Thursday, 18 February 2016

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.

Loth as I am to discourage anybody from launching their little boat out into the choppy waters of the big publishing sea, there are a few caveats that one needs to take on board before relinquishing the tiller. (See what I did there?)

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 Has been 'discovered' in one of those 'competitions' where the lure of publication is offered to  unpublished writers.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 issue of Royalties. This is the money you get as a % of each book sold via bookshops or other platforms (note: I am talking print books, not ebooks). If you are a new author, signed with a mainstream publisher 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
(Source: Society of Authors: Guide to Publishing Contracts)

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. Try whatever route you want to bring your work to readers, but do not hope or expect to make a fortune from it.



30 comments:

  1. Agreed in full, Carol...you've said it all. I haven't ever tried to get an agent and wouldn't do so either.

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  2. Oh,where were you six months ago. Experiencedo some of that. Took a while for me to get mad.Wrote a letter of complaint;demanded all future contact in writing only. I know some staff were "no longer with us-ed." But money was not my motivation and I learned a lot.
    I like your humor. Great article.

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  3. Heh heh: Great post! Some of the ebook only imprints offer over 40% royalties though. And they take submissions without an agent ...

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    1. You can get 70% on Amazon by self-pub an ebook. What I also failed to point out is whatever you chose you WILL be expected to shoulder the major burden of publicity!

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    2. Exactly - and many of the ebook only imprints are chick lit based, aren't they? I am prepared to be told I'm wrong, though, I don't know, it's just what I've surmised from looking at Amazon! I know one woman who has 3 histfic books published by one of the biggest ones (whose chick lit books are everywhere), and they have done nothing to promote them. I mean, NOTHING. My theory is that the money is in chick lit, because they are the Mills and Boon books of the 21st century - addicts buy four a week, like they used to get their M&B fix at the library! Again, I underline that this is just my theory, and I may be talking out of my whatever ;)

      The sad thing comes when new writers are taken on by an independent publisher and think it means the same as a Big Five, ie, that they have 'made it' ~ and we all know what can happen then, don't we. Alas.

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    3. Par for the course..when I was with OUP, they decided to spend the publicity budget on 2 'popular' writers as they sold better, so we new ones were left to linger in the dusty hallway. This was pre- internet, so there was nothing we could do. Now, I'd be out there,loud and proud....

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  4. Great piece Carol - I have shared to Irish Writers FB page.

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  5. Haven't you written something similar not that long ago ? Or is my brain slowly going awol ...

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    1. Yep...but this is updated to consider royalties ....

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  6. Young authors, you will save yourselves years of frustration and bitterness if you follow Carol's advice. Don't expect your creativity to support you. It's such a heavy weight to lay upon something so fragile.

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    1. It's a shame when people's hopes are dashed. And they will be...one has to start from a point of expectation.....but pragmatism

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  7. Love this post Carol! Writers need all the facts before they follow a path.

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    1. I think so; there are a lot of misconceptions out there.Better to have one's eyes wide open.

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  8. I can't believe there are many writers out there these days who actually believe they will make a huge amount of money from publishing a book. But if there are - they need to read this!

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    1. The media fuels the lure..which, if you are *lured* says a lot about your motivation...

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    2. I write because I love it but it doesn't stop me feeling frustration at pathetic royalty rates - and angry that large corporations are making a whole lot of money on the back of authors.

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    3. Absolutely ..and a lot of it is down to greedy bookshops demanding a 40% discount and then pleading poverty...thus the growth in self-publishing..you may not get the spread, but you keep more of your earnings and have more control.

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  9. Great post, Carol. Right on the money (so to speak).

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  10. You could be like me, work in a supermarket AND write books...and still not make any money! So many people don't realise that advances aren't on top of royalties, they ARE your royalties until you've earned out the advance, and a writer who doesn't earn out the advance becomes publishing poison. So sometimes it's better not to take that seven-figure advance....

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    1. Who offers 'advances'nowadays anyway..seems to have died the death. No Indies do it, that I'm aware of...

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  11. This is why I'm enjoying the hybrid life - plus it's interesting to see how the one compares with the other. Also interesting is something I heard just today; my mum went into a local indie bookshop with some leaflets I've had printed for my new (publisher-published) book. To begin with the owner of the shop was sniffy, and even rude, because she assumed the books were self-published. As soon as she saw the words Little, Brown on the leaflet she apparently changed completely, found out I was on her system already, and turned into Mrs Nicey-Nicey.

    So while I would love to approach her with my self-published series, especially considering they are set about 3 miles from the shop, on Bodmin Moor, I don't think I'm going to get much of a response - this from a place that's supposed to support local authors. It's a nasty world out there, and while self-publishing is moving on in mighty leaps, you're still going to be faced with a brick wall in the face when you've done it. Truly, the ONLY reason to write is because you love it!

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    1. Yep. I've had this from Waterstones..who are quite happy to take the Usborne books, but not Crooked Cat, when I was with them, and not self-pub. Interestingly, and this may apply to you, a local gift shop is quite happy to take them...and has sold loads....!!!!

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  12. I can partly agree. I'd never go with a publisher as I like the control etc. I'll not get rich, but am my own boss. BUT I also have my regional Eifel novel in three bookshops IN the Eifel now, just by asking nicely, and they now sell it because it's "local". One sells many, one almost none. But at least I can say I'm "in bookstores" and it all depends on the owner's good will. It's a rough journey anyway.

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  13. Excellent article! It's also worth adding in there that quality is no guarantee either. I've read some mainstream turkeys and some excellent Indies lately. You can't, of course, join the Society of Authors if you self-pub and not everyone wants to go mainstream. I'm going to give the Alliance of Independent Authors a go this year, unless anyone knows any horror stories about them??
    You can make a living as an Indie - I'm just starting to get a reasonable monthly sum from Zon - but you do have to work VERY hard at marketing to do it, and my needs are modest. The vast majority of my sales are ebooks, which is fine, and for the travel memoirs I do reasonably hand-selling at local book fairs and other events. I think we may yet live to see a day when getting a publishing deal is no longer everyone's burning ambition. It's certainly not mine! I'm far too old even to wait for an agent to bother to reply. Good luck. Everyone. Keep writing!

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    1. Great comment! I aso agree, like you, I am making an income ~ though I couldn't 'live' on it and like you, I work very hard to make it! Re commercially published books: was given, over Christmas, the latest by one of the 'always in a pile in Waterstones' authors. It was badly written, badly edited, saggy nd obvs had been rushed out to get the Christmas market. Without checking others, I reviewed it. When I looked at the reviews,there were a lot of people who shared my opinion! Readers are not stupid! A good Indie book beats a bad mainstream one any day!

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