April 17th, 2009 by LViehl
The Reality of a Times Bestseller

A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there. Today I’m going to keep that promise and give you the stats on my sixth Darkyn novel, Twilight Fall.

We’ve all been told a lot of myths about what it takes to reach the top twenty list of the NYT BSL. What I was told: you have to have an initial print run of 100-150K, you have to go to all the writer and reader conferences to pimp the book, you can’t make it unless you go to certain bookstores during release week and have a mass signing or somehow arrange for a lot of copies to be sold there; the list is fixed, etc.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19. I’ll tell you exactly why it got there: my readers put it there. But it wasn’t until last week that I received the first royalty statement (Publishing is unbelievably slow in this department) so I just now put together all the actual figures on how well the book did.

To give you some background info, Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.

My next royalty statement for Twilight Fall probably won’t come until October or November 2009, but when it does I’ll post copies of it so you can see what a top twenty Times bestseller does in the first year after it’s released.

In Publishing telling the truth about earnings smashes the illusions publishers and writers want you to believe and, like breaking mirrors, it never brings you good luck. Thing is, when I was a rookie I wanted to know exactly what it took to have a top twenty Times bestselling novel, because that was such a big deal to writers. Everyone I asked gave me a different answer, told me a bunch of nonsense, or couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me at all. For that reason I want you to see the hard figures, and know the reality, and the next time someone asks you what it takes, you can tell them the truth.

Just a Heads up: the comments for the post will be turned off on Monday Night (April 27) Thank you so much for all the interest, information and feedback – and keep an eye out for more straight up truth on the reality of this business here at Genreality.

Be Sociable, Share!

300 comments to “The Reality of a Times Bestseller”

  1. Charlene Teglia
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:34 am · Link

    Thank you, hard data is almost impossible to come by in this business. This gives me hope. : )

  2. B.E. Sanderson
     · April 17th, 2009 at 8:09 am · Link

    Thanks, Lynn. I know I can count on you for the straight scoop. This shakes a lot of the mystery out of royalty statements for me. It was surprising, but not a bad surprise. Facts and reality are always a good thing.

    FWIW, I wasn’t surprised when Twilight Fall hit the bestseller list. I was jones’n for the next Darkyn novel, and snapped it up as soon as I could.

  3. Jess
     · April 17th, 2009 at 8:10 am · Link

    While I don’t really care about lists, seeing an actual royalty statement and hearing how it breaks down is very helpful! Thanks a lot, Lynn, and here’s hoping for even better statements in the future. 😛

  4. Mark Terry
     · April 17th, 2009 at 8:33 am · Link

    You are awesome, thank you. I’ve had several novels published, nowhere near the sales you have, but I can attest to how little money is actually out there. In some ways I was surprised and in many ways wasn’t by your sales figures. An education, so thank you.

    BTW, I tried forever to get a copy of Shockball, but finally was able to get a used copy. Look forward to reading it–I’m reading the Stardoc novels in order.

  5. Raine
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:11 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing, Lynn. Good info to know.

  6. Lori Devoti
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:26 am · Link

    Thanks for posting! You are right, our own ignorance of what is “real” is a huge problem. And the misconceptions…they are exhausting.

  7. Lynn M
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:33 am · Link

    Wow, this really gives me a true picture of what a real author can expect. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Here’s something sort of on topic that I would love to have you professionals address. My mother works in a Barnes and Noble, and recently they moved to a new store. As part of the move, she spent days tearing covers off paperbacks to be returned to the publishers – one day she knows she pulled at least $9K’s worth of covers. The covers are sent in for credit and the bulk of the books are supposedly “recycled”.

    This system makes me sick to the core. The waste of resources is a disgrace – the materials and cost of producing and shipping books to stores and then the costs of recycling alone just baffles the mind. Not to mention that a good portion of these books were children’s titles.

    Does a writer have any sway (maybe if you get to La Nora levels!) of asking that any returns be donated to charities, libraries in disadvantaged communities, schools, etc? Even if I didn’t make a penny on those books, at least I could feel good knowing that they were going to people who couldn’t afford to buy them and not in some landfill.

    Why does the industry use this method? I just don’t get it.

  8. Lynn M
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:37 am · Link

    PS – I just reread my post and realized it sounded kind of accusatory! I’m asking you all here at Genereality because I’m hoping you might offer some insider’s insight to something that doesn’t seem to make sense to me and what you think about the practice. I imagine you find it frustrating as all heck to imagine the copies of your hard work being destroyed like that! And I just wondered if writers have any kind of say over this, although I imagine they don’t. Thanks!

  9. Eve Silver
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:41 am · Link

    Thank you for your incredible generosity in posting this information. It’s fascinating, daunting and a little frightening.

  10. Joely
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:47 am · Link

    Lynn, thank you for this post. When I first stumbled across your PBW blog, your Darkyn website had just gone up and I was thrilled to win an ARC of If Angels Burn. I’ve been addicted ever since, and it’s thrilling to see the success of this series! Your honest posts about the reality of publishing have taught me, made me laugh (love John and Marcia), and provided inspiration at the same time. Thank you!

  11. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:01 am · Link

    I’m hoping that since I didn’t explode or burst into flames after posting this that other authors will try to be more forthcoming with their stats. :)

  12. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:05 am · Link

    It’s always good to see the real deal. I know there are a lot of stats being posted out there by various writers who collect them via an anonymous survey, but there’s no way to verufy their accuracy without seeing an actual statement.

    Thanks for the kind words for TF. I never expected it to do as well as it did, but once again my readers surprised me. :)

  13. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:09 am · Link

    I hope this demystifies the royalty statement, too — I know I thought all sorts of things until my first one came in and I saw how publishers actually handle the accounting.

  14. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:12 am · Link

    I’m glad seeing the statement was helpful, Mark, and thanks for looking for Shockball. Regarding the series, I know a couple of the books are hard to find now, and I’ll warn you, Rebel Ice (book 6) is out of print and used copies often sell for about $40 – $80 online. You can usually find cheaper used copies of RI on eBay, though.

  15. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:12 am · Link

    Always a pleasure, Ms. Raine. :)

  16. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:14 am · Link

    I think even the higher ups sometimes aren’t in touch with the reality, Lori. The one I heard about a minimum 100-150K first print run being an absolute necessity came from an editor at a major publishing house.

  17. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:18 am · Link

    I think the problem with donating any books that are returned is that it compromises the tax write-off of the loss for the publisher. Also, with paperbacks, the book sellers don’t actual return the whole book — as your Mom works for B&N you probably know how they strip off the covers.

    For my part, I donate as many of my author copies as I can to U.S. soldiers stationed overseas, hospitals, senior centers and other folks in need. I also give my used books to our local library for their booksales or pass them along to friends. If everyone would do more of that, we could offset a little of the waste involved with unsold books.

  18. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:20 am · Link

    I didn’t think your post was accusatory at all. I share your frustrations, especially when I know there are thousands of libraries and schools and other non-profit organizations out there who could make good use of the books. It’s just writers have no say in what the publishers do with their property, which once our novels become physical products, is what they become.

  19. Nadia Lee
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:20 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing, Lynn. Great info! :)

  20. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:22 am · Link

    I hope not too frightening — although I’d rather be spooked by the real figures than what I cook up in my imagination. :)

  21. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:23 am · Link

    Thank you, ma’am. As always, I will endeavor to live up to your kind words.

  22. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:23 am · Link

    Happy to help, Nadia.

  23. Jordan Summers
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:30 am · Link

    Thank you as always for being so very candid. :)

  24. Chrissy
     · April 17th, 2009 at 11:22 am · Link

    This was not only brave of you, but really helpful to a lot of us.

    Plus I’m already an unrepentant fangirl. Your books kick patootie.

  25. Ciar Cullen
     · April 17th, 2009 at 11:30 am · Link

    You really rock for doing this. I think most instructive is what you describe as the “myths” of getting on that list. Thanks.

  26. Shawntelle Coker
     · April 17th, 2009 at 11:40 am · Link

    A very interesting post Lynn. Thanks for educating me on the realities of royalties. A nice reminder for people like myself to remember that writing should be done for more than the possible paycheck in the end.

  27. Ann Christopher
     · April 17th, 2009 at 11:51 am · Link

    Lynn, thanks so much for de-mystifying this information. Fascinating–especially the level of success with minimal marketing efforts on your part. As authors, we spend so much time obsessing about marketing. But do we need to?

    I really appreciate your candor.

  28. Grace Draven
     · April 17th, 2009 at 12:22 pm · Link

    Thank you so much for posting this, Lynn. It’s hard numbers and sheds some necessary light and reality on the accounting of publishing. I once read something similar from the SF writer John Scalzi. I never forgot it, and it has served me well in viewing the very thin profitability of my own stuff compared to what I net in my other job.

    Just out of curiosity, have you ever broken it down to $/hr? I did it once for one of my titles. When all was said and done, I was in the negative when it came to an hourly wage. Factoring in time working on the book, not only was I working for free, I owed money.

  29. Johnny Peregrine
     · April 17th, 2009 at 12:34 pm · Link

    Thank you for posting this incredibly helpful information. As a new author I have often wondered about the facts and figures. Not that I see myself debuting at #19! But in your post you have given me something you may not expected. A little hope. No, not to be rich by being an author, but I would love to reach thousands of people with my writing. I may never reach as many readers as you, but I know I have it in me to make my mark. Thank you!

  30. Carrie Vaughn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 12:45 pm · Link

    Ah, I should have checked this earlier, to add a data point…

    My fourth novel, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, debuted on the extended list at #24 and climbed to #20 the following week, back in January 2008. Initial print run, 62,000 I think. Like yours, I think it made it to the list because of a building readership. The following two books debuted at #13 and #18, with similar print runs. I’ve never done a book tour and haven’t done any special promotions. It’s all readership.

    I wonder if some of the numbers people talk about are having a first novel debut on the list? It’s been done, and does need a lot of promotion, or a gimmick.

  31. Kenna Coltman
     · April 17th, 2009 at 12:51 pm · Link

    Thank you for sharing so openly! It’s eye-opening to read your post! I question whether I’ll ever get to the published phase, let alone the list, but it is very interesting to get a glimpse into how the system works.

    Publishing seems like one screwey business – definitely nothing like my day job business!

