The publicity, complete with dollar figures, that greets deals by Big Name Writers might make you think publishing is a business where money is openly discussed. Not so. The book business is so secretive that many authors with major publishers have no idea how their advances and income compare to those of others with the same imprint.
Below the stratosphere inhabited by such luminaries as Grisham, Patterson, and Cornwell, ordinary writers dwell in a far different world where mum’s the word. Publishers don’t want their writers comparing notes about money. Experienced authors warn newcomers that they must never reveal details of their contracts and incomes. Or their print runs, for that matter. The reasoning is that this could cause jealousy and complaints. Writers who feel slighted might start demanding more of everything, and that would annoy publishers, something none of us wants to do. It’s best to treat such professional information as a taboo topic.
Writers comply because we tend to be insecure by nature, many of us have struggled for years to break into print, and midlist writers (and lower) are valued so little that they never feel safe. I know a lot of writers who are so afraid of inadvertently offending their editors that they wouldn’t dream of picking up the phone and calling them for any reason. (She doesn’t like being called. I might interrupt something important! And we’ve heard dark tales of writers having their contracts dropped because they phoned their editors too often.) I also know people who are afraid to call their agents. They’ll send polite e-mails and wait days or weeks for a reply rather than risk being branded a pest for telephoning even once.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that most writers accept without question the injunction against sharing professional information, especially about money, with other authors. You’d think the internet would have changed all that, but no. We seem as alone and puzzled as we ever were, afraid to ask questions, not knowing who to trust. So it’s a revelation – a shock – when any published writer offers reliable facts and figures that can help others decide which path to pursue.
Marie Harte wrote on her blog about her unrealistic expectations and the published writer who took pity on her and set her straight. Harte was planning to quit her day job, start writing romance novels, and quickly work her way onto the bestseller lists alongside Nora Roberts. She adjusted her expectations after a helpful author told her she might make $2,000 to $5,000 per book, and the money would come in over several years, not instantly. Now Harte is heavily into e-publishing, produces seven to 10 new ebooks a year, makes a satisfactory but less than extravagant living, and doesn’t mind being candid about money. See her recent informative post on the subject.
J.A. Konrath has always been outspoken about most aspects of publishing, and now that he’s moving into e-publishing in a big way, he’s talking with his customary openness about the kind of money he has already made and expects to make by going digital with his thrillers. Almost anything Konrath says is bound to generate controversy – that’s what happens when you make a little noise on the internet and you’re not afraid to share your opinions – and plenty of people are scoffing at his claims. I hope he’s right, though. I hope he has great success in e-publishing and continues to share the details with the world.
E-publishing is challenging a lot of ingrained practices in traditional publishing and making us rethink what it means to be a "published" writer. Is it possible that e-publishing will also shake up the culture of secrecy that keeps so many of us ignorant about the very profession we pursue? Is this a good development or a bad one for authors? What do you think?
(Writer graphic (c) Martin Green/Dreamstime.com)