Saturday, 3 October 2015

How to Make A Million From Writing


Yes, I thought that would get your attention.

Over the past few weeks I have seen several requests on social media forums from new writers or self-published ones asking if anybody knows a good agent, or can advise on submitting to top mainstream publishers.

I have blogged before about my experience of literary agents. Basically, they are there to make money for the agency, not you. They will take 10 -15% of your earnings, and unless you have an exceptionally good one (I am told they exist), they may well not bother to submit your stuff if it is not taken quickly. Small agents are in competition with the large established ones in a field that is decreasing all the time as publishers shave their margins and take fewer risks to stay in business.

Agents are certainly useful for sorting out publishing contracts and making sure your rights are protected: pre-agenting, I had a very bad contract from OUP (yes!) which my former agent was disgusted at. BUT the Society of Authors - well worth joining, can do that. And few publishers nowadays make you sign rip-off contracts - we are all too well lawyered for that to happen.

So, let's move on to the mainstream publishing trade. Forget all those 'X signed a 3 book contract and has been offered eight squillion in advances and a film contract with a top Hollywood director!!!' 
I now see these in the same category as those 'teaser' rates offered by big banks.

The sad truth is that 0.00000006% of writers submitting to 'one of the Big 5' will be taken.
These lucky souls are probably:

1. Very young, very attractive and with a very heart-tugging backstory (see JK Rowling)

2. Have an MA in Creative Writing from a university where one of the publisher's top writers tutors.

3. Is a friend, girl/boyfriend, employee of a publisher or is in the media business already.

4. Is a celeb.

5. Has just happened to write something that the publisher feels they can put out to compete with a rival's book that is just taking off.

6. Has been 'discovered' in one of those 'competitions' where the lure of publication is offered to  unpublished writers. This is a useful way of getting round paying agency fees or having the hassle of dealing with them.

Then there is the vexed question of Royalties. This is the money you get as a % of each book sold via bookshops or other platforms. If you are a new author, you start at the bottom.

The Royalty rates offered by most standard (UK) publishers are:
10% on the first 5000 copies
12.5% on the next 5000 copies
15% over 10,000 copies

Yep. You are shocked. I checked my Usborne contract the other week and sure enough, 10% is the amount offered. Bear in mind that my then agent took 10% of that, which left me with 8% ...about 60p on every £6.99 book sold.

So why bother?

I return to my title. IF your only reason for writing is to make money, then go find a job in your local supermarket. Or do the National Lottery. Or find yourself a rich partner. If, however, writing comes in the same category as oxygen for you, then keep at it. Enjoy what you write, marvel at your luck in having such a wonderful gift. Start a blog. Enjoy chatting and sharing with other writers on social media. Self-publish. But do not hope or expect to make a fortune from it.

Of course, I don't expect you to listen to a word of this, because YOU have written the one book in the history of the publishing universe that defies all of the above. Good luck, fellow scribe. You may or may not believe me, but you are going to need it!





57 comments:

  1. You're right - and that doesn't mean we have to like it, for it means accepting the very unfairness of a system that rewards the young, the beautiful and the well-connected and pays little attention to the actual writing.

    Still, it does mean that those of us who write for the love of it can just get on and do it, without ridiculous contracts that want us to produce a book a year, as if we were some sort of machine.

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    1. Indeed..the 3 book contract or book a year demanded by many publishers nowadays ( incl small ones) looks like a good idea on the surface, but it takes no account of that thing called ''real life''. I know of one writer who does produce a book a year, as demanded, and makes some money from her efforts, but she admits she has sacrificed her family and social life to do so. Not a route I intend to go down...

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    2. Thanks, Carol! Fantastic and true. Which is why I write...not to make money, but to be able to take the next breath!

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  2. Great post, Carol.

    I was recently told, by a big-name author, that the big publishing houses now decide (how?) which book is going to be The Next Big Thing, and put all their marketing resources behind that one title. Which leaves everyone else - including other big-name authors - to do all the publicity themselves. Sad but true.

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    1. Very true,. When my 3rd book came out with OUP I asked what publicity they'd be doing (this was pre social media) and was told none, as they were going to spend all their budget on Geraldine McCaughrean...and Tim Bowler, who'd both won awards.

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  3. Great post, as usual, and very valid advice! Thanks Carol! I recently met a published author who is on 2 book-a-year contracts and he can't wait for those contracts to be up so he can write books he wants to write instead of catering to the publisher's demands.

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    1. see my comment to SUE....you DO make money from bulk books..but not at the expense of other things...

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  4. It never fails to amaze me how many people (a) assume that I'm earning a fortune from my books, and (b) appear to expect to be given a free copy just because they know me!

