Monday Classroom: What if writing/publishing your book were like any other job?

If we were to think about our writing life, and publishing life, as a Job, we may consider things quite differently. You interview and you then sit by the phone and wait for it to ring, sweating, hoping. Phone rings—you didn’t get the job—DANG IT ALL TO HELLVITICA! That happens again, and again, until finally that phone rings and the answer is Yes! The job is yours! WHOOOP-WHOOOOP! You put on your work clothes and—

My advance will be six figures—I’m in the money!

The company offers you “upfront” money. That money will take care of expenses and such until you show them how successful you will be and how much money you will make them, or how much output you provide to make yourself a worthwhile risk. They’ll hold back your salary until you work enough to make up that upfront money. If you work for a huge company and they have reason to believe you’ll make them lots of moola, your advance could be Big. But, if like most of us pea-headed littlers you are more of a risk, advances aren’t going to be big, and some “companies” do not pay advances at all.

I receive small advances on my books and they are manageable enough to “earn back” quickly. You have to “pay back” that advance—meaning, you have to sell enough books to cover the advance before you begin making royalties. Dream big, but know the realities, y’allses.

I thought you said I could relax on the porch? Whaaaaa?

I’m going to buy a car and a house and ten gallons of gelato from my trip to Italy. Zippity do dah! Zippity Ay!

Better check your salary again, y’aaaawwwwl! Whether big business or small, the money the company takes in and doles out—including your salary—has to go many different places. Imagine Good Ole Bubba’s Tools & Supplies. Bubba the owner hires you to make tools, and when you make those tools, he sells them. From that money he has to pay rent or mortgage on his building, utilities and other expenses; he has to pay taxes, insurance; he has to buy inventory; he has to pay all of his employees; he has to pay himself. If you provide Bubba with a service, you are only a part of the entire operation of who has to be paid. The money has to be spread around to keep the business afloat.
So, your book is published—print, e-book, ethereal transcription on a moonbeam. Everyone involved receives their cut. Industry standard royalty rate ranges are from around 6 to 15 percent for paperback/hardback and 25 to 50 percent on ebook. So, let’s suppose you get 10% royalty on each print book you sell, and your book sells for $15.00: 10% of $15.00 = $1.50 per book is your cut—well, not exactly, as you must pay taxes, and “pay back” any expenses you incurred (if any), and if you have an agent, take 15% more off the top of that $1.50. Lawdy be in a bucket!

Takes a whole lotta books to make a living off that, doesn’t it, my beauties? Now, e-books earn a better royalty, and you can plug in the numbers yourself—still, tain’t a goldmine lessen you become a Kindle Millionaire or sumpin’—be realistic about your salary. Royalties can be really good one month and not so good another month, and expenses, taxes, agents if you have one, etc etc etc eat through some of that moo-la-la. Dream big, but temper it with the realities of just how difficult it is to make a good living as an author.

My book will be reviewed by: Magazines, Oprah’s Book Club, New York Times Books, et cetera.

You’ve been working hard. You’ve put in your time and then some. You walk by The Big Boss’s office every so often, showing him/her your determined face, your sincere attitude, the nights you’ve stayed late, the weekends you’ve worked, the family time you’ve sacrified. You’ve gone to meetings and didn’t even fall asleep-haw!—okay, once, but no one was the wiser.

You’ve done everything you can think of to be noticed by The Big Boss. And, well, he/she just doesn’t notice you. He/She has so many other employees who are doing the same thing, and some of them are backed by People who are able to slip into Big Boss’s office and put in a good word, or, some other employee just happens to be in the elevator with The Big Boss when she/he’s in a good mood, or, when he/she just happens to be looking for that particular person’s smile or nod or look or good morning. Or somehow, an employee has some buzz going on a project he/she did.

There’s a lot of competition  out there. And lotso times, the Big 6 published authors garner the most attention, or the authors who’ve already had best sellers or are gaining attention for some other reason, et cetera-oony. It’s a saturated business, folkses. It’s a tough business. The Big Boss is busy, and soooo important, and frankly, doesn’t have time to get to know every little employee out there—no matter how sincere or hardworking, and even, no matter how lovely your work is. Yup. Dang.

My book will be in many bookstores across the land.

Your proposal is done. You’ve worked hard on the Slim Slam Piddly Lam account. It’s all done up in a nice folder, and

Where's that mail carrier with my Big Ass Check?

you are proud of it. Now time to get it to the right hands. There’s two-hundred offices in the building; heck, if even one-hundred or so Boss Peoples to look at your proposal, why, even that would be great; better to have all two-hundred, but you’ll settle for half. You take your shiny proposal for the Slim Slam Piddly Lam account and make a hundred-fifty copies. You put them on your desk and wait. One person comes by—it’s Ms. Office Fifteen. She’s been a casual acquaintance and you bought her coffee one day. She takes a proposal, then because she likes you, she takes three more.  HOT DAMN! You are on your way! Whooooop Whooooop! Four proposals! The other hundred-forty-six sit. La la la tee dah. *check watch* *tap fingers* *tap toes* *sob a little*

You make the rounds of a few offices: “Will you take my Slim Slamp Piddly Lam account proposal?” And a couple take one, but it ends up under a big stack of other proposals.

Some shake their heads no. They have enough proposals, no more space. You realize you just don’t have time or funds or energy to go to all hundred-forty-six offices, so you place your Slim Slam Piddly Lam account proposals on your desk, again, and hope word will get around—ungh ungh. Your supervisor who works with you on accounts is helping, too, taking half of those proposals and sending out word, newsletters, samples, et cetera. A few more proposals are placed, but, nowhere near what you thought.