    Thanks, again!

  32. Lynn Raye Harris
     · April 17th, 2009 at 12:54 pm · Link

    Lynn, as usual, you are amazing. Thanks for sharing this info. It’s incredibly generous of you. As someone whose debut comes out in August, I’ve been explaining to the family again and again WHY we aren’t retiring. Perhaps now they’ll believe me — because I’m definitely not debuting on the NYT list. :)

  33. jim duncan
     · April 17th, 2009 at 1:00 pm · Link

    Thanks for posting, Lynn. Interesting stuff. Really curious now just exactly how they compute the numbers for the list. Obviously you have to sell a certain amount of books, but wondering if sales/week relative to other titles is involved, etc. I’m also curious why books are returned minus the covers. You’d think they’d want to keep at least a certain amount around for when books go out of print. It would allow people to order copies directly from the publisher. But then, I’m pretty clueless about all the rules and such regarding that policy.

  34. May
     · April 17th, 2009 at 1:14 pm · Link

    Thank for the information. It is very eye-opening especially for someone who is not in the publishing like me.

    What amaze me is the export sales figure. To think that there are only 2,444 copies of Twilight Fall available for the rest of the world, it is unbelievable. And I owned one of those 2,444 copies. I am so glad I grab this book as soon as it released (and read it and love it).

  35. Leslie Kelly-Parrish
     · April 17th, 2009 at 1:29 pm · Link

    Lynn thanks so much for this info–it’s fascinating!

    I am really curious and wanted to ask one question, if you don’t mind. Did this particular book also hit the USA Today list? I’m really curious about how books correlate from one to the other.

    Thanks again!

  36. Carrie Vaughn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 1:39 pm · Link

    Another quick data point —

    The independent bookstore I worked at in the mid-90’s was a NYT bestseller list reporting store. i.e. It was one of the ones you could buy lots of copies from and have it register. Except that if something unusual happened like that, like a school ordering a hundred copies for a class, we’d report that, too, and they’d take that info into account. We had a manager who’d check the sales records every week and fax in the report on an approved form.

    The list of reporting stores is supposed to be a secret, so I don’t know how you’d go about find outing which ones they are. You can assume that the famous independents, like Tattered Cover here in Denver, are on the list.

    This was over 10 years ago–pre-Amazon–so I don’t know how the system has changed, how or even if the chain stores report, if online sales are included, or what. But back in the day the NYT really did collect data from stores all over the country to calculate the list.

  37. Jamie Grove
     · April 17th, 2009 at 1:47 pm · Link

    Thank you for sharing this information and for the promise of sharing the next round. It’s fascinating to watch this unfold.

  38. Gemma Halliday
     · April 17th, 2009 at 2:11 pm · Link

    You are awesome. I’m honestly not sure I’d have the balls to share this kind of info. Huge kudos and thanks to you! And congrats on the cracking the top twenty!!

  39. Ann
     · April 17th, 2009 at 2:14 pm · Link

    Thanks, Lynn, this was a very educational post. It’s hard to make goals if you don’t know if what you plan is actually a realistic possibility. I’ve read all of your Darkyn books (and your Stardoc books)and am looking forward to whatever you write next. Have a great weekend.

  40. Nonny
     · April 17th, 2009 at 2:38 pm · Link

    It’s out of print already? Damn. o.O

  41. Kristine Kathryn Rusch
     · April 17th, 2009 at 2:45 pm · Link

    Excellent post, Lynn. Thanks for doing this. Kris

  42. Jennifer Haymore
     · April 17th, 2009 at 3:02 pm · Link

    Thank you so much…just got my initial ship #s and was clueless what they meant. This gives me some perspective.

  43. Colleen Thompson
     · April 17th, 2009 at 3:11 pm · Link

    I absolutely admire you for sharing this. Thanks for doing a tremendous service to your fellow authors and aspiring authors!

  44. Mike Cane
     · April 17th, 2009 at 3:35 pm · Link

    This is a very gutsy move.

    Would like to see what happens when your book is available in eBook format.

  45. Elizabeth Bear
     · April 17th, 2009 at 3:36 pm · Link

    Thank you, Lynn!

  46. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:04 pm · Link

    Candid is my middle name — Mom thought it sounded better than Gertrude. :)

  47. Kristine Smith
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:04 pm · Link

    Thank you for this. Very educational.

  48. dusty richards
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:08 pm · Link

    I am impressed That is a large amount of books to be sold off the shelves. Your fans are loyal. You are right. People think all they need to do is get published and they’ll be rich. If you don’t love to write don’t do it for the money Dusty Richards a Spur winner Author of “The Sundown Chaser”

  49. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:09 pm · Link

    Maybe we’ll start a trend, and everyone will spread the truth about the biz instead of the rumors, lies and assorted BS. But don’t hold your breath on that score.

    Thanks for investing in the books. You’re one of the reasons I got this nice royalty statement. :)

  50. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:10 pm · Link

    I’d ask Sasha to rename the blog MythBusters, but I think it’s already taken. 😉

  51. Trish Milburn (aka Tricia Mills)
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:10 pm · Link

    Lynn, thank you so much for this information. I’m a pretty detail-oriented person, but these types of details seem to be as illusive as the meaning of the universe or what the heck is happening on LOST. :)

  52. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:12 pm · Link

    I think that should be the first line in every writing advice book out there, Shawntelle: “If you’re doing this only for the money, maybe you should first investigate the exciting career possibilities in the field of exotic dancing.”

  53. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:14 pm · Link

    I think we all need to find more cost-effective ways to market our work, Ann. Especially with economies around the globe taking such hard hits right now. The greatest unused resource available to all writers is the internet, I think. We need to let go of the old ways of selling books and move in some new directions with online promotions. It’ll be interesting to see how this end develops over the next five years.

  54. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:18 pm · Link

    At the end of the year I amuse myself by working out my hour wage to my logged work hours and net earnings (I keep a ledger of my hours for the accountant, and my net is whatever is left after taxes, expenses, everyone else gets paid, etc.) In 2008 I made $8.11/hr, which I think is roughly what you’d make after a year or two of running the fry machine at MacDonald’s.

  55. vanessa jaye
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:25 pm · Link

    I followed a link on a messageboard over here, having no idea this was you. But, of course, I’m not surprised that you are the generous spirit behind this post. Thank you for sharing, Lynn. :-)

  56. Debbie Mumford
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:43 pm · Link

    Thank you, Lynn. I appreciate your candor.

  57. nightsmusic
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:55 pm · Link

    This is awesome! I knew that quite often, the sales and royalties on a first run can cancel each other out. This is a much better breakdown. I do have a question; You said that the government gets roughly 15K. Is this money you pay as taxes out of the initial advance? Or does that come out of the end $27K we see on the statement for net profits? Because I’m guessing that you are considered self-employed? Just a guess mind.

    I did want to say…of course your readers put you on that list! You have a loyal following, what the outside industries would call a ‘proven track record’ (to coin a dumb phrase) and you’re gaining new readers all the time 😀 So if you’re going to do conventions and things, do them because you want to (though I know that’s not your thing) not because you feel forced to in order to make sales, yes? I could get into doing book signings, but the conventions and things? I’m not a ‘networker’, so for me, eh, not so much.

    *sigh* Alas, first someone has to fall in love with my ms. But I know someone will. In due time. :)

  58. Sasha White
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:55 pm · Link

    Like Lynn, I donate a ton of books the the local libraries and charities around where I live, but as far as I know, there’s nothing we can say or do that will effect the way the publishers/bookstores handle returns. :(

  59. nightsmusic
     · April 17th, 2009 at 4:58 pm · Link

    DUH! That should read ‘sales and advance’…loopy Friday. What can I say? 😛

  60. Sasha White
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:05 pm · Link

    We could always just add MYTHBUSTER as a subtitle for any post that blows things out of the water. It certainly fits our theme of the Reality of this writing life. 😀

  61. Sasha White
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:07 pm · Link

    Ann, it’s to the point that any time I get the urge to buy promo swag , I just email Lynn and she sets me straight. I’ve not bought any stuff since getting ready for last year’s RT conference. :)

  62. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:08 pm · Link

    I know a few writers think it’s about being rich or famous, but most of us share your sentiments, Johnny. It’s just about being a storyteller, and sharing the gift with others. Making a living at it so we can do what we love as our day-job is terrific, but it’s not what drives us — the work does.

  63. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:12 pm · Link

    Thanks for sharing your stats with us, Carrie (see, it’s not just me getting modest print runs.)

  64. Sasha White
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:13 pm · Link

    Personally, I think that authors get mislead into spending so much on promotion because of other authors more so than publishers. WHen I first sold to NY , and I asked both of my publishers what I should be doing to promote, they both said the same thing. Write a good book and build a good website. Call me crazy, but I wonder if the need we, as authors, have to buy bookmarks, and ads, and promo swag to throw around at conferences is just us competing with each other.

    Or maybe thats just MY competitive streak showing? LOL

  65. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:14 pm · Link

    There is no biz like the Publishing biz, Kenna. Sometimes I think combat training in the military was a cakewalk compared to it. But it’s good to know what you’re getting into. :)

  66. Kay Stockham
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:15 pm · Link

    Thank you for being so honest and forthright. I appreciate your posting the information, especially the note about marketing. As a new author I’ve stressed over marketing and promotion. It’s good to know that while sometimes a necessary evil, good writing is good writing and sales reflect that.


  67. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:16 pm · Link

    Congratulations on the debut, Lynn — that’s wonderful news. And you never know — there are always a few debut authors who make the list their first time at the dance.

  68. Sasha White
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:16 pm · Link

    I’m not sure about the sale aspect of things, Lynn or someone else will probably have that info. But I Imagine the publishers don’t want a ton of the books themselves back is the same reason books go out of print when they don’t sell consistently – Space issues in the publishers warehouse.

  69. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:23 pm · Link

    It varies, Jim, depending on the list, the book seller, the publisher, and a lot of other variables. I’ve given up trying to figure out how these lists are calculated — the people who make them up aren’t forthcoming, and all the authors I’ve heard try to explain it don’t make much sense.