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    1. As GBS said, a fan is someone who buys your books. A friend or relative is someone who says that they might get round to reading your book if you give them a free copy.

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  5. Good advice as always Carol. I went the self publishing route and will stick with it. Have just brought out my two ebooks of short stories in paperback. I'm lucky to have a computer expert husband though, so I do the writing and he proofreads and publishes! Team!

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    1. Excellent! I have just been accused on Twitter of being 'sour grapes' over this blog post. Hahaha.. sadly, I am merely stating the truth. And when all the poor sods who are frantically trying to get an agent/foot in the door are turned down/rejected and realise they are wasting their time, maybe they might remember, and get on with the real business..enjoying their writing!

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  6. Carol, I love how down to earth you are - you tell it like it is. Thanks for such a great insight and advice, especially the second to last paragraph - sometimes I need to be reminded that it's not all about sales figures and that I write because I love it.

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    1. Exactly...a writing acquaintance ''stopped'' writing after being rejected by all the agents they contacted. I am not a ''spoilsport' ,merely a pragmatist. Husband has just reminded me that the publicist at Usborne stopped me from doing a lot of stuff, as THEY wanted to control it....hmm...

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  7. The lady, she speaks the truth!

    I know or know of the following:

    Someone with great contacts who treated it like a business. She got picked up by a Big Five and is now a best selling author, making millions (who, incidentally, got a successful self-pub writer to write her proposal for her, but then wouldn't help the self-pub with contacts because she felt she would be in direct competition - perhaps you need to be ruthless, too!).

    A winner of one of the competitions you mentioned, whose book didn't sell that well and has since been dropped.

    A very few self pub writers who sell a shedload of books and don't even have to do promo (though they did at first, and got in before the market became flooded).

    Stacks of self pub or indie press authors who write because they love it and sell a good to moderate to a bit naff amount, and a few more who sell virtually none.

    Lots and lots of writers I used to see all over Twitter who thought they were going to be the next E L James/Dan Brown/Sophie Kinsella/GRR Martin, who have now disappeared.

    I think it's those who are convinced that their book will be the one that takes the world by storm who disappear... :)

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    1. Exactly. I don't make a fortune - but I wouldn't do anything else but write...or blog. You HAVE to go into this with your eyes open.... or you will have all the love of the craft stripped away.

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  8. I only know

    That as things go

    It's just right

    That I write.

    I must unfold

    Words from my soul

    To get me through the night

    And when that's done

    Should money come

    Yet still I can't make millions

    Just give me wine

    And endless time to write

    Whilst adored by minions

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    1. Actually, I'd be quite happy if you DID make millions.....then I could share in your wealth as your best friend....

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    2. I've got £1:50.....*passes half a scone*...

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    3. Ha ha ha ha... I'll take the scone! :)

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  9. And an awful lot of "celeb" books (or even a lot of awful "celeb" books) are ghostwritten anyway.

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  10. This doesn't come across as sour grapes Carol more telling it like it is because that has been your experience. It won't stop people trying to get signed by agents or taken on by big publishing houses and maybe in time they will have their own tales to tell. I always think forewarned is forearmed so it's great to spread the word and it helps me in that it reaffirms my belief that I have done the right thing in self-publishing. Thanks :-)

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    1. I think so..I am ok about being with a small Indie..but if I got the chance, I may go back to self publishing. I do all the publicity atm anyway...as I would have to if I was published by a mainstream publ (talk to my friend Kate Long - bestselling author about this..she has some horror stories).

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  11. Hi Carol,
    This is an excellent post and I absolutely agree with everything you say. There is no promise of success going down the mainstream route with an agent and or publisher.

    I had a miserable experience with a small London outfit (Bene-Factum Publishing) with my first travel memoir. I had a standard contract for Things Can Only Get Feta (you will see the irony in this title when you read my comment!), and things were promising to start with but after a year, and despite good sales and the fact the book was one of the more popular books on the publisher's list, he let the book go out of print. Also for the second time in a year he failed to pay royalties in the mandatory period. The second time I got great advice from the Society of Authors and had to go through the Small Claims Court to try to get all my royalties paid and the fight still goes on.

    The point I wanted to make for those starting out is that even with a contract and a 'reputable' publisher it doesn't mean you won't get messed around as I was. I finally got the rights of my book back and republished it myself on Amazon, and later the sequel. And happily, the book seems to be doing better now than it did the first time round.

    For anyone starting out now and dreaming of an agent or mainstream publisher, I would say, go the Indy route. I have found it a breeze compared to my former experience. You have total control and you get royalties, on time, and statements you can understand. Bliss! There is no prestige in having a publisher who doesn't treat you properly and I agree with Carol wholeheartedly that first and foremost you should enjoy the writing. That's the part you can control and no-one can take that away from you.

