This month my life took a detour through Stress City and I have been neglecting the internet. I really owe a good post to you kind folks, and rather than blogging about my cat’s excessive diarrhea, instead I think I’ll talk about something that is the source of many questions in my inbox: How authors get paid.
When you say you’re a writer at a party, people will either find this interesting, or back away from you like you just told them you lick dead squirrels, because a person who licks dead squirrels and a person who wants to write as a profession are generally the same degree of sane. However, once you are published and have gone through those doors, and some Very Important Someone in some Very New York City Office has deemed you passable, the tone changes. Now everyone wants to know how much money you make, if you need a second job, if you’re living off a trust fund, if you’re living in a van down by the river.
Mostly, people think you’re a millionaire, however uncommon that may be. So let’s talk this out. Keep in mind that there is NO guarantee the newly-sold author will make any particular amount of money. I know people who make four figures, and I know people who make seven, and I know a great many more who fall somewhere in between. There are a LOT of numbers between four figures and seven, after all.
Let’s say that your agent has just sold your manuscript to Joe Big Deal Publisher. Congrats! They are paying you an advance of $100,000! That’s good money. That’s more than the average American annual salary, according to the US Census Bureau. Awesome!
You and your agent have a partnership. For facilitating the sale, making sure your contract is fair and to your standard, and holding your hair back while you vomit, your agent will receive 15% of that advance. This leaves $85,000 for you. That’s still pretty sweet. Don’t buy a boat, but it’ll more than cover your rent and you’ll still be able to pay Sarah McLachlan off so she’ll make the sad animals on your TV go away.
Now, this next part is where the publishing experience varies: Payout. For the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll tell you how the standard payout goes for my publishers.
There are three tiers to your payout. After your agent has received her 15%, leaving you with a formidable $85,000, the payment is cut into thirds, and they are paid out as follows:
1.) Execution. You get $28,333 just for signing the contract. Whoohoo! Go drink some wine and call that snot Sally Hencher from middle school who called you pizza face in gym class. Tell her $28,333 can buy a lot of pizza.
2.) Delivery and Acceptance. Once your manuscript is sold, it needs to be edited. After you and your editor have completed this process (which may take a couple of months or so), the publisher deems the manuscript publishable and accepts it. Another $28,333 for you. You go, Glen Coco.
3.) Publication. Your book is published. $28,333. Just like that. Tada!
Now that your book is on the shelf, you probably want to know what you get per sale. You were paid an advance of $100,000. That means your publisher believes your book will make back that money and then some, and they don’t owe you or your agent a dime until they’ve earned back the money they’ve just invested in you.
I won’t get into the complexities of how bookstores purchase books from publishers or what happens when books get returned, because frankly it’s so confusing that I lose track of it myself. Let’s just say, for simplicity’s sake, that your book is available in hardcover for $15 and that your publisher receives 5% of each sale. The rest of that money goes to the retailer and whoever else got your book from point A to B. That’s $.75 in your publisher’s pocket. So that means your publisher has to sell 133,333 copies of your book before you start to receive a percentage of sales. These are known as royalties. So hang on to your advance and don’t spend it all in one place.
Now let’s talk about everyone’s favorite factor: How much The Federal Government gets off of your book! Aka taxes! Okay, calm down, stop jumping up and down like a kid going to Disney Land. I know this is exciting but we need to concentrate.
Let’s assume your book was executed, accepted and published in the same year (this is not likely, but again, for simplicity’s sake because math is stupid). According to the Federal Tax Brackets if you make $85,000 in one year, your federal taxes are going to be 28% of that. That’s a quarter of your advance, leaving you with $63,750. This is, of course, before state taxes. Those vary by region, so you’d have to look yours up by state. Here where I live in CT it’s 6%, so let’s go with that. Now you’ve got $56,100. Okay, still more than half. Really not bad for a year’s salary, especially if you also have a day job and/or a roommate/spouse/eccentric aunt contributing to the bills.
But writing a book is also considered owning a small business. Yep. That means whether you repair cars, shingle roofs, or write a book, it’s all the same category to the state. Again, this varies by region and contains so many variables that I won’t drive you nuts with the specifics. Here is a resource to get you started on that. It can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For the sake of this post, we’ll leave it out and call your total a solid $56,100. Referring to my average US salary link, this falls to the low-middle end of the American average salary. About as much as you could make doing a number of other jobs that typically require some kind of degree. Not terribly exciting for the inquisitive party guests, I’m afraid. So when people ask writers how much we make, now you know why a great lot of us shrug and say, “It’s a living.”
