This was an exciting week for me: My first royalty check! You know, for words I constructed out of the fantastic corners of my mind, to be published as Dust to Blood. Don’t get me wrong, any payday is a good payday–especially when you’ve just been paid to imagine something into existence. But… I’m a long way from paying off the bills I incurred to get the book out there. At this rate, my minimal promotional budget, editing & design costs, and paycheck for my time and energy, will be paid off in … THIRTY YEARS! (Assuming sales rate stays the same, royalty agreements don’t fluctuate, etc.)
That’s a very long view to take on something I would hope to amount to more than just an expensive hobby.
So I talked to my awesome publisher, Gayla, and to my excellent editor, Dionne (who’s in a similar 1st-book newbie position), about this reality check. Both were kind enough, and trusting enough, to share some of the details of their experiences.
I won’t share specific earnings numbers, but it does seem the three of us all started at about the same place: minimal royalty income compared to the cash and effort outlay. The interesting thing about having someone with more experience among us is that it presents a bit of a roadmap.
In Gayla’s first year of publishing (2008) she presented the world with 7 works of fiction (all different lengths, but mostly shorter–i.e. nothing longer than 35K words). She sold 64 copies of those books. In 2009, she published another 5 (this time, nothing longer than 20K words), and sold 125 copies. In 2010, 6 more helped push her sales to 180 for the year. After 3 years of crazy hard work producing new books, in 2011 she only released 3, but her sales more than doubled over the previous year. This year so far she’s only released one book (her longest novel to date), but her sales are still on target to increase over the previous year, again. This, despite the fact that she’s retired 10 of the works she previously released, as not representing her current level of ability as an author (and: What kind of stones does it take to point your critical eye on your creative babies and say, “I could make this better”?).
One reason I look up to Gayla so much is because she does all this with a business-woman’s eye on reality. She’s developed a spreadsheet with the monthly goals of royalties income she needs to meet in order to end up with a certain kind of paycheck. She’s even taken into account the taxes she would owe at given levels of income; she isn’t talking pie-in-the-sky dreams of “Imma be a ROCK star, best-selling author on top of a 6-figure movie script sale”. And she’s not ignoring the expenses she’ll have to cover to make sure she doesn’t hurt her brand as a writer by publishing shoddy work (be it through bad production values or poor editing or even lack of further professional development). Her income goal is the same as my current day-job earning rate, which makes it feel that much more real to me.
So she represents my voice of experience and reason, and echoes that of experienced authors like Dean Wesley Smith, Kait Nolan, and Chuck Wendig, which tells me, I’ve just taken my first baby step. The most reliable way of generating more sales (more income!) is releasing another book. And another. And something else that builds your brand and entices the reading public to come discover the worlds you are building.
So maybe I’m being a little over-ambitious this year, planning on releasing three novels and one short story, but the only way to swim with the big boys is to jump in the deep end of the pool. See whether you float or drown. And from that perspective, my little paycheck actually puts me ahead of the curve, so I have something to be proud of, and even more to aspire to.