February 26, 2013

Paying the Bills

As writers, we dream of seeing our works on bookshelves, bestselling lists, and now e-readers. Down in the real world, we also hope that being published will provide sufficient income to support our lifestyle. Deep inside, many of us may believe that attaining this goal of publication will also lead to a life of (relative) luxury.  

Realistically, most of us are wrong. Catherine Anderson wrote on her tip page (which has been removed in her site update):
"If you believe your toilet seat will be plated with solid gold when you finally publish a book, think again. Countless writers make very little money. Granted, some of us do very well, others even better, but this isn't a profession that guarantees riches."
 Still, this post isn't about the passion for writing which ultimately drives us to create, while finding other gainful means of affording life necessities. It's about the numbers.

At my last writing group meeting, we began discussing the reality of hiding one's identity while making an income. The topic came up because a fellow writer had once had a character in that situation, so he decided to try it for himself, which led to the question of cashing checks made out to a name other than your own. I won't bore you with the rest of the details of our conversation, but one member mentioned, off-hand, that he receives an advance check of $20,000 from his publisher. 

Let me repeat that: a $20,000 advance for one finished book.

Maybe there exists a vast difference between payout depending on the genre, but, as a romance author, I definitely do not expect that kind of number if my book is picked up by a publisher. 

Brenda Hiatt created a list of financial statistics for various romance (and young adult) publishers, based on a dozen years' worth of input from published authors. According to her information, some publishers pay no advance at all. The highest advance I saw was $275,000, though I am absolutely certain this was not for a first (and probably not even second) book.

Avon, the publisher I've mentioned will likely be the recipient of my first query, is on this list, with an advance range beginning at $5,000, which I consider an encouraging number. I would be beyond thrilled to receive an advance check like that in addition to selling a book. 

Besides providing some insight to the potential earning ability of romance novels, Hiatt's list can be used as a jumping off point for finding potential publishers. It is worth noting, however, that the publishers with the highest listed advances (Ballantine's listed advance for a first book is $40,000!) do not accept manuscript submissions or queries from authors without agents.  

This list also offers insight on the payout for a single book. Avon's payout range begins at $9,000. Some other lower-end payout numbers include: $2,500, $4,000, or even $250. Of course, $250 is better than nothing at all, but let's be honest, no one who spends months (or years) writing a novel-length work wants to receive a meager $250 for the effort. That would mean 1/3 of a cent per word for a 75,000 word novel.

If my very idealistic hope of being published by Avon's print division comes true, I could, according to these statistics, expect an advance of $5,000 with a minimum payout of $9,000 overall. In order to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment in my area, I need a minimum annual income of approximately $35,000, which would mean I would have to sell 4 full novels to Avon per year to afford a very basic lifestyle at this somehow still idealistic rate. 

That is the sobering reality of the moderately ambitious prospects of a romance writer. It's almost enough to make one give up on the entire endeavor.

Of course, we really never can forget that driving passion which nevertheless keeps us putting words on paper (or the screen)...


  1. Good post. Most writers have to decide at some point if they're in it for the money. One nice thing about writing--that I've learned from being friends with an artist--is that at least writing is inexpensive. Pretty much all you need these days is a good laptop!

    1. Very true! We do have it a bit easier than artists and musicians in that sense.