5 Things No One Tells You About Selling a Book

As much as I try to de-romanticize the profession, there are still people out there who make the plunge and become writers, possibly because it’s been discovered you can make $1m a week by rewriting Twilight and swapping vampires for BDSM. Hate to break it to you, but your chances of breaking big on that level are about on par with hitting the Powerball.  Twice.  So, here’s another article that likely wouldn’t make Cracked because they prefer their testamonial be written by editors.

5. The Money Sucks. No, It Really Sucks.

Maybe you did a little something extra to “help” your chances…

The moment starts out so beautifully, after all, this is what you’ve been hoping for, praying for. This is the moment of vindication, where you managed to convince yourself, “I wouldn’t even care about the money, if my book got published, I’d do it for free!”

Then you find out how close to accurate that statement actually is.

Advances are largely a thing of the past unless you’re writing a juicy memoir or it’s clear you’ve got the next, well, Twilight on your hands. Most of us have to start out in E-books, and unless you’re a proven bestseller, you’re not getting an advance.  Even if you DO, that’s not free money, it’s essentially an interest-free loan against your future royalties, and you won’t see a dime more until you pay back the advance, or “earn out” as it’s called in the biz.

That was NOT an invitation to dick-measure.

Earning out could take months, years, or could just plain never happen. Let’s say you get an advance for ten grand for your 90,000 word novel, and you never earn out. Most writers can bang out a 90,000 word novel, get it edited (and edited, and workshopped, and edited again), and ready to submit in 6-10 months. If you can manage to pull in those kind of advances once or twice annually, that comes out to an average of $10-20k a year, and what’s that called, kids?

Instead, you’ll be likely be paid by the quarter, earning royalties as you go. Thing is, this is early in your career, and no one’s really heard of you. My first royalty check? $38. For three months of sales. “But surely the publisher will promote the work,” you say, “Sure they want to make money too!”

Yeah, I’m getting to that, because here’s something else you need to know…

4. Nearly All Promotional Work Is Done by the Author

So you’ve received your first measly check and you’ve resolved that damn it, you’re going to make your book climb all the way to the top, only to find out that the weight of the labor falls largely on you. Why won’t the publisher do anything, you ask? Remember how in this scenario you’re an unproven writer? How many other writers do you think are in your publisher’s stable? Dozens? Hundreds? Maybe over a thousand? In E-books, it’s difficult to say, but if the number’s over 50 (which it very likely will be), chances are your publisher can’t devote any more attention to you than announcing your book is for sale on your release date and send out review copies to a few websites.

Hell, you had to give them credit just for remembering your *name*.

The P.R. department of a publishing house isn’t as huge as you might think, and they’ll be more likely to push the bestselling authors because they’ve proven themselves able to make more money. Think of it like a classroom. How much personal attention can an educator give to a room of 50 kids? 100? 250? 1000? It’s nothing personal, it’s just good business. They’ll be happy to give you advice, but most of the heavy lifting is going to fall on your shoulders.

You could, of course, always hire a PR firm to push your book, and buy ad space, but remember that little hiccup from the first bit? The part about the money sucking? When you have to choose between promo and food, well, either choice makes you a writer. Don’t be a hero.
Think about doing blog tours, or interviews, or hell, anything on the internet, because thanks to your career…

3. You Will Become a Slave to Social Media

See this? This is your life now.

I used to hate Twitter. Facebook too. I had a Livejournal back when it was sort of cool, and a tiny author blog a few people followed, and then I found out that my hatred of Twitter and Facebook was hurting my career. Now I have a Twitter feed, a Facebook fan page, a homepage, a blog,  even a web show for a little while, and I can’t come up with enough interesting and witty shit to fill all of it, but I have to. And so do you.

Your readers (and you do have them), want to know what’s going on with you, what you’re working on, your opinions on various things, other authors, movies, all that. But sometimes they want to know about you personally as well. As a result, anywhere from 1,000-3,000 of  the words you were planning on writing in your book today? Instead it’s going to get used on your social media. The upside is that you’ll eventually be able to do both. In the beginning, though, social media is a time suck, but a necessary one.

There’s almost an insidious quality to his ador… KITTY!

It’s a 24/7 cycle out there, and you have to stay in the reader’s consciousness, because trust me,  nobody minds moving on to the next adorable cat video.

Social media is the key to exposure, and in this business, exposure is almost as good (and sometimes better) than writing a good novel. There’s a downside to exposure, though, and it’ll bring you face to face with the truth that…

2. You’re Going to Get Pirated

Like a lot of writers, when you first start out you’ll Google your pen name or your book title looking for reviews from complete strangers that will justify your literary existence better than your teachers and parents ever could. And one day, you’ll find your book title huddled next to the name of a sex video on a website you’ve never heard of. Eventually it dawns on you: Someone obtained a copy of your book, and they’re offering it up for free. You’ve been pirated.