    The shelf life of the average paperback novel is three to six months in the romance genre (some of the category authors only get 30 days, which is really brutal.) I used to work for a major chain bookseller, and we tried to keep as many copies on the shelves as we could of books we knew would sell within a short period (we were all very familiar with our customer base, though, and the store manager was very flexible and supportive.) But corporate really makes those decisions, and they’re all based on financial considerations. As for the publisher, I’m sure they need the loss write-off for the stripped books as much as the bookseller needs the sale credit.

  70. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:25 pm · Link

    That’s actually a very good figure for imports for me, May. Most of the time the combined total for any of my books remains under 1,000. I attribute that to all my overseas readers (like you) spreading the word, because as far as I know I’m no promoted at all overseas by my publisher.

  71. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:29 pm · Link

    This one was on the USA Today list (which is all fiction books in all genres regardless of format) for two weeks. I think it peaked in the low sixties, let me check . . . yep, went as high as #67. All of the Darkyn books made the USAT list, but I think Night Lost was the only one that got into the top fifty.

  72. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:30 pm · Link

    There you go, guys — thanks for the info, Carrie.

  73. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:35 pm · Link

    I’m interested to see how well the book did in the second half of the first year on the shelf, because that’s when the initial flurry of sales generally slows and you get an idea of how you do when your book is selling only from the shelf. This is when you see the impact of word-of-mouth advertising, too.

  74. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:36 pm · Link

    It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. :)

  75. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:36 pm · Link

    It’s darn near impossible to plan on anything in Publishing, Ann. I think knowing what can get you there gives you a better view of the road ahead, though.

  76. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:37 pm · Link

    No problem.

  77. Kate Willoughby
     · April 17th, 2009 at 5:45 pm · Link

    Thank you for posting such personal information for us. I really appreciate it.

    And I, for one, have never bought a book because of an emery board, pen, or bookmark with the author’s name on it. 😉 I buy books because of an intriguing cover, back cover blurb, and first few paragraphs, none of which cost the author a dime.

  78. Nonny
     · April 17th, 2009 at 6:46 pm · Link

    Ditto this.

    Bookmarks, pens, and magnets are nice… but they aren’t going to make me buy a book anymore than the pharmaceutical logo ones my mom (a nurse) gives me are going to make me take their meds. LOL

  79. Ryan Waldron
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:00 pm · Link

    Loved this post, and thanks for baring the facts for us.

    I had a question that has puzzled me for a while: if out-of-print books of yours are going for $60+ in secondary book markets, why doesn’t either you or your publisher (whoever has the rights to it now) just push it down to a print-on-demand service, then charge whatever is necessary?

    There’s very little cost to set it up, and it can be pretty fire-and-forget once it’s done.

    Is it a strategic thing, lack of time, lack of interest?

    What about downloadable eBook versions of those OOP titles for $9 or something?

    Thanks if you can shed some light on this, but thanks anyway for this great article!

  80. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:31 pm · Link

    All the figures can be intimidating, even after you’ve done this 42 times. If you don’t understand something about your figures, though, be sure to ask your editor or your agent about them — in my experience they’re always happy to explain the often fuzzy mathematics. :)

  81. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:32 pm · Link

    Glad I could shed some light on a murky subject. :)

  82. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:34 pm · Link

    Generally I don’t see a breakout of e-format versus print format sales when the book is released in print. I do have one project that was released only in e-book format (a longish novella that paralleled a print novel) that I’m going to be talking about as soon as I get the first stats on that one.

  83. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:35 pm · Link

    Think of it as payback for introducing me to Wordle via your LJ. :)

  84. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:35 pm · Link

    Mom always wanted me to be a teacher. :)

  85. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:37 pm · Link

    I have the best readership money can’t buy, Dusty. They’ve done the lion’s share of the work, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough.

  86. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:38 pm · Link

    My theory is LOST is an updated version of Gilligan’s Island minus the slapstick. It’s just about as goofy now.

  87. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:41 pm · Link

    I’ve already made the messageboards? Eeek.

  88. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:41 pm · Link

    No problem, Debbie.

  89. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:45 pm · Link

    Because I’m self-employed and I decided not to incorporate or do any tricky tax stuff, I pay taxes on my gross income, which for this book would be the entire $50K advance. I also pay taxes quarterly on my estimated income versus deducting them from each check (which is fun, let me tell you.) At the end of the year I deduct things like expenses, what I pay the agent, etc.

  90. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:46 pm · Link

    Same here, Kate. I rely on recs from my readers and writer friends, too, because they’ve introduced me to some interesting new-to-me authors.

  91. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 7:55 pm · Link

    Good questions, Ryan.

    The POD scenario is definitely doable, I think, but the major publishers have yet to embrace POD as a business tool. They are slowly moving into making some anthology fiction available as single-title e-books (my publisher does shorter fiction as eSpecials) and make most print novels availble in e-format, although they’re very expensive and subject to that DRM thing that doesn’t allow the purchaser to print them out.

    I’m not sure why, but it’s probably because this industry is extremely old-fashioned to begin with, and everything in Publishing moves at a snail’s pace. In many cases the major publishers haven’t updated their business models in decades. But I have hope that will change by the time the next generation of writers are established. So many of the young writers now are so tech-savvy that I firmly believe they will force Publishing to change for the better.

    Out of print novels generally stay out of print for seven years, when the rights traditionally revert back to the author, unless the publisher decides to do something in order to hang onto them. I’m hoping to have the rights returned for my first three romance novels over the next year, and then I plan to make at least one of them available as a free e-book, and maybe do some POD print versions on my own.

  92. Nadia Lee
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:37 pm · Link

    I’ve never bought a book because someone gave me a bookmark or a pen or whatever.

    But I’ve bought a book because an author gave me a free copy of her book once, which I read and liked. (Free books are GREATLY appreciated since I don’t live in the States & they’re hideously expensive where I am.) Or the author had a really really cool website with intriguing blurbs, etc.

  93. Nadia Lee
     · April 17th, 2009 at 9:39 pm · Link

    But you do book giveaways and include international readers. I generally never ever enter contests because international readers are almost always excluded.

    P.S. I did win books from you once and loved them all. :)

  94. Joe Nassise
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:14 pm · Link

    Great post, Lynn.

    Two things I’ll add to the discussion. I think it should be noted that the vast majority of books (80%+) do NOT earn out. Meaning they don’t make enough money to pay back to the publisher the advance made, so any added income beyond that point is great in my viewpoint.

    Second, I have to say that Penguin’s royalty statements are a damned sight easier to read than Simon & Schuster’s!

  95. Patrice Michelle
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:43 pm · Link


    Followed a link on Twitter to this wonderful post. Thank you for your willingness to share. The detailed explanation is very much appreciated. It’s always such a mystery and seeing actual numbers really does help put things in perspective. Will be interested to see how the October statement goes. Will you post it here or on your PBW blog?

  96. MollyEvans
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:57 pm · Link

    thanks so much for this information. I just don’t know why it’s all hush-hush. I’d prefer to know honestly what I’ll make, not some nebulous thing that’s not possible to figure out based on royalty statements. Geez.
    I’ll be watching for future information and congratulations on the Times ranking anyway.

  97. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:58 pm · Link

    I’ve seen or received royalty statements from a couple different publishers now and I will give Penguin top marks for clarity as well as accounting accuracy.

  98. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 10:59 pm · Link

    I’ll followup here when I get the next statement in, since this is where I posted the original info, but I’ll be sure to link to it over on PBW, too, Patrice.

  99. Lynn
     · April 17th, 2009 at 11:06 pm · Link

    I’d like to see more authors offer some hard figures on sales and earnings, but I know the risks involved as well as what kind of backlash can result from it, and I don’t blame anyone for keeping their own information private. It’s the same at any job, really. How many people in other industries openly share their performance and salary statistics with their coworkers and their clients?

  100. Denise Rossetti
     · April 18th, 2009 at 12:51 am · Link

    Dear Lynn

    Thanks so much for this info. I’m still awaiting my first royalty statement from Berkley, trying hard to have nil expectations so I won’t be disappointed. This post has clarified a lot for me. I’m not good at promo, it doesn’t suit my personality – I’d rather write. Which is what my agent says to do too. I comfort myself by believing with ally my nervous little heart that all I need do is write the best book possible and word of mouth will do the rest. Hah! Would be so good if I (and you) were actually correct!

    Now I’m going to buy your books out of sheer gratitude, but I don’t doubt I’ll enjoy them for their own sake. Thanks again!


  101. Jenny Rae Rappaport
     · April 18th, 2009 at 3:04 am · Link

    Wonderful blog post! I did the “agent” take on the numbers in this post on my own blog. =)

    Thank you for posting your statement!

  102. Laurie K
     · April 18th, 2009 at 7:19 am · Link

    Lynn –
    Thank you for being so candid and showing us all what this business is like in real terms of what to expect. That took guts and I applaude you for it.

  103. Virginia Henley
     · April 18th, 2009 at 8:41 am · Link

    You are so courageous! I congratulate you on having the guts to do this.

  104. Maria
     · April 18th, 2009 at 9:18 am · Link

    That does it. I am building an altar in your honor. LOL!

    I started reading your books only recently and you turned me into a fan. But after this post, you’ve also become someone I trust.

    You’re an amazing woman, Lynn. Thanks.

  105. Alison Kent
     · April 18th, 2009 at 9:48 am · Link

    And don’t EVEN get me started on trying to read Kensington’s. Jeebus those things are ridiculous.

  106. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 10:48 am · Link

    You sound a lot like me, Denise. I think readers are the finest unpaid marketing source in Publishing, so by focusing on the writing and giving them your best work, you’re earning that wonderful, word-of-mouth advertising that no one can buy.

  107. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 10:51 am · Link

    Thank you, ma’am. :) Your breakdown was terrific, and I appreciate you taking the time to provide a more in-depth explanation of the line items.

  108. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 10:53 am · Link

    Thanks, Laurie. I didn’t expect all this attention or support from the Publishing community, but I am very grateful for it.

  109. April L. Hamilton
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:03 am · Link

    Lynn V:
    Thanks very much for sharing this. It’s information I think could greatly benefit aspiring authors, most of whom have a very unrealistic idea of what it means to get a mainstream publishing contract—much less, to make the NYT list. I’m the founder of Publetariat, a new online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints. May I have your permission to post an excerpt from this article on Publetariat, with full credit given to you as the author, and a ‘read the rest’ link back to this page? If you’d like to know more about Publetariat first, you can visit the site at www publetariat dot com.