ETA: As someone pointed out, my math was off on the state tax. The state tax of 6% should be deducted from the $85k. I’ve amended the total to the correct amount. Math is hard.
Anonymous said: Hi! just wondering, I've heard a lot of authors talk about typical "writer problems". Do you have certain reoccurring writer problems that you'd want people to know about?
sometimes I have to wear pants
The Lovely Bones
Anonymous said: Which books have you re-read the most?
Probably A Great and Terrible Beauty, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, the dictionary, and Memoirs of a Geisha.
I’m not an advice giver, but if pressed, my advice is to not be stupid. Pursue whatever you want in life, but just don’t be stupid. If you want to be an artist, a trash collector, a millionaire investor, a bum who staggers through the streets in a drunken stupor because the world looks better when it’s spinning—whatever, no judgement. But on the path between who you are and who you are going to be, pick up some books, study both sides of an argument, don’t believe something just because your parents believe it, and their parents. Don’t just do what you’re told, don’t just digest what you’re taught. Question it. Question everything. Find out why you believe what you believe. Have a compelling argument to support it. Don’t treat education like a chore, don’t think that once you’re outside of a classroom, the things you learned inside the classroom no longer apply. Know how to use a semicolon. Get into the habit of researching things you don’t understand. Know what contractions are. Know that you’re means “you are” and your is possessive. Know what possessive means. Know how many continents there are and what they’re called. Know the basics of your country’s history. Know about other genders, listen to people who are different from you. And at the end of it all, if you disagree with it all, if you still believe what you started out believing, at least you will know why. At least your beliefs will be impenetrable, a rock, a haven. And no matter who comes into your life or leaves it, you will know without a doubt who you are and what you stand for. It all comes down to three words: Don’t be stupid. It sounds simple enough but there are a lot of people walking around this planet right now who might have benefited from someone telling them this.
Anonymous said: Have you ever felt out of place with people of your same age? Something like... you're too mature (mentally) and the other one too stupid? Something like being Lisa Simpson. I feel this way everyday with people of my age, and in some moments, with people older than me. And, as I suffer from anxiety, sometimes it get me a little depressed, too. What would you say me to do? I hate this feeling =(
I can relate to this, and I think a lot of others can, too.
Try not to think of it as an issue with the other people being stupid, though. You are gifted (cursed?) with an inherent self-awareness at an age when most of your peers are still figuring themselves out.
I understand the Lisa Simpson mentality; all throughout grade school, I could never find my place with my classmates. I often found them to be shallow, and their interests frivolous. I often pretended to like the things they liked as a means to relate, but really couldn’t wait until I got home and could go back to my book or my brooding about whatever it happened to be. I was weird, or smart, depending on the person describing me.
But after I left school behind and got a bit older, I reconnected with a few of my classmates in adulthood. I found that a few of them had also been pretending, and that we had a lot in common. Several others found their place in the world eventually and turned into respectable adults… even the ones that had managed to convince me they were going to be a lost cause, or a future serial killer, frankly.
I learned that it’s not an issue of smart versus stupid. Though it may not seem so, the people your age possess a lot more depth than they’re showing you, perhaps more than they’re aware of themselves. They may still be figuring themselves out. When you feel alone at your maturity level, remind yourself that everyone is their own universe. Perhaps you can’t connect with the people that surround you, and perhaps they can’t either, but are better at pretending.
In the meantime, something you have going for you that I didn’t have during my formative years is the internet. There are SO many people who suffer from anxiety or other dissociative conditions and feel more comfortable online than out amongst their peers. Search for people with similar interests. Browse blogs, look through forums, reach out. But as always, be safe about it. The big illusion of anxiety is isolation. You’re not as alone as you feel, I promise.
NEW BOOK DEAL!!!! -
I’m so incredibly excited to announce I’ve sold my TENTH novel! WAHOOOOO!
Wow, I can hardly believe it. I remember when I was struggling to sell the first (and yes, like many authors, my first book didn’t even sell!) I’ll tell you, though. My first sale was surreal and my tenth sale is just as…
So happy for you, Jess!!! Can’t wait to read A WEEK OF MONDAYS!!
Anonymous said: What was your inspiration for the Chemical Garden series?