The Truth About An Author

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Not very high, are they? One of the most bitter lessons of publication is how long you have to wait for the money, starting with the advance. Publishing is organised so that money advanced to the author is recovered as quickly as possible, while money owed to the author is retained as long as possible. The advance is normally paid in two or three stages:. Your agent should resist such contracts.

However you may be able to negotiate a top-up advance, to be paid in the event your sales earn back the advance within a short period. Where income is earned from sales of other rights, foreign royalties etc, the publisher will normally retain your share until the next royalty period, though you can request that they pay it earlier. To introduce you as a new author, eg if you get picked up by a major book chain as Author of the Month, the publisher may sell your books to that chain at a high discount in return for a large order, and guaranteed publicity and shelf space.

Export sales are worth a lot less than local sales, so always try to sell your book to a publisher in your own country first. The royalty rate is very low, however, around 5 cents per book. The same applies with omnibus editions of your books. These promotional editions may increase your overall sales, or may come at the expense of your full-priced books. Your publisher should offer remainders to you at the remainder price first, so buy as many as you can afford. They make great give-aways. The royalty rate will be about 5 cents per copy, but it may be worth it for the exposure of your name.

This is what your royalty statement should tell you, so you can be fully informed and manage your writing business properly:. Check your royalty statements carefully. It will almost certainly say that the higher royalty rate applies on full-priced sales. In Australia, as in many other countries, you can be paid a small sum per book for copies of your books held in public libraries PLR and educational libraries ELR. You have to register for both by filling in the form that your publisher will send you when your book is published.

Payment is deposited to your bank account in May and June respectively. Most writers would get from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year, but a rare few will get tens of thousands of dollars. Australia, also in line with a number of other countries, has a Cultural Gifts Scheme to encourage creative artists in all fields to donate their works to Australian institutions rather than selling them on the world market.


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For example, science fiction and fantasy, being world literatures, are probably worth more than books that are of only local interest. For beginning writers, the program is worth little if anything.

Grants go overwhelmingly to literary fiction writers. There are two main kinds of awards — voted awards and judged awards. Such awards, like the Oscars, are given partly for quality and partly for popularity, so it helps to be well known and likeable and to round up all your friends to vote so that you get on the shortlist.


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  4. It can take surprisingly few votes to do this. Judged awards are generally assessed by a panel of judges, usually from academia or literary figures. They tend to be looking for literary qualities, originality and themes that are of concern to them. These are often not the qualities that would appeal to the reading public. Success as a novelist requires you to establish your name, just like any other brand.

    Building a successful writing career requires you to keep selling your backlist and, for most writers of popular fiction, that means writing some form of series that your readers can identify with and keep following over the years. If you can write a compelling series with engaging, developing characters, each new book should build sales of your backlist. The big problem comes when you want to write something different as, sooner or later, you almost certainly will.

    Few writers can. In any case, your present publisher is most unlikely to buy your new book, because she knows how difficult it will be to sell. If you really want to write in a new genre you may be better off changing your name to avoid confusing everyone. Even writing a new series within the same genre can lose you sales, if the style or characters are very different from the old series.

    Tastes change and styles date. Even genres boom and bust: westerns have practically disappeared, horror goes up and down like a roller coaster from decade to decade and SF seems to be in long term decline. Luckily, one kind of writing never goes out of fashion — a good story well told, with well-drawn characters that the reader can identify with if not necessarily like.

    The other thing you have to do is be productive. Most successful popular writers produce a book a year, if not more. One of the most successful of all, Nora Roberts, writes eight books a year but she is, of course, a phenomenon. Furthermore, many bestseller lists excluded popular fiction in favour of literary works, and were widely manipulated.

    The same company produces bestseller lists in the UK and US. Some may go on to become genuine bestsellers, though many will have disappeared within a year or two. In most weeks of the year, you can get to No. The annual lists are a better guide to the true bestseller.

    In Australia, for adult hardcovers, full priced sales of 7, copies in a year are required to make the annual APA bestseller list. Roughly titles make each annual list.

    The biggest selling title in each of these categories would sell around a quarter of a million copies in the year lifetime sales would be rather higher. In the UK, a new paperback can make the annual Guardian Fastseller Top list with , copies this generally includes substantial export copies and the top seller will sell around a million copies in the year.

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    The writers on this list are almost all British, Irish or American. While Australian writers do make the list from time to time, none has ever made the annual Top consistently. The only other writer who does is Wilbur Smith South Africa. Thirty years ago the top figure was , copies; now more than fifty titles have hardcover sales over that figure.

    The top seller in trade paperback and mass market paperback is generally over two million each. Mass market paperback sales have declined significantly over the years, with loss of non-bookshop sales outlets, but hardcover sales have risen dramatically as the price differential has fallen. Many books that sell steadily for years may never make the bestseller lists, though they can end up selling a lot more copies than bestsellers that shone briefly only to be out of print a year or two later. In the US, 18 hardcover novels sold over , copies in without once making the weekly bestseller lists.


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    Science fiction and fantasy are easily sold internationally. Crime set in Australia has a limited international market, as do most other forms of Australian literature. Your publisher has the resources to hawk your books at Frankfurt and the other big book fairs, and will already have relationships with agents in many countries. This can also avoid foreign tax issues and payment problems i.

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    Some Australian publishers are extremely good at selling foreign rights, while others have little experience. Find out before signing a contract that allows your publisher to do these deals. There are about countries in the world, and thousands of languages, though only the literary superstars would be published in more than 20 countries.

    Here are the kinds of advances that a successful mid-range author can expect for a first publication offer in another country, per book. These include France and Japan. Do a Google foreign language search on your name and books, and you may be able to discover pirated editions for sale. Nothing could be further from the truth. In your home country you have the edge because you can help promote your books, so your publisher has a stronger incentive to develop your career. Not impossible — sometimes word-of-mouth will make a book a success without promotion — but pretty unlikely.

    Sadly, for most writers of popular fiction, the answer is never. Movie rights are only bought outright when a the producer knows beyond any doubt that the movie is going to be made and has the money and stars lined up, or b the writer is a superstar, or c the rights can be bought for peanuts. Point a takes forever, and point b applies to Stephen King, Michael Crichton and their ilk, not you or me. An option ensures that no one else can buy the rights for the period of the option. A yearly option typically costs about a tenth of the price of the movie rights.

    In some cases, the option may be renewed for years, a nice little earner even if the movie is never made. What matters is sales.

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    As many as twenty distinct rights could be involved for any book, eg serial rights, TV or stage dramatisation, merchandising, digest, book club, electronic rights etc, and new ones appear all the time. Most of these will be worth nothing to most authors. On the other hand, you never know what rights may become valuable in the future. Rate 0. But earning your living as a full-time writer has many challenges, not least managing your career so as to maintain that living. This means running your writing activities like a business.

    Everything that other people get from their employer like a furnished office, equipment, travel and promotional expenses, sick leave, superannuation etc is an expense you have to pay before you earn a cent in salary. Table 2 sets out the range of expenses for a typical writing business. Table 2. When times are bad, it pays to increase promotion rather than cut it. The same applies when times are good.

    Other countries could be more, and may have social security taxes as well.

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