  110. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:13 am · Link

    Thank you, Ms. Henley.

  111. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:15 am · Link

    I always wanted my own little shrine somewhere. :0 Thank you for the kind words, Maria.

  112. Lori
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:17 am · Link

    This is really valuable information. As all of the above wrote, I appreciate your straightforward manner in sharing this. I’m working on a book about cultural dancing in Canada and insight like this really helps me at this stage. Thank you!


  113. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:18 am · Link

    Sure, April, you have my permission to post an excerpt, and the linkback is much appreciated. Thanks for helping spread the word.

  114. Lynn
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:20 am · Link

    I’m glad it proved helpful, Lori. Good luck with your project, it sounds really interesting.

  115. Brad R. Torgersen
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:47 am · Link


    I came to this post via Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, and I must say, it’s an absolute eye-opener from the aspirant perspective.

    Many, many thanks for putting this up for people to see. So much of the business aspect of novel publishing is shrouded for aspirants, and it helps enormously to have a professional put the facts out on the table. That way we know what we can (more or less) expect, and there are fewer surprises to go with fewer illusions.


  116. April L. Hamilton
     · April 18th, 2009 at 11:59 am · Link

    Thanks very much, Lynn. =’)

  117. James A. Ritchie
     · April 18th, 2009 at 12:21 pm · Link

    I, too, have had several novels published, and I’ve done a fair amount of ghostwriting and works for hire. The money is all over the place, even for two books that, on the surface, seem to be doing about equal.

    But what amazed me was when I worked as an editor for a time, and got to see royalty statements from many writers. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

    The top ten bestsellers usually make an inappropriate amount of money compared to those right below them, but what amazed me was how much difference there could be between two writers who hit, say, spot eighteen at different times of the year.

    A writer who hit spot eighteen might make the same as you did, but another writer who hit the same spot six months later might make a bit less than you did, or might make two or three times as much. I never could quite figure out why, but I’m an editor, not an accountant.

    I will say that I’ve always thought Penguin went way overboard in how much money they hold back against returns.

  118. Judith Rochelle
     · April 18th, 2009 at 12:31 pm · Link

    Thanks so much for this information. Like Charlene said, it’s really harad to come by and there are just so very man myths floating around out there. It’s good to finally get the really skinny on things.

  119. Sarie Mackay
     · April 18th, 2009 at 1:13 pm · Link

    Lynn: Thanks for stepping up and sharing so much. I just received a box of books back from my distributor that are only mildy damaged and have been wondering what in the heck to do with them. I love the idea of sending them to service persons stationed overseas. Do you have a contact or website for this? Thanks,
    Sarie M.

  120. Brad R. Torgersen
     · April 18th, 2009 at 1:17 pm · Link


    Im in the Army Reserve and my first suggestion would be for you to contact the USO.

    If they can’t help you, I am sure they know who can.

  121. John Zeleznik
     · April 18th, 2009 at 2:06 pm · Link

    Thank you so much. I love seeing the reality of the business and count me among the many that appreciate you for doing this.

  122. Christine
     · April 18th, 2009 at 2:19 pm · Link

    Thanks so much for this. I’m a published author and it’s pretty hard to convince the general public that we aren’t bringing home millions (just as we don’t have 1,000 copies in the garage to give away for free.) I love what I do — but it was time for the “naked” truth to come out.


  123. Sandy
     · April 18th, 2009 at 2:27 pm · Link

    You’re a saint for posting this. I’ve read agent/editor blogs that talk about royalties and advances and earning out, etc., but it’s difficult to really understand it without seeing the statement. Very interesting stuff.

  124. Vivi Anna
     · April 18th, 2009 at 2:31 pm · Link

    Lynn, you are a goddess among authors for sharing this info.

    A big heartfelt thank you for always being candid!!


  125. Drue Allen
     · April 18th, 2009 at 2:35 pm · Link

    Lynn, I want to add my thanks. As a new author (first book will publish with Five Star in March 2010) this information is invaluable. I believe in going in with EYES WIDE OPEN. Thanks for helping with that. ~Drue

  126. Margaret
     · April 18th, 2009 at 3:57 pm · Link

    You know, it’s a sign of how good a job you and others trying to educate on the reality have done that this doesn’t surprise me at all. But really? I could make a heck of a lot if I went out and got another Systems job. But the stories call me more :).

  127. Brenda Hiatt
     · April 18th, 2009 at 6:54 pm · Link

    Thank you for your willingness to put yourself out there for the benefit of other writers, Lynn! I’m a huge believe in knowledge being power for writers, and we tend to have so little of either (and I’m sure the publishers prefer it that way). I also wish more authors were willing to share hard data publicly. I honestly believe it would benefit all of us in the long run.

  128. Nadia Lee
     · April 18th, 2009 at 7:17 pm · Link

    I’ve heard the same, but my understanding was that it’s because NYT list doesn’t have any cut-off limit on how many books you must sell to reach #18 or anything like that. When your book’s competing against Stephen King, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, etc. you probably need to sell a lot more to hit the list v. when there aren’t that many people with big followings have new titles out.

  129. Annette Blair
     · April 18th, 2009 at 7:52 pm · Link

    Lynn, you’re a Goddess. Thank you for debunking so many myths. You’ve been a great help to all of us. I’ll kneel at that shrine someone was erecting to you. As for keeping our books in the warehouse, I thought I heard, or read, at some point that publishers are taxed on the books they keep in the warehouse. (Warning: this could be another myth.) At any rate, I write for Penguin, too, and my first witch, THE KITCHEN WITCH, is in its 7th printing, which tells me that they’d rather go back to print with them than store them. Again, thanks and kudos.

  130. Sasha White
     · April 18th, 2009 at 8:12 pm · Link

    As someone who gets them form both Kensington and Penguin, I agree. Penguins are super easy to read and understand, and Kensington’s are…not. LOL

  131. Sasha White
     · April 18th, 2009 at 8:21 pm · Link

    Thats a really interesting point, too.

    I remember a few months back, rumor was that Wal-Mart stopped reporting their sales numbers for these Best seller lists, and authors that normally hit or were expected to hit,- didn’t. And just the opposite as well, with some authors who supposedly had very low sales hitting the list.

  132. Amie Stuart
     · April 18th, 2009 at 9:20 pm · Link

    Exotic Dancing indeed! Thats’ where the real money’s at and cash is SO much easier to count than my royalty statement is to read!

  133. Jannifer Hoffman
     · April 18th, 2009 at 10:29 pm · Link

    Thanks so much for the info. I suspected it was something like that since i have so many friends who write and publish and still have to work a full time job. This actually makes my little royalty checks look okay LOL

  134. Kym
     · April 19th, 2009 at 3:08 am · Link

    Thank you very much for telling us the truth! We are all aware that the JK Rowlings and Stephanie Meyers are very rare but its great to know what other authors should expect. Thanks again and good luck!

  135. Lisabet Sarai
     · April 19th, 2009 at 5:43 am · Link

    Thank you, Lyn, for sharing this information.

    The main message that I take away is that it was your readers that put you on the top 20 in the first place. All the publicity in the world won’t help if readers don’t love your book.


  136. Dianne Castell
     · April 19th, 2009 at 6:16 am · Link

    Thanks, Lynn, for posting this information. I’ve spent a ton on promo and feel it has done little good. Keeping touch with readers is the best way to promote books and most fun.
    I wish you continuted success in your career.
    Hugs, Dianne

  137. Rowena Cherry
     · April 19th, 2009 at 6:49 am · Link

    Thank you very much for posting this, Lynn, and also for making the “Share” functions available.

    Congratulations on bestsellerdom.

    All the best,
    Rowena Cherry

  138. Jacqueline Seewald
     · April 19th, 2009 at 7:28 am · Link

    Just putting in my two cents as well. The dream is always to have our novels become best-sellers. Everyone thinks well-known writers are striking it rich. For most of us, who aren’t the superstars of the publishing world, this is simply not the case.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    new release: THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale

  139. Marcia Colette
     · April 19th, 2009 at 7:29 am · Link

    Lynn, thanks a million for posting this reality check. It confirmed a lot of things I’ve always suspected. I know many authors who would give their right arm to make the list and they think the secret is hitting Amazon, Borders, and B&N lists. Perhaps there’s something behind it–I don’t know. But when it comes down to making a living from your writing, which is the bottom line for a many writers, even if you hit the NYT, it doesn’t mean you should quit your day job.

  140. Houston A.W. Knight
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:49 am · Link


    Thank you. Thank you for telling it like it is. It makes getting into this business so much easier…and for those who thought there were big $$$ in the future…now they know…a writer is in this business because they love to write, not because of the $$.

    It would be nice if we could make more for the long and hard work we put in each day and the scarifices we have to make in our lives to be writers…and one day we may. But until then…it’s nice to know the real facts of the business.

    Again, thank you for telling it like it is.

  141. Houston A.W. Knight
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:52 am · Link

    Sorry, typo on sacrifices — I’ve been working since 4 a.m. on my book…and it’s line by line edits…


  142. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:06 am · Link

    I’d rather deal in facts than illusions, Brad, and I do hope seeing the actual numbers helps writers who are pursuing publication. It’s not as pretty as the rumors and misconceptions, but people who are interested in making this a career really need to know what they’re getting into before they make a committment to it.

  143. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:13 am · Link

    I don’t mind a publisher holding back some reserves against returns, but what concerns me now is the time length they’re being held. When I started out, they were always released by the second royalty statement. That doesn’t happen anymore. I’m also not a fan of publishers doing second reserves on books that have already earned out and are chosen for a large reprint run, as the author is never included in that decision. While it’s always nice to be reprinted, it kills your royalties — one statement you’re finally making some money, the next your account is back to zero or in the red.

    You also made a good point about ranking — I know a couple writers who have hit the same spot or better on the Times list who have gotten smaller print runs than mine, and many who have gotten much, much larger.

  144. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:14 am · Link

    Glad to be of help, Judith.

  145. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:18 am · Link

    Brad’s link to the USO is one good place to get in touch with for book donations. I also recommend Books for Soldiers, which takes requests from soldiers serving overseas. You do need to fill out an application before you’re given access to the addresses and info, but it’s a wonderful project. In 2008 they shipped out $2.9 million in care packages to US troops serving overseas.

