear if you can submit your manuscript, then you wait to hear if it's accepted. But at that point, the waiting has only begun - you wait anxiously for publication, and once published, you wait for sales reports and royalty payments.

Based on the dates that Lynn gives, the author is paid out about 6 months after the data is actually accumulated. On Lynn's statement, we can see that the accounting period ended May 31, but the statement wasn't generated until August 18. And then, to top things off, the publisher sat on the statement until November, when they finally sent it to Lynn.

In her first posting, she states that the book was published in July of 2008, but didn't receive her first royalty statement until April of 2009! That's an incredibly long time to be kept in the dark, especially in this day and age of computerized inventories and tracking.

Lynn received no marketing support from the publisher. "I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.)" The entire task of marketing was left to her, and she had to promote her book on her own dime.

From the statements, we can see that Lynn earns very little money for her success. After selling 80K copies of her book, she's still trying to pay off her initial advance of 50K. This is because the royalty percentage she receives is small. While Lynn grossed 50K (she still has to pay taxes on that money), her publisher grossed $450K - nine times as much.

In this day and age in which authors have the ability to self-publish and reach a global audience, I fail to see the compelling argument for publishing through a traditional publisher. If you're going to put all the time and effort into creating and marketing a novel, shouldn't you reap a large portion of the financial rewards?

By going the traditional route, authors give over creative control and the lion-share of the profits to the publisher, in return for zero marketing support and extremely slow service. That just doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

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