Monday, February 11, 2008

Money and the working writer

Here's some surprisingly sound advice on managing your money as a working writer, courtesy of John Scalzi, which I urge you all to read.

To everything he's said, let me add in a few more things...

  1. Never assume that you'll get paid on time. Many advances today include a component that's due on publication, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get it on the day the book hits the shelves. The broad rule of thumb that I was taught says that you'll probably end up waiting a *minimum* of six weeks, after a publisher is supposed to cut the check, before your agent will receive said check. Some publishers work faster than others, but even the very best are slow at paying.
  2. The money that you receive from your publisher will trickle in. Let's assume I sell a trilogy tomorrow, for you, for $120,000 (we all wish, but this is mostly for math simplification). So that's $40,000 per book. You're going to receive a third of the total advance on signing of the contract with the publisher, which means that you'll get $40,000 sometime in 2008. (None of this takes out the agent commission, btw.) Ok, so when do I see that other $80,000 you say? Here's where you start to realize the trickle-down nature! What really happens, mathematically, is the publisher takes that $40,000 per book and divides it into thirds. That's nine parts of $13,333.33 (ignore rounding at the moment)--they give you three of those nine parts on signing, which is where you get the initial $40,000. The remaining six parts get doled out to you very slowly.
Part #4: On delivery and acceptance of book #1 in the trilogy; when the editor has approved the final revisions. (let's assume this is also in 2008)
Part #5: On publication of book #1. (2009)
Part #6: On delivery and acceptance of book #2. (2009)
Part #7: On publication of book #2. (2010)
Part #8: On delivery and acceptance of book #3. (2010)
Part #9: On publication of book #3. (2011)

So that stellar $120,000 advance you got? You're not going to see all of it until probably THREE YEARS AFTER YOU SIGNED THE CONTRACT FOR THE TRILOGY. This is something you should definitely keep in mind.

Also, you should remember that your agent, you know, the person who helped sell the book? We don't get paid until you do, so we also see our earnings trickle in, which is why most agents work to establish a solid number of previously-sold books that are actively earning royalties.


John Arkwright said...

I loved this post. So you want to be a writer? It is going to be a long time before you see a decent paycheck.

I have a regular job (econ prof). My financial goal for writing is to earn a few thousand per year. I could do consulting with businesses, but I would rather write fiction.

After reading books on writing from excellent writers that gave business advice, I wrote a novel. Then I found that those writers did not have their fingers on the pulse of the industry. They were describing the industry that they broke into in the eighties.

So I am executing plan B--sell short stories until I build enough credibility to get noticed. I have read a few thousand agent blog posts and have started to see the same posts over and over now, so I may need to taper off on blogs.

Write, rewrite, submit, rejection, rejection, rewrite, submit . . .

Oddly enough, I do not often feel like a delusional idiot.

Elissa M said...

All aspiring writers should be required to read this post and Scalzi's. In fact, most of Scalzi's article applies to anyone who's self-employed, especially in the arts. I make my money painting, and I don't expect any writing income to be more than a little extra on the side. But I've never felt that a fulfilling and successful career is measured with currency.

kiwi said...

Great post, Jenny.

... so how about a (grimmer) post on what happens to the career of the writer whose first book bombs (doesn't even earn out the advance cheques.)

... you know, some of the 'hard' facts regarding the publishing industry.