  146. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:27 am · Link

    I wasn’t expecting as much support (or attention, for that matter) from the publishing community for my post, but it’s really great to see everyone reacting favorably to it. I hope it will convince more writers to share information about the reality of the biz.

  147. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:30 am · Link

    The first time someone accused me of making millions, I laughed myself silly. When I informed the reviewer that the average pro writer in the U.S. makes only about $6K a year, they were absolutely stunned. Which is why we need to educate the public as well as other writers. This is not something you do for the money.

  148. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:33 am · Link

    I’m a learn-by-example person, so I’ve always liked seeing the real thing versus being told about it. The math can be pretty wonking, too, so it’s good to have a look at the actual accounting practices.

  149. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:34 am · Link

    Thanks, Vivi. I’m going to quote you to the next author who e-mails me with a How Could You? rant.

  150. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:35 am · Link

    I wish I’d known before my first book came out. :) Good luck with the debut, Drue.

  151. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:38 am · Link

    I turned down a job offer a couple of years ago that would have paid me about twice what I make as an author. I could make more money doing something else, but I wouldn’t love the job as much as writing. I’ve reached that point in life where I’d rather be happy than rich, I guess.

  152. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:42 am · Link

    It’s really tough for authors to come forward, Brenda, and I totally understand that (believe me, I spent hald the night last night answering distressed and disgruntled e-mails from colleagues who thought I went too far.) At the same time, I’m with you, I wish we were given more real data to work with. I know publishers think they’re protecting their business concerns by keeping everything shrouded in mystery, but when authors are expected to perform profitably — as we all are — it would help to know what constitutes a profitable book.

  153. Angela Cameron
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:44 am · Link

    I’d never been to your blog before, but I’m so glad to have found it now. This is wonderful information for us who are considering the move from e-publishing to print. Now I see that print isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I suppose it’s the glory of seeing one’s book in physical form that is such an allure at this point. The money definitely isn’t the motivating factor for me now.

    I truly appreciate your honesty.

  154. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:50 am · Link

    As far as I know (and with changes in tax law I could be wrong about this) Publishers are hit with taxes on warehoused books. They used to reduce the amount they paid the IRS by what they called “writedown” — claiming the stocked books are worth less so they don’t have to pay as much tax on them. The Supreme Court killed that practice in the late seventies, though.

  155. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:50 am · Link

    A little royalty is better than no royalty. :)

  156. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:51 am · Link

    I don’t want anyone to think they can’t be the next J.K. or Stephenie — in this biz, you just never know — but it’s better to know the rest of us don’t have the same income as the superstars of Publishing.

  157. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:53 am · Link

    I have the best readership in the business, Lisabet. They’ve been the driving force of my career since I started out, and they’ve always rallied around me no matter what. I know it sounds corny, but I am truly blessed by the readers who support my work.

  158. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:04 am · Link

    I did the same thing with traditional forms of promo during the first three years of my career, Dianne, and while it was a good learning experience, it didn’t really do anything for my books. I’ve found free and low-cost forms of online promotion, like my author blog, my book giveaways and posting free e-books on Scribd, have worked best for me.

  159. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:05 am · Link

    Passing around the info is important, and I appreciate everyone who is helping to spread the word.

  160. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:07 am · Link

    I wouldn’t mind being rich — I think I’d make a pretty cool publishing mogul :) — but the privilege of reaching as many readers as I can makes up for my lack of outrageous wealth. I think we also appreciate our lot more if we don’t make a lot of money, weird as that sounds. I’ve met a number of superstars now, and most of them seem to be pretty unhappy people,

  161. Adele Dubois
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:12 am · Link

    Thank you for your informative and eye-opening post, Lynn. You’ve gained a new fan in so many ways.

    Best–Adele Dubois

  162. Sarie Mackay
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:14 am · Link

    Thank you Lynn and Brad — this is super. Take care,

  163. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:14 am · Link

    In this month’s issue of Poets & Writers, agent Peter Steinberg said there are probably only a hundred writers in the U.S. making a living off novel writing. But he’s probably not familiar with many genre writers. I think the number is closer to about 1000, and maybe 5000 if the writer has a spouse or partner who works and contributes to the household (I’m one of the latter; my guy and I get by on our combined income.)

    Still, even with me inflating the numbers, that’s not a lot of writers making it on the income alone.

  164. Bill Peschel
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:17 am · Link

    In case anyone else is interested, I took Lynn’s royalty statement and boosted the contrast on it to make it suitable for printing. It’s up on my website at:

  165. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:17 am · Link

    My pleasure, Hawk. I sometimes wish publishers would have to pay us hourly minimum wage — that would certainly make most advances healthier — or that they had to live off what they pay us. I wonder how many editors would stay in the biz if they were only paid once or twice a year, depending on how well the books they edit perform.

  166. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:19 am · Link

    There are some advantages to making the move to print; none so powerful as the ability to hold a physical paper copy of your book in your hands. :) But I believe e-books are greatly underestimated and undervalued by Publishing. Electronic format is the book of the future, I firmly believe that.

  167. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:20 am · Link

    Thanks for the kind words, Adele.

  168. Gwyn Ramsey
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:29 am · Link

    Thank you, Lynn, for a very truthful version of being published and making the best seller’s list. The NY or USA lists are always a goal for the majority of writers.

    Being published by an independent publisher, my goal is to just get my books into the hands of readers for the pleasure of the read. Making money is great, but writing is my lifestyle now. I don’t actually consider it a job but an enjoyment. If the money comes in, so be it.

    Your article is a fantastic insight as to what actually takes place from the advances we receive, to our royalty statements, and exactly what we as writers make.

    Many do not even consider all the little expenses of supplies, postage, gas, mileage, lunches, etc. These little things eat into your profits quickly if they aren’t under control.

    Ah, the life of a millionaire writer, money just tumbling in. What a dream!

  169. C. C. Finlay
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:53 am · Link

    This is great stuff. As another working writer, thanks for the concrete details and the perspective.

  170. Jessica Faust
     · April 19th, 2009 at 12:21 pm · Link

    This is such a generous and wonderful post. As an agent I would never be able to share this type of information since it’s proprietary to my authors, but I think you’ve done wonders by making this available.

    Jessica Faust

  171. Eva
     · April 19th, 2009 at 1:25 pm · Link

    If I told you how much I adored you before, I would look a little weird, and this post makes me on the plus side of fnnggrrl. So I’ll just say that you are made of win.

  172. Jackie Ivie
     · April 19th, 2009 at 3:21 pm · Link

    Thank you, Lynn!

    You have my sincere respect and appreciation. Totally. I’d say you have no idea to what this means (but you obviously do).

    Thank you again!


  173. Gretchen Jones
     · April 19th, 2009 at 3:25 pm · Link

    Fascinating, got me to wondering how many hours you put in on the book, promotion etc. What’s your hourly rate?

  174. Susan Kelley
     · April 19th, 2009 at 4:51 pm · Link

    A friend of mine who has had a number of books published by a big NY house has given up moaning about the royalties held against returns. It’s a bit depressing. Then when someone like me is published by a smaller independent publisher and sees my books up for free on various pirate-sites I get even more frustrated. Thanks for sharing this.

  175. Nancy Herkness
     · April 19th, 2009 at 5:39 pm · Link

    Dear Lynn,
    As a published author (but not a NY Times bestseller), I read this blog with great interest. You are a very gutsy lady to post these figures and I truly appreciate it. I agree with you that information is power and authors need all of both that they can get. Thank you very much for being so forthright!
    Warm regards,

  176. Rachel Kenley
     · April 19th, 2009 at 7:19 pm · Link

    Dear Lynn,

    It so wonderful when you find out you can be a fan of a series of books *and* a fan of the author as well.

    As one of those readers who have helped you get on the NYT BSL – many congratulations… it is WELL deserved. Your Darkyn novels are exceptional.

    As a fellow writer, thank you for reminding me of several things. One, building a strong income from my writing will take time. Two, I had better keep doing this for love, because this is going to take time. And three, always keep your promises and be as honest as you can.

    You’re a treasure, Lynn. I wish you all the best.

    Rachel Kenley

  177. Christie Craig
     · April 19th, 2009 at 7:25 pm · Link

    Thanks for the info and congrats!


  178. Anjuelle Floyd
     · April 19th, 2009 at 7:40 pm · Link


    I can’t tell you how thankful and happy that I am that someone, someone–an author, no doubt–has shown the strength to give it to us like it truly is.

    Writing, publishing, they are businesses. And businesses do not turn a profit overnight. If they do, the crash is quick to follow as we are seeing now with the mess on Wall Street. This is not to say that publishers are the most honest of business people.

    But as you have so graciously pointed out, they, like all other persons running a business paint large images of grandeur that we as writers, fueled by our desire to see our words in print, help publishers sustain. Yet the truth is publishers are no quicker to release money owed to us than anyone else. In fact, if one is eager to make a lot of money, writing and the areas of publishing is not the place to try to achieve this.

    I could belabor the point you have so eloquent made in your full-fledged honesty, but that would be rude.
    As much as I love to write and support those in the field of fiction-writing who are kind and humble enough to tell the truth, I will stop.

  179. James A. Ritchie
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:01 pm · Link

    Just one more note, and then I’ll bother you no more.

    The reason it’s so difficult to get good, solid, truthful information on money is primarily because no matter what you’re told, it’s likely to be wrong for you. Each case is different, each writer is different, each season is different, so no one set of numbers will apply to anyone except the writer in question. Publishers want to be honest and open, I think, but with each case being different, it’s tough.

    It’s also different for each list. Eighteen on mass market paperback does not pay the same as eighteen on teh hardcover list, which does not pay the same as eighteen on the children’s list, etc.

    And from my experience, the big money comes from being prolific and having a fairly large number of books in print at the same time. When back titles continue to sell, even at a modest rate, and you’re producing new titles on a regular basis, the money can add up nicely.

    As an editor, I learned that part of the secret of keeping back titles in print is keeping new titles coming out.

    If you really want to earn a consistent, reasonable living as a writer, you have to be a consistent, reasonably prolific writer. Writing, for most of us who want to earn a living at it, can’t be a now and then, write when you feel like it proposition.

