Cyndy Aleo

Four Little Bees Writing & Editing

author, freelance writing, editing, and a little bit of web development, helping clients with content development, book editing, and blog set-up and customization

Let me explain you a thing: Why most authors are not rich

This seems to be a confusing concept for a lot of people out there, so it begs to be explained that most authors not only don’t get rich from writing; most of them can’t even make a LIVING from writing.

Think about that for a second. Most authors do not make a living from writing.

In other words, they work full-time jobs PLUS write. And with the way the industry is, they have to do marketing and social media and signings all on top of that. Plus, they have to have a life in there with family and friends.

There seems to be this mentality that once you publish a book, suddenly you are, like, Beyonce rich. Trump rich. Hilton rich.

I hate to break it to you, but that’s not the way it works.

For starters, let’s take trade publishing. If you sign with a Big Five/Six publisher, odds are you get an advance. Yay, money! But it’s not like some money stork drops a bag o’cash out of the sky. That advance is broken up into parts, often a percentage on contract signing, a percentage on delivery of the final revision, a percentage when the book comes out.

After that? NO MORE MONEY unless you do something that’s called “earning out.” In other words, all those copies that sell? Mean NOTHING until the author has sold enough copies for the royalties to EQUAL THE AMOUNT OF THE ADVANCE. Take a minute and digest that. If you don’t see as many copies as the publisher projected you might sell? That’s all the money the author will ever get.

Now, from there, don’t forget that the author is undoubtedly paying an agent 15% of that (more on foreign sales) and you suddenly see there’s not as much money as you thought. It’s not like you get an advance PLUS all those sales. Nope. And a lot of those things like blog tours and advertising may be paid for by the author directly unless they are what’s known as a “lead title” or are assigned a nice, fat marketing budget by the publisher. Same thing with swag, which is nearly ALWAYS paid for by the authors.

NOW… for the self-published authors (::waves and says hi::). Here’s how much fun it is. If, like me, you don’t have a lot (read: any) of money to spend on things like blog tours and advertising and swag, you might be lucky enough to malinger somewhere around the self-pubbed midlist: slow and steady sales, but nothing that’s ever going to make a NYT bestseller chart (note, I don’t list Amazon bestsellers because that’s going to be another whole post).

Due to the former trend of low-priced ebooks making bestsellers, there’s a limit to what self-pubbed authors can charge for their ebooks, especially as debut authors. Our paperbacks are almost ALWAYS POD (print on demand), which has a wicked high cost. Even if an author DID afford a print run, those expenses all came out of pocket.

Let’s take my book, for instance, since at the end of the day, I want to sell you a copy or four. The Kindle version of UNDYING sells for $2.99. That’s the lowest price you can set and have Amazon pay you 70% of the cover price.

Yes, if you’re doing the math here, you can determine I net about $2 a book. WHEE! Now think about that for a second. At $2 a book, I need to sell 100 copies of that book just to net $200. On which I still have to pay taxes. That’s not a lot of money. That doesn’t even cover my gas for the month with today’s prices.

Now let’s look at the paperback version (same book), which I did through Createspace. Now, don’t get me wrong; Createspace is awesome, and provides some amazing benefits, like free set-up and a free ISBN. But they take a hefty chunk of change, not to mention how much sheer cost is for POD books. The paperback version of UNDYING has a list price of $10.99. Sounds a little pricey for a self-published debut author, right? Let me explain that $10.99 is the lowest price I could possibly set for that book and NOT LOSE MONEY ON EACH SALE.

Digest that for a second. I would LOSE money on each sale were I to set the price lower. At $10.99, I make less per sale than I do on a Kindle sale, and to top it off, since I think you should get to have both versions of a book if you buy a dead-tree version, you get the Kindle book FREE if you buy the paperback.

So you now know how many books I would need to sell to even make a living. Let’s estimate 17,500 books in a year based on the current pricing and net for my book to get a nice, round figure of $30,000 per year.

Odds are, that’s not going to happen. At least not with only one book out.

Now, there are also these fun things for trade published authors called “reserves against returns” in which they publisher estimates a certain number of books will be returned by the stores. Or the buyers. Or both. And then there are discounts. While some trade published authors are lucky enough to have contracts that pay their royalties based on a percentage of cover price, many have contracts that pay based on a percentage of SALE price. So if your publisher — or Amazon — discounts the book? Royalties go down.

Same thing happens to self-published authors if Amazon up and decides to make your book free. Or a competing site lowers your price. Or you decide to put the book on sale to try to get higher on a chart.

So the next time you ask an author to hand over a paper copy of a book for review because that’s what you prefer, or you break the DRM on a book to send to all your friends because you loved the book so much, just give a little thought of how much that author is really making. Not everyone has a Danielle Steel success story.