    I believe the publishing industry needs a massive shake-up. I think the offers/treatment writers receive would not be tolerated in any other industry. It is under-regulated and Dickensian in some respects.
    Forgive the length of this comment but I wanted to share my experience and have named my ex-publisher in the hope it will save a new author from being burnt as I was.
    Kind regards, and best of luck to you Carol with your upcoming fab new book.
    Marjory McGinn x


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    1. I am so sorry you had this bad experience, but delighted it has turned round for you now!

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  12. I knew I should have asked you all about your experiences... I am currently wondering whether to try to get an agent for my next book and this post has given me food for thought!

    Basically, chances of succeed are slim to none!

    Might as well do it all myself again then.

    HUGS :) xx

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  13. The following is reproduced with the writer's permission, from a Facebook post:Having tried unsuccessfully for several years to find a literary agent I have decided that I shall no longer be submitting my work for their Godlike approval. It has been my experience that literary agents, who invariably haven't written a damn word in their own right, see themselves as all-powerful in the literary world. They are unapproachable (don't ring, email, speak or visit unless you have been granted their gracious permission to do so), rude and , in the main, incredibly condescending.
    In future I shall be representing myself when contacting publishers, TV and film companies, actors and producers with my books. I used to be the MD of a large national funeral company so I'm certain that I can manage to speak to these people about my work.
    To all the literary agents that are reading this, if you had a fraction of the writing talent you dismiss so casually on a daily basis, I would have more respect for you, but as it is, I have none.
    This isn't a case of sour grapes because my books haven't been picked up by these people, it's a final realisation that I don't need them after all.
    Rant over.

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  14. So go on big brother and become a minor celebrity! Easy! :-D

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    1. Oh God! I'd rather eat my own leg ...

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  15. EXCELLENT post! This is not a gig for the faint of heart, that's for sure. I want you to do a tutorial on social media; I, for one, could use it. (This is Autumn--site wants to use an ancient Gmail account for blog I let wither to a slow death and won't let me change the name--LOL. This is how I blog).

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  16. ..great post, m’Lady, Carol ..LUV IT! :)

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  17. Great post and excellent comments. Two words. I AGREE!

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  18. You're so right, Carol. I've been with a small publisher, no problems, but to be honest, I think I can do as well by myself. So, I've just self-published, had fun doing it (thanks to Scrivener, it was easy) and incidentally, made more in my first, virtually unpublicised, week than in a quarter from the other books. I'll never be rich, but oh, the satisfaction!! Definitely don't need agents and publishers taking most of the profits of my hard work!

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  19. A really interesting post - the term sour grapes is always used when people don't like what they are reading. It is a minefield out there and I am only stepping on the first ones - you have to love to write, we all hope we're going to be the next big thing I suppose and the cult of youth does my head in. Perhaps it's because the young ones don't argue back...My experience so far (book 1) with a small traditional publishing house has been pretty good and they are listening to me, let's see what its like when it gets published - I am glad though that I am older, have honed diplomatic skills and years of bloody project management experience or I would have drowned by now. Of course the £130 I've earned to date has massively helped...

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  20. Excellent post. I agree and empathize completely, having been down at least two of these routes in the past and having been bitten badly. Much happier with small presses and I just love the process of writing. I've never expected to make much money and if I make $4 a day, I'm making the BIG time! I've seen it all to often when the passion of writing quickly becomes disillusionment and those good-to-great authors have simply given up because they don't think their books are good enough. I say, just write. Your books are brilliant. I know, because I've probably already reviewed them.

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    1. well, thank you! I have also discovered a right little 'business' in buying fake reviews to move a writer up the amazon charts..which one incorporates into free promos. There are a LOT of ''writers'' out there whose ethics and morality are deffo on the louche side.

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  21. Interesting and this makes me happy in a way. I've just self published my second book and yes, it is going well. I'm getting good press coverage and it's in independent bookshops (still awaiting an answer from Easons who stock my first book) but I have to admit I was wondering 'If I had a publisher, what would it be like?'

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    1. Actually, you are a novelty--mosst self-publ and small pibl writers can't get their books into mainstream book shops..due to the BIG discounting offered by large publishing houses. Well done you.

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  22. A great post, and obviously a companion piece to; "How To Make A Small Fortune In Horticulture: Start With A Large One" ;)

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  23. As I'm about to send my first novel out to agents, I'm now rather worried! Having self-published my two story collections with the help of my lovely husband, I'm familiar with this route but like many others, i'd really like to have my novel traditionally published. Is that wrong? I talked about it with hubby and realised it's probably because I've never considered it as a money-making exercise (Knowing it's unlikely I'll ever make as much money from it as I do from my mag stories). It's important for writers to go into this process with their eyes open and think your post is excellent.