    Then again, I just saw income stas for 2009, and the median single family income in the United States is now around 40K. If you can come anywhere close to this with writing, it’s hard to complain.

    From my point of view, better 30K from writing that 50K from working a nine to five job I hate.

  180. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:34 pm · Link

    Bless you, Bill. Photobucket has a limit on image size so I know the resolution of the copies I posted weren’t ideal. Thanks for doing this — I owe you one. :)

  181. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:35 pm · Link

    I appreciate the kind words, Gwyn, and I admire your work ethic. To me you’re the ideal writer. :)

  182. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:36 pm · Link

    Happy to be of help, sir.

  183. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:50 pm · Link

    Thanks, Jessica. I hope the info does prove to be educational, especially for the next generation of writers coming into the biz now. If their expectations are more realistic, they’ll have a better time of it, I think.

  184. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:50 pm · Link

    You’re a peach, Eva. :)

  185. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 8:52 pm · Link

    We’re all in this together, that’s how I see it — and thanks, Jackie.

  186. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:02 pm · Link

    I work about 50-60 hours a week on writing, editing, blogging and promotion, sometimes more, but not all of that time is for paying work. Last year my hourly rate based on billable hours to my net was $8.11/hr.

    I could make more (i.e., if I sold my articles about writing to the trades instead of posting them for free online; charged for some of the copywriting, editing and other things I do gratis for writer friends, hired myself out to teach writing instead of donating my time at public schools etc.) but I think it’s important to have a writing life be about more than the Almighty Buck. Money is very nice, but this isn’t just a nine-to-five job to me.

  187. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:06 pm · Link

    Sorry to hear about the piracy, Susan. Just last week I had to have a file-sharing site take down bootlegs of my entire Darkyn print series, and among them was one of my free e-books, which I found rather ironic. As much of my work as I give away to readers every year, you’d think they’d feel a little shame.

  188. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:07 pm · Link

    Thanks, Nancy. If I can help even one writer with this, it was worth it. :)

  189. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:17 pm · Link

    I will try to live up to your generous words, Rachel. I think once you have your priorities straight that the business is a lot easier to handle — and yours sound like they will definitely keep you on the right track.

  190. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:17 pm · Link

    Thanks, Christie.

  191. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:21 pm · Link

    Thank you for the kind words, Anjuelle. You made me think of something I read once about hope — it’s the one thing no one can take from us, only we can throw it away.

  192. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 9:53 pm · Link

    You make some very good points, James. As you pointed out, every author whose book makes a bestseller list will likely have different numbers, and it’s impossible to define them all with one royalty statement.

    That said, I think it helps to see real numbers, especially for writers who are laboring under misconceptions about making the lists that are a lot of nonsense, such as extraordinary print run minimums or unreasonably high sell-throughs. It helps readers, too, as many of them do believe a Times bestseller at any spot on the list is making millions. I’m not afraid to say “Here I am, and my book made it, and I’m not a millionaire.” It’s the truth, and I really think this needs to be said, and shown, and proven.

    No one should read my royalty statement and think it’s a one-size-fits-all accounting sheet for any author on the bestseller list. It’s a single example of one bestseller by one author. But it’s not anonymous, or made-up, or artificially inflated, and in this industry that’s generally all we get.

  193. Debbi
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:02 pm · Link

    This is a great post. There’s so much mystery surrounding the NYT bestseller list, it’s great to get information from someone who actually knows what the deal is with it. And your insights on the need to do book signings and attend conferences to sell your books–priceless. Something for all us writers to keep in mind as we try to figure out the way the smartest way to spread the word about our books. Thanks so much for sharing this information.

  194. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:13 pm · Link

    Debbi, I’d like to see publishers make public all the numbers for all the books that hit the bestseller lists — not that I think that will ever happen. :)

    I think the key to self-promotion is to do what you’re comfortable with, and what you can afford to do. But that’s another post. :)

  195. Delta Dupree
     · April 19th, 2009 at 10:53 pm · Link

    Everyone has already said such great things. All I can say is: WOW. You’re a great lady, Lynn, for opening our eyes wider to the industry’s workings. I salute you. Thanks for sharing.

  196. Dennis Fried
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:04 pm · Link

    Hi Lynn,
    I teach an occasional three-hour course on publishing/self-publishing, and on several occasions I’ve had students complain that I’m too negative. I reply that publishing is a business, and a very tough one, and that I wouldn’t be doing them a favor if I acted the “you-can-do-it” cheerleader instead of giving them an accurate picture of the lay-of-the-land. Once they have that, they can make an informed decision about how, or whether, to negotiate it.

    I hate this American tribal myth that “if you want it bad enough and work hard enough, you can do it.” Wanting it badly and working hard gives you a chance – that’s it.

  197. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:05 pm · Link

    Thanks, Delta. I really appreciate everyone taking the time to leave comments, but if you guys praise me much more I’m going to hide under the bed for a couple weeks. Then Sasha will probably kick me off the blog. :)

  198. Lynn
     · April 19th, 2009 at 11:15 pm · Link

    I agree with you on the myths, Dennis. I know writers who have pursued publication for years, worked at the craft endlessly and tried every approach there is — and remain unpublished. Sometimes when I teach at the public schools I bring in the boxes of rejection letters I received over the ten years I spent pursuing my first contract, and pass them around to the kids. I like to read the really nasty ones out loud, because they should know what they’re getting into, and how brutal the biz can be.

    As far as aspirations go, I take more of a “if you really want it, don’t ever give up” approach. I don’t lie to them and tell them they will be published if they keep trying, I just point out that this is an endurance game, and dropping out means you definitely don’t get published. Some of my kids think I’m harsh at times, but kids are accustomed to being praised for pretty much any effort they make. Telling them the truth may not make you much-loved, but you’re really giving them their first taste of what the business is like.

  199. usman
     · April 20th, 2009 at 3:47 am · Link

    Thanks Lynn for sharing.
    Just proves that you write because you have to. The money theory is the wrong one in this biz.

  200. Lynn
     · April 20th, 2009 at 7:36 am · Link

    I know many people try their hand at writing because they believe 1) it’s an easy job, 2) you don’t have to do anything but write a book, and 3) publishers pay all writers huge amounts of money. These folks generally don’t last very long, or if for some reason they keep at it they’re doomed to be perpetually disappointed and frustrated.

    Everyone has their reasons for choosing writing as a profession. For me it means doing what I love for a living. Having a chance to earn some income from it is a privilege, and any money we earn helps, but I don’t think it can be just about the earnings.

  201. Linda Poitevin
     · April 20th, 2009 at 8:59 am · Link

    What a marvelous post, Lynn. Thank you SO much for sharing! As a writer on the cusp of publication (first one out this year), I have been more than a little curious about the actual numbers involved in this profession…I always suspected I wasn’t in this for the money! :) And I fully agree with you about removing the mystery surrounding the industry…we should all be going in with eyes wide open.

  202. Deborah Smith
     · April 20th, 2009 at 9:58 am · Link

    Marvelous post. There is so much mis-information out there. But I AM surprised that you made the list with the print run you had. Good for you! My 1996 women’s fiction novel, A PLACE TO CALL HOME, made the list but it had 300 k to 400 k print run in paperback. I was told at the time that it took at least 250 k print run in MMP to have a chance.

    Making the list did not change my life, guarantee me a great career, or play any noticeable role in my next advance. My next book sold modestly and I’ve never come close to scoring another NYT bestseller. I played no part in the promotions that led to the bestseller; it was simply a matter of the book catching a lot of people’s attention and being pushed by a lot of booksellers. Catching lightning in a bottle.

    Re: how many authors make a living from their work. Yes, there are many, many genre authors making decent money. Romance, mystery, fantasy, etc. Solid careers if you can write “in the groove” of certain genre expectations and produce books on a quick, regular schedule. But it’s a grind and it’s often not about creative artistry but about creating the same amusement park thrill ride over and over.

    For the past nine years I’ve worked as both an author (now self-publishing) and a small press publisher. I advise authors to have low sales expectations, (at least at first,) to ignore the distractions of most promotional nonsense, to write quickly and produce as many good books as possible: because each new book builds your readership far better than all the promo gadgets in the universe. Most of all, write or the right reason: because you enjoy the process. That’s really the only payback you’re absolutely guaranteed.

  203. Adele Dubois
     · April 20th, 2009 at 1:16 pm · Link

    Your post underscored what I’ve suspected all along–that spending thousands to attend and promote oneself at conferences and conventions offers little return on the hard-earned dollar.

    My fifth e-book will be released this summer from Ellora’s Cave, and my first print book this fall. Up until now I’ve spent most of my time and budget promoting my books online. Thanks for helping me see that I’m on the right track.

    Best wishes for your continued success.

    Adele Dubois

  204. MeiLin Miranda
     · April 20th, 2009 at 1:20 pm · Link

    Seriously?! Then I am doing pretty well, and my book isn’t even out yet. (Self-published and financed almost entirely through reader contributions.)

  205. MeiLin Miranda
     · April 20th, 2009 at 1:29 pm · Link

    Thank you so very much for this post. I have few illusions about the writer’s life. I’ve been a professional non-fiction writer for print, TV, radio and the web for 30+ years; I know about the beancounters.

    But now that I’m pursuing a fiction career I’m hearing all this nonsense–not about the wads of money I’ll make, but about how I won’t make anything at all unless I do it “their” way. Now more than ever I feel like I’m on the right track. If I’m not going to make any money anyway, I may as well not make it my way! :)

  206. LaShaunda
     · April 20th, 2009 at 2:20 pm · Link

    Thank you for sharing the truth. I believe if more writers told the truth, more new writers wouldn’t come into the business with stars in their eyes. I’d rather be informed of what to expect than to go in with blinder on my eyes and not having a clue. This is a business and it takes work to succeed in it.

  207. Jenny Rae Rappaport
     · April 20th, 2009 at 2:23 pm · Link

    Ack, way too many comments for me to find my original one. But you’re welcome, Lynn. =)

  208. Jennifer
     · April 20th, 2009 at 3:23 pm · Link

    Thanks for sharing with us, Lynn. Even though the truth is pretty harsh, I’ll keep dreaming big, because I want to hold my own book in my hands one day.