The truth is: sometimes you and your publishers (agent/editors/publicists, whomever) have to practically beg a bookstore to stock your book—until they tire of begging and stop—even if you are traditionally published by a viable press. Bookstores have limited space and they’re going to stock the “bigger names” –that means bigger in publishers and in authors.

notice me! notice me! notice me! notice me! notice me! dang . . .

Sad but true, you can be a champion of brick and mortar bookstores, but when you approach them, they may or may not care. They may or may not stock your book. They may stock one just to be nice. Since you can’t conceivably contact every bookstore there is, there’s no way to have your book noticed by many bookstores—for them, it’s about their budget and sentimentality usually goes one way: the author may be sentimental about having their books in brick and mortar bookstores but the sentimentality is often not returned—it’s a hard cold world out there in this book business. Make friends with your local bookstore owners and you probably will have success there, at least.

This is why Amazon and Nook and other e-readers have become important to authors—authors feel “heard” and authors are able to see their books on “shelves.”

work work work work work work work work work *lawd* work work work

Once I have one book published, I am assured to have more published.

You landed the Shots a Lot account! Oh Happy Days are Near Again! Surely now the next couple of accounts will be Yours! You can kick back and relax now. Or . . . not. Well, dang it all to Dang Town!

With each book, you (or if you have an agent, the agent) still need to convince your publisher/publishing editor to take on your book. Even if the last book was successful. Now, granted, if you’ve had success with your first book or books, the chances are higher; however, you still need to present the book and have it approved.

This means: just as with the first time, you’ll write your novel without knowing whether you will have it published and without knowing whether all your work will be realized in print/e-book. You write regardless of the outcome. You write never knowing where it will take you, or if you will be published, if you will ever make a dime, or if you will only make a dime.

How many jobs would you take knowing these kinds of odds? How many jobs would you take making an unknown salary? How many jobs would you take where you could work your arse off for weeks, months, a year, or more, and Maybe MAYBE be paid, and maybe not? Would you take that job?

You have to love this business and have a crazy amount of faith and hope and daring.

 I want this crazy-arse roller coaster job—do you?

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16 thoughts on “Monday Classroom: What if writing/publishing your book were like any other job?

  1. EEK, I’m a bit too lazy to do all that. I live in the fantasy that someone will just read my blog and want to hire me…HAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, fantasy is the key word here. I applaud successful authors like you who know HOW to do it. I took a class one time, a short two night one, to get a feeling about how to publish, and all that goes along with it. I decided I was not interested. Besides, I tried the fiction thing and I’m just not good at it. I’m just good at putting in print what pops out of my brain and sometimes it’s not pretty. I just like hanging out in blog world!

    • I think you are wise to be realistic! We can’t all be fiction writers and we can’t all be The Same — do, write, sing, be, act, follow, create the same — that makes this a wunnerful innerestin world!

  2. Dunno whether it was brilliant or crazy, but I took the unknown salary job in ’03, and still hoping to get to a place where my babies are more than just ethereal transcriptions on moonbeams.

    I say it may have been brilliant because stumbled into a way to manage negotiating this nutty job. First, I married my soulmate, then we worked our pahtooties off for 20 years, built our little cottage by our favorite shore. Lastly, we built up a bit of a nest-egg before we sold most of our worldly city-fied lives off to the highest bidders, and moved to our humble, less-consumerly, less rat-racy place in the forest to pursue our ‘real’ dreams. We support each other in ways we never dreamed of when she first allowed me to hold her hand. And we make do with less, and enjoy life more. I recommend it.

    Writing a big-ass trilogy and endlessly revising it before even seeking to make a single dollar may make me crazy, but most days I’d argue it saved my sanity. Great, eyes-open assessment of this crazy-making yet sanity-saving biz, Kat!

    • This sounds similar to what we did, Vaughn. I was born in the mountains (WVA) and it’s a dream to be back (WNC) to the appalachians -GMR retired from his job and we both came up here to a lil log house in the cove with the creek and barely any neighbors.

      ahhhhhhhhhhh! worth it all. worth it if I never make another dime.

  3. Damn it to all Hellvetica. :) Yeah, writing is not a full-time, money-making job for most. Once I realized that, there’s a lot less pressure to produce, I write on my own time, I relax. And I’m looking for a part-time job (mostly because I can’t stand being in this trailer 24-7).

    • I took a part time job for a while before my first book was picked up just to make some cash but once the book thing happened, I said, see ya, and have spent the rest of the time standing on my head while all the blood rushes to my face *laughing*! ;-D haw haw . . . ungh.

  4. I was as naive as they come when first starting out in this gig a few bazillion years ago, and every time a cold hard fact came along to smack me in the head, I reacted with stunned amazement. “Huh? So this is how it works?” Even then, as hard & cold the reality of the writing life may be, I’ve just never had enough sense to give it up and leave it alone. The truth is I’m a fool for words. Emphasis on *fool.*

    I think you said it best, Kat:
    “You have to love this business and have a crazy amount of faith and hope and daring.”

    • I think it’s a good thing we start out so naive so we aren’t sk’eert off and go runnin nekkid down the street screaming NO NONON OOOOOOOOO! :-D

  5. Well I guess I’m not quitting my day job any time soon. Maybe I should write a book about Dwight Shrute. Getting published is kind of like winning the lottery, except you don’t get a gazillion dollars.

  6. Wow – publishing in today’s world is pretty brutal! I self-pubbed my children’s book in 2010, but was too lazy to take them to each book store….I called the corporate office….and they said no. Now I have two boxes of these Rusty books to either give away or sell myself. :)

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