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    1. Try ..but be aware of what agents do and what they are there for. DO NOT hope for anything and keep on enjoying your writing..why not try a few Indies like Accent Press and Crooked Cat (mine) they will accept work submitted directly

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  24. Love this Carol. No nonsense good advice!

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  25. If I was doing all this for the money I'd be suicidal by now. Good advice to those who are shorter in the tooth than us two though!

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    1. Thanks....though as I said, I doubt if they will listen...until they get as disillusioned as the writer I quoted...

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  26. Great stuff Carol. Thanks for sharing.
    Lisa x

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  27. Thank you for this inspiring note, Carol. I just self-published my first book three weeks ago, and in this nerve-racking time of being excited one minute, and being scared the next minute, it's soothing to read such a note. I would add, if I may, that as a new indie, I was surprised and increasingly annoyed to see, how everyone is trying to make money of us. Elisabeth Glas

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  28. I've had useful feedback from agents, and I've had friends who have done very well with them. Rosie Garland - a fellow Manc poet-and-novelist - got her six-figure deal at Harper Collins via an agent, but crucially, that was after winning a big competition. The traditional route does work for some people, but so rarely that it really shouldn't be seen as the only way to go, which is why I like your post so much. I've always made more from competitions, litmags and anthologies than royalties anyway, and I don't see that changing any time soon!

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    1. well done! I think the myth that there is only one route is put about by those in whose interest it is to promote it...they still haven't grasped that many writers are preferring to self publish or small indie publish. I have never been well treated by a big publisher-I've always felt like an insignificant cog...same with my agent. You get a lot more hands on respect and FUN from being an Indie!

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  29. Very interesting Carol. A friend once told me that he had been told, by an insider, how a publisher gets a million pounds from publishing fiction. Easy. He starts off with a billion.

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  30. I found this post both interesting and insightful Carol! Love it! I'm currently writing a book which I'm thoroughly enjoying. In fact I almost don't want to finish it, it's very different from anything I usually write and I've had to do a lot of research which has been half the fun. I've been fortunate in that i've been able to chat with many people who want to help and get on board with it. When the day comes that I have to let it go, I'll take on board your advice. I always just assumed submitting to literary agents and playing the waiting game was the done thing. Now I think I might consider the self publishing route. I know nothing about it so it's a little daunting but I'm sure I'll learn the ropes! Thanks again for this great post! X

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  31. Wonderful post, Carol
    It mirrors my experiences. Be naive at the time (2005), I wrote a screenplay, 'Genome', a paranormal (ghost story to a mature writer like me ;-) mystery with a hitech slant. I submit and submit, etc. Lots of 'eh, no thanks', and 'not our cup of tea' or just no response at all.
    I discovered Barnes and Noble and Amazon self publishing and decided to rewrite the screenplay as a novel.
    I've never looked back and stopped worrying about an agent of any kind. I have an ongoing humorous SciFi adventure series 'Arlo and Jake', 'Genome' and a writer's blog.
    I've found that writing is what I wanted, not making money as a writer. My books and blog get good reviews and people enjoy my work. Sure, I'd love to have a successful book, who wouldn't, but I'm having a great time writing and getting to know other authors, like Vanessa Wester, James Smith and others in a writer's club I joined.
    I wish you and your readers a great week of writing!

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    1. So good to hear! Sadly, I am still seeing the 'I want an agent & then my troubles will be over' stuff. I discovered my agent had all my American rights and had decided NOT to sell my Spy Girl books...and then they rejected out of hand Diamonds & Dust (check the 71 reviews) ATM I am with a small Indie...that may change...

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    2. Your advice is always straight to the point thank you for that. Reality is I write because I must. I have tried to not write but then There is no escape for my madness. If my book ever gets out in the wide world for human regurgitation or not, I first write for me. I am on my second draft and hope that one day I will think it good enough that I no longer need to tweak it.

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    3. Good for you! Great attitude. Seriously, I am now 65, on my 15th novel and I DO KNOW what I am talking about! Write coz you love it...coz the publishing world will do its best to beat the love out of you.

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  32. Great post and follow-up comments, Carol. After being turned down by a million agents (slight exaggeration there), I've been surprised at the positive reader feedback on my small-press published debut novel. It really is a crazy business with minimal correlation between success and merit. For anyone considering the small press route, I've just had this published on Writers and Artists:
    https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/921/preparing-for-submission/what-does-a-publisher-do/

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