  209. Isaac Espriu
     · April 20th, 2009 at 3:40 pm · Link

    Excellent article. Thanks much for sharing it. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve posted a link to this on my blog. If that’s an issue just let me know and I’ll take it down. :)

  210. Donna McDine
     · April 20th, 2009 at 3:41 pm · Link

    Lynn…ditto for me. Thanks for all the valuable info and your willingness to pass it on. Much appreciated.

  211. A. Tassinari
     · April 20th, 2009 at 4:14 pm · Link

    Wow, great article and much appreciated info. You really have inspired me to see the real truth in being a writer. I now feel so much wiser. Thanks so much!

  212. Michelle
     · April 20th, 2009 at 4:14 pm · Link

    Kudos to you for both making it on the NYT bestsellers list and for generating income from your passion – both things to celebrate!

    I hope you don’t mind me playing devils advocate for a moment, but don’t you think it’s a possibility that with the addition of marketing campaigns, book tours, and other creative marketing avenues that the revenue number could increase? The fine line is of course ensuring that the costs of those marketing efforts are kept in balance so that profit is made.

  213. Shawn Edgington
     · April 20th, 2009 at 5:01 pm · Link

    Brutal honesty – I love it! Congratulations on your NYT Bestseller… it’s really too bad authors get left out in the cold when it comes to rev gen.

    To be honest, your article makes me wonder why we invest our time and engergy – not to mention our heart and soul for a “future” pay-day that never really exist.

    I’m a totally un-known writer (my first book to be published in Sept 09) and I thank my lucky stars I have a day job, and that I’m not doing it for the money! But still… ROI would be nice!! :))

  214. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 9:49 pm · Link

    Congratulations on the debut, Linda. May it sell like hotcakes at the VFW on a Sunday. :) I know I’m probably repeating myself by now, but whenever we share real information with each other, we make our community stronger. Well-informed writers make well-informed decisions.

  215. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 9:59 pm · Link

    I think these days having a strong, suppoprtive readership can be as valuable as co-op or big print runs, and may be the reason series authors like me and Carrie are making it onto the lists when ten years ago we’d have never even gotten close.

    One question authors have been asking me since last summer when I hit the top twenty is “how did your novel make it to the list when it was sixth in a series?” I really believe it made it because of all the people who bought the first five books and wanted to read more. That kind of readership takes time to build, but they’re loyal as hell, and they stay with you.

  216. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:13 pm · Link

    I know those people. They told me if I mailed out ten thousand postcards and bugged booksellers and sugned all the books in stores and commissioned a book trailer and danced naked on Hudson Street (okay, maybe that last one was that drunk agent’s private fantasy) and mortgaged my house to pay for it all I’d be a bestseller in no time.

    I’d like someone in this biz to come up to me just once and say, “Do this, which will cost you nothing, will not inconvenience you, and will be lots of fun, and you’ll be a bestseller in no time.” Just once.

  217. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:17 pm · Link

    I think you should have a couple stars hidden under your lashes where no one can see them. :) I’d just like to see new writers have their checkbooks taken away from them for the first year. And maybe have them guarded by large, surly bodyguards with attack dogs on thin leashes. Wouldn’t that be cool at conferences?

  218. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:22 pm · Link

    There are plenty of them to be had. :) I just saw our visitor stats today and I almost blew out an aorta.

  219. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:23 pm · Link

    That was #1 on my list, Jennifer. And there’s nothing like it. Nothing in the world.

  220. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:24 pm · Link

    No problem, and I appreciate the link, Isaac.

  221. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:25 pm · Link

    My pleasure, Donna.

  222. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:27 pm · Link

    There’s so much great information on the internet now, A., and I envy you — I wish I’d had access to it when I was pursuing publication.

  223. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:43 pm · Link

    You ask a good question, Michelle.

    Over the years I’ve done marketing campaigns, expensive web sites, signings, conferences, and just about everything except a book tour (I was offered a mini-tour once, but I politely refused because I was a rookie and utterly terrified of the prospect.) None of it worked for me and unfortunately a lot of it worked against me. It cost a huge amount of time, money and effort, and returned little to nothing. It made me miserable. The only measurable success I’ve had is through free and low-cost stuff I’ve tried on my own — my little freebie weblog, my free stories and e-books, and my book giveaways.

    I would love to get more support from my publishers, but I understand they need to use their marketing budgets wisely, and I’m an established author with a pretty decent following. If they’re spending the majority of their available funds on newer authors who need the marketing more than I do to get their careers off the ground, I really can’t complain about the lack of support. Those writers need it more than I do. I just hope that’s who they’re spending it on.

  224. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:46 pm · Link

    I’ll do a lot for money, Shawn, but my heart and soul belongs to the readers. :)

    Congratulations on your upcoming debut — I hope it makes at least some of your dreams come true.

  225. LViehl
     · April 20th, 2009 at 10:47 pm · Link

    Also, just FYI Shawn — your comment posted three times, so I deleted two of the duplicates.

  226. D. Kay
     · April 21st, 2009 at 7:46 am · Link

    Kudos to you for posting some realistic facts for everyone to see. I can tell you that these facts, are identical to what happens for songwriters and recording artists.

    Your royalty reporting time is exactly the same. If a record hit the stores last July and was on the radio, a royalty report would not gather until the end of Dec 08, with the first statement and check going out after close of 1st quarter (mar 09).

    What I found more astounding here was that a writer is only seeming to get about 63 cents per copy of a book sold. I would think that an author is the sole creative entity and would get a bit more compared to the retail list price of a book.

    A songwriter only gets 4.5 cents per sale of a song maximum (if he’s the sole writer.)

    Happily you’re not contending with free downloads and streaming of your books! (yet)

    Anyway, I think it is highly constructive for writers and creators to be able to really see what it takes to get something published to chart and what you actually gain in revenue, so you can have a realistic expectation of what you’re trying to achieve.

    Thank you!!!

  227. Debbi
     · April 21st, 2009 at 7:48 am · Link

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure that they are spending their budgets on new authors. New authors with six-figure advances–perhaps. But the authors I know do a great deal of their own promotion.

    I’ve often wondered how much good it’s actually doing. I think it’s important to promote your work, but pick and choose your methods wisely. You have to get it out there somehow for people to notice it. Once they notice it, with any luck, they’ll tell others. Word of mouth is an author’s best friend. Better than expensive bookmarks and post cards (which just get thrown away).

    As in any other business, a satisfied customer (in this case, reader) is the best form of advertising.

    One other point: there are a few self-published authors–a tiny minority–who manage to hit it bit by promoting themselves (or hiring a publicist). So I guess promotion must pay off in some ways. The question is, how much money and effort do you throw into it? On the whole, not too different from gambling.

  228. Debbi
     · April 21st, 2009 at 7:59 am · Link

    I find the parallels between book writing and songwriting fascinating. In both cases, the world perceives the artist as making a financial killing, when we both know the reality is a bit much humble than that.

    As for free downloads, while it’s not as common as free music online, they are happening now. Authors are posting whole novels online for free. I think they may be books from their backlist, rather than new ones. But with the growing popularity of ebooks, who knows where things are headed.

    I’ve also heard that, in some cases, providing free books online has not affected sales. I think this was true for a book by Suze Orman. Interesting.

  229. Pamela Clare
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:15 am · Link

    First, congratulations on making the NYT!!! It shows how much your readers love your work. The credit is truly yours as a writer and doesn’t belong to some marketing person. I’m glad you recognize that. :-)

    I really have to give you kudos for having the guts to share that information. The publishing industry functions the way it does in part because there’s so much secrecy — even between publishing houses and their authors. I have one publisher that gives me very clear royalty statements and another that gives me statements that tell me nothing.

    I’ve gotten the skinny from other NYT bestsellers who tell similar stories. We all think that hitting the NYT is reaching author nirvana, but, just as selling a book doesn’t mean you’re “there,” hitting these lists doesn’t mean you’re “there” either.

    I guess the bottom line for us authors is to keep writing stories we love because nothing is guaranteed in this industry.

    Thanks again for your honest! I may have to make a vow to do the same thing.

  230. Jane Smith
     · April 21st, 2009 at 2:19 pm · Link

    This is a wonderful post, and I’m so very grateful for it. I’ve got a blog post about it due to appear tomorrow morning, and know that it’ll fascinate my readers. Thank you!

  231. LViehl
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:08 pm · Link

    I know many authors often work without a promo budget, and that’s where I think you can get into real financial trouble. I’ve always worked with a budget by earmarking in advance a certain percentage of my advance toward promotional expenses, traveling, conferences, web site fees and so on. I never spend more than I budget myself, which limits me on promo but also protects me. I also created a rainy-day fund and put a portion of my royalties in it to save for a day when I wanted to spend over budget for a book I thought was worth a little extra investment.

    Unless you’re an overnight success, it’s simply impossible for an author to afford to do much in the way of expensive self-promotion. Publicists can be very costly, too, from what I understand (I’ve never gone shopping for one personally.) I know writers who have taken out a second mortgage or gotten a sizeable loan in order to finance promo for a book they wanted to make a big splash with, and the book still failed, and they’re now in a huge amount of debt. You never want to do that to yourself — you have to work within your means.

    While I’m sure pricey promo can sometimes help a book sell better, there are no guarantees and no one ever provides hard statistics — another reason I don’t trust the people who hype it. You could end up easily spending $50K on a novel that only earns you $5K. I’ve seen that happen.

  232. LViehl
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:19 pm · Link

    I would not want to be in the music biz, D. I think it has to be three times as tough as Publishing is.

    Modern professional writers have never been particularly well-paid, unless they rocket to superstardom (and stay there.) When you consider that without us there wouldn’t a Publishing industry, that’s a little depressing. But without publishers, we’d still be writing our work by hand on scraped parchment (or the modern equivalent thereof) so we really have no choice but to agree to their terms. If it weren’t for the agents who look out for us, the percentage would probably be a lot lower than it is.

  233. LViehl
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:20 pm · Link

    When Oprah gives away your book for free for 24hours, I think you can pretty much write in the amount on your own advance check. :)

  234. LViehl
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:23 pm · Link

    Pamela, I wish I had a marketing person. I think I did once, for about ten seconds, until I finally agreed to sign that contract, and then poof! She vanished.

    If the response to this post is anything to go by, we writers need to share more info. I’m not saying everyone should post their royalty statements online, but any light we can shed on the reality versus the illusions will help the next generation of writers.

  235. LViehl
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:24 pm · Link

    Thanks in advance for the post, Jane. I really appreciate all the writers, agents and other folks in the industry who have helped pass along the info.

  236. Samantha Clark
     · April 21st, 2009 at 8:50 pm · Link

    Thanks for posting this. It’s very interesting, and what you said about marketing within your means is great advice.

    I’m going to link to this from my blog too. It’s a must-read for any writer.

  237. D. Kay
     · April 21st, 2009 at 9:16 pm · Link

    Believe me, you could truly simply interchange the words “songwriter” for “writer” and this is exactly what happens in music.

    Without songwriters, there’d be no song (LOL!) just as without an author there’d be no book! Although I should think that waaay more work goes into conceiving, writing and finessing a finished book or even short story than goes into writing a song.

    But what you describe regarding promotion & marketing demands, returns, etc., is identical.

    I think one of the most frustrating facts of the current state of things in general is that our world has become consumed with marketing, promo & spin over all substance, so its making it almost impossible for creative people to succeed if their personalities are such that they do not love to be a party machine.

    In today’s world someone like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Joni Mitchell would have never been given a chance.

    If I’m hearing you correctly it sounds as if this has become true for authors as well – which is even more ridiculous since the act of reading is a private, cerebral consumption & enjoyment. How crazy that an author now has to be the life of the party to get stores to rack his book! ARGH!

    You have my deepest respect.

  238. John Brown
     · April 21st, 2009 at 11:43 pm · Link

    Thanks for sharing this. As an author with a debut novel coming out this year these types of facts are very helpful :)

  239. Linda Poitevin
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 6:13 am · Link

    just wanted to let you know that I’ve linked to this from my blog as well, Lynn — as Samantha says, it’s a must-read for all of us!

  240. Caleb
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 8:31 am · Link

    A highly informative and useful entry specially for aspiring authors. Thanks a million for posting it!

  241. Steve Jones
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 10:12 am · Link

    As a writer for my job, and an aspiring novelst, thanks for the post. I really appreciate seeing these types of numbers and understanding more about the business.

    I’m not really a fan of the genre, but I grabbed the Kindle version of your book as thanks for the post.

  242. Fran Friel
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:02 am · Link

    Lynn – Brilliant article! Thank you for sharing so fearlessly. The truth about publishing realities has been some crazy sacred cow for far too long. Your article will definitely help a lot of writers see the path ahead more clearly.

  243. Jane Smith
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:12 am · Link

    Lynn wrote, “I’m not saying everyone should post their royalty statements online, but any light we can shed on the reality versus the illusions will help the next generation of writers.”

    That’s precisely why I blog as How Publishing Really Works: I find it so distressing to read of novice writers shooting themselves in both feet because they just don’t understand the business. And this blog post of yours is exactly what we need more of: open, honest information without a hidden agenda.

    Here’s a direct link to my blog post about this: it’s had a very good reaction already, and I’m pleased. Thank you so much!

  244. Jonis
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 9:51 pm · Link

    Thanks for sharing this great piece of information for which am very delighted. It could be disappointing if I weren’t an optimist. But lit with positivity, my goal is to submit the greatest read and draw the biggest sales when my book hit the market. I feel this way because I am in it for two things. First, to produce a great read to intrigue my readers and build an enormous clan of readership on the international floor. Next, I intend to put a product of excellence on the market to sell more than hot bread because am in writing to give the people their money’s worth and to make money-money=money!!! Money more than six figures. Believe me, am a writer from conception, but am just putting my first manuscript together to be ready for submission soon/in the next two to three months, but I have no doubt it is going to fly off the shelves in a record breaking time and not be a shelf cushion. My thoughts may be too powerful for an unknown author, but frankly, this is how strong I feel about my work. It’s coming to roll the humor between the teeth; and leap up on the big screen, playing held over in the cinemas long; infesting the world with a contagious laughing allergy. Any publisher who rejects it will regret it when they see the income potential it carries for the accepted publisher. Look out, my friend ,the “Con…tion” is coming fast fast. Cheers and LOL loud loud!!!

  245. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:04 pm · Link

    I appreciate the link, Samantha, and thanks for the kind words.

  246. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:05 pm · Link

    I’m really glad to see so many new authors stop by the blog — congratulations on the debut, and may it bring many royalty statements to your mailbox. :)

  247. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:06 pm · Link

    Thanks, Linda. Glad to be of help.

  248. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:06 pm · Link

    No problem, Caleb. :)

  249. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:12 pm · Link

    I appreciate the purchase, Steve, especially as it’s not your cup of tea. When I can return the favor, let me know. :)

  250. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:14 pm · Link

    I like most cows, Fran, but not the sacred ones. Thanks.

  251. Lynn
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:15 pm · Link

    Jonis, I admire your enthusiasm and determination. I sincerely hope all your dreams do come true. In this business, someone’s should.

  252. Rick Daley
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 7:04 am · Link

    Thank you for posting this. As an aspiring writer with a decent day job, this makes me appreciate the stability of said day job a lot more. I’m still going to get published one day, and hopefully make the NT Times bestseller list, but I have a realistic perspective for what happens when I get there.

    I guess I need to return that boat.

  253. David Jones
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 8:35 am · Link

    Great post! Do the sales figures reflect the selling price to the bookstores or the selling price from the bookstores to the consumer?

  254. Sandip Sen
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 10:17 am · Link

    Thx for sharing the info

    Pls try Amazon for publishing next time.
    They are excellent, quick & professional
    and paying a very high ( Royalty of
    USD 7.09 on a list price of USD 16.90 )
    which is 42% to a newcomer author like me
    for my first Book ISBN 1440493332
    “The Project Management Time Cycle”
    which is neither a fiction nor a NY
    bestseller. Only problem is that they
    don’t have the distribution set up that
    the big publishers do. However established
    authors like you don’t need the publisher
    push and I feel you must try them out.
    Also they pay on time. Though I am living
    in India & not in US I have already recieved
    the cheque for Feb sales.

    Incidentally I have been offered only 10 %
    on net price after discount by the top most traditional publishers which works to approx
    5 % after deducting the distributors discount.

    However there is a big relationship between
    publishers and the media, which you will find
    if you go direct. I have had LA Times turn down
    my request to get the book reviewed as it is not
    published through a publisher on their list.
    However as you are a best selling author today
    perhaps they will bend the rules for you

    So I hope you try out Amazon next time for
    publishing your next bestseller and give
    boost to the “author to retailer” channel.

    Thx & Regards

    Sandip Sen

  255. Gillian
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 12:14 pm · Link

    God bless you for sharing this information, just so that we can understand! It’s probably hard for those who don’t love writing to understand how you could possibly work so hard for so little (monetary) return.

  256. Lara
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 2:55 pm · Link

    Wow, you are wonderful for sharing this. Thank you!!

  257. refriedgringo
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 3:09 pm · Link

    Unbelievable. A writer that not only shares information about their publishing, but a writer that actually responds to comments in a blog! Thank you for both things, for sharing and for responding to people here, I have no idea what you write but I am not surprised that you have a following based on nothing more than your generosity and willingness to interact. If you’re a good writer, may it pay off tenfold in the future.

    All hopeful writers reading this should take notes on this in my opinion.

  258. sally apokedak
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 3:10 pm · Link

    May your books sell by the millions and your readers rise up and pronounce blessings upon your name each morning. You’re a gem.

  259. Holly
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 5:12 pm · Link

    First of all, congratulations on your writing achievements.

    Thank you for the articulate way you shared this information. There is a perception out there that NY BS authors make millions upon millions, and that authors who don’t reach that status still make a ton of money.

    I think this craft is similar to very good hockey players or football players actually making it in the big league. There are very few Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich and Stephen King type writers who do make a ton of money, but they still have to work hard to stay on top.

    A lot of blogs and internet discussions emphasize the Stephanie Meyer phenomena, who has rocketed up to NY BS lists and other lists, products with her series on them, CD’s, DVD’s, Tshirts, etc. etc. Again, this is not the norm and I don’t know much about Ms Meyer, but I would venture to guess she put a lot of work and effort into promotion.

    I love a quote from Elmore Leondard’s quote when I read his bio.

    “It took me 30 years to become an overnight success.”

    Good luck to you and I wish you many more best selling novels and much success. You’re an inspiration and a true gem to share your experience with us all.

  260. jennifer
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 5:33 pm · Link

    Thanks so much for sharing, congrats on your success, and may your positive karma knock your socks off.

    People with your generosity and openness make the world (especially the small part of it writers occupy) a better place. Thanks.

  261. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:37 am · Link

    My guy would love to have a boat, too, Rick, but we decided to save and invest most of my writing income to put it toward our home and the kids’ college tuition. We don’t live in a mansion, but we paid off our mortgage nine years early, and our kids won’t have to take out student loans when they go to college.

  262. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:38 am · Link

    Good question, David. The prices listed are retail, which would be the selling price from the bookstore to the consumer.

  263. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:40 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing your numbers, Sandip. I appreciate the advice, too.

  264. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:50 am · Link

    For those of us who aren’t in it solely for the money (which is just about every working writer out there, I think) it’s a combination of dream and reality. Whether writing chooses you or you choose writing, it’s a privilege to have a job doing something you love and the opportunity to share it with others. The industry is tough, highly competitive and unforgiving, so there’s little to no job security, but if you develop the right attitude I think that can make you a better writer.

    It would help if writers were better-paid, but I think that’s true in every industry.

  265. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:50 am · Link

    You’re welcome, ma’am. :)

  266. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:52 am · Link

    I’m a little late responding to these last comments (I had a deadline to slay this week) but I’m always happy to talk shop. :)

  267. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:52 am · Link

    I’ll settle for earning back all my advances, Sally. :) Thanks.

  268. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:54 am · Link

    I’ve seen what the Stephen Kings and Stephenie Meyers have to do to stay on top of the lists, and to be honest I wouldn’t want to trade places. The millions must be very nice, but they come with a hefty price tag of their own.

  269. Lynn
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:55 am · Link

    Anytime, Jennifer. :)

  270. Beth Miller
     · April 24th, 