Most writers have the initial reaction of trying to laugh it off. “Hey! Someone thought my work was good enough to steal! I’m somebody now!” Then you find another site, then another, then another, and noticed that 38 people have “thanked” the pirate for the posting, which is usually a requirement to download the file. Then you look at your royalty statement and realize that’s more copies than you sell in a month.  And, there are a few ways you can react…

1. Weep, lament, but generally do nothing.

This is where your blog gets filled with a lot of angry and depressing entries about what you could be doing with the money if those copies were being bought instead of stolen. You might describe your financial circumstances and hope that the people pirating you show some human decency and give you a break. It’s not going to happen, pirates probably don’t even know your blog exists. The ones that do likely won’t hold up, and you might even get hate mail telling you to get a “real job”.

2. DMCA ALL the file sites!!!

This is where you exercise your rights under the DMCA and send out scads and scads of takedown notices (or pay a service an ungodly amount of money to do it for you) and cut into your writing time even more, only find that the same files are being uploaded again hours later with only a minor tweak to the file name.

3. Go batshit crazy.

If you want to go the folk hero route, you take the fight to the pirates, you sink to their level, you abandon writing altogether to become a lone and righteous wolf stalking through the lion’s den and possibly lose your ability to spell. Usually, you’ll even go down the pirate road yourself to get deeper into the culture, all in the hopes that you’ll bring them down by sometimes posting personal information about the pirates. (When in fact, you’re just giving the pirates free advertising) Out here in reality, you’ll likely breach your contracts in some way, or alienate your readers to the point where they don’t buy your books or they pirate you out of sheer spite. Don’t be surprised if you get taken to task by a few bloggers as well.

4. Trust in Jesus/Buddha/The Tao/Karma/A Higher Power

Most writers settle into this. DMCA the most egregious offenders, but otherwise pray that the pirating won’t be too bad this month and your royalties will be better. It’s certainly not condoning the behavior, it’s more hoping that there is a sense of spiritual justice and that when they meet it the pirates in question will come face to face with a power that ran out of fucks to give a long time ago and isn’t in the mood for a litany of rationalizations to justify their stealing. In the meantime, we write, we tweet, we blog. Because at the end of the day, we’re writers, and the people who read us legitimately would rather have another book from us than another rant.

5. Full-On Condone

There’s really only one of two reasons to say you’re okay with being pirated. Either you’re so desperate for attention and exposure you’ll take it at any cost, or you’ve reached the “fucking” stage of your career. What’s that, you ask?

The “Fucking” stage of a writer’s career is something noticed by myself and fellow writer/blogger David M. DeMar. It’s the moment where suddenly it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, because you’ve established yourself to the point where someone will buy your stuff just because it has your name on the front. Hearkening back to the beginning of this post, an excellent example is how E.L. James the fanfiction writer is now E.L. Fucking James the author who’s making a cool mil a week.

A writer that pirates love to trot out is Neil Gaiman, who gave an interview condoning pirating because as far as he was concerned, it’s free and viral advertising. He can say this because he’s Neil Fucking Gaiman. All he has to do is write a book and it’s a guaranteed NYT Bestseller whether it’s golden prose or the equivalent of him wiping his ass with his laptop. If he gets pirated, so what? There are plenty of people who know his stuff who will gladly buy all of his old books.

But when you’re a nobody writer, there’s zero incentive to buy your stuff when you can just wait and download it for free. You might see an uptick in sales for a little while, but unless you’re prolific and punching out book after book to the point you are a Fucking author, it’s not really free advertising, it’s just telling people it’s okay to steal from you, and in turn, your publisher. If you watch the interview from Gaiman, you’ll notice he never mentions any of his books by name, because his publisher might have issue, except the ones he convinced his publisher to release for free. He could do this because, again, he’s Neil Fucking Gaiman. You are not.

In conclusion, pirates are like the Westboro Church: They live behind an impenetrable wall of rationalizations, constantly seeking attention and self-validation, and your hate only makes them stronger.

1. Despite It All, You’re Working On Your Next Book

So the pay sucks, you’re exhausted from promotion, you’re on more social media sites than you’d care for, and your first novel is being stolen all over the world. Any sane person would have turned up a middle finger at this “profession” weeks ago, but here you are, still crunching away at blog entries, tossing out tweets, working in a DMCA notice or two, and still finding time to get the story down for no other reason than it needs to be told. Well, that and rent’s coming due and you wouldn’t mind a little extra breathing room, you know?

So why do it? There’s a million reasons, and everyone’s got their own. Me? This is what I went to school for. I write because it’s my job. It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job. You can rant and rage and rave about the problems of the industry, but at the end of the day, there’s really only one question: how did I progress the story today? Today? I figured out how the women of a particular clan fit into the setting I’ve created. I’ll call that progress.

How about you?


Filed under Humor, Writing

5 responses to “5 Things No One Tells You About Selling a Book

  1. If I can read this and still want to go through with it, does that mean I truly am a writer?

  2. RJ

    Based on a review I purchased House of Stone. After reading that I purchased, read and enjoyed everything else you have published. I preordered your next book from Barnes and Noble just because it had your name on it. Keep at your job… I appreciate it 🙂


  3. Pingback: A Few More Tips on Being a Writer | Vaughn R. Demont

  4. Pingback: Seriously? Still Want To Be a Writer? | Vaughn R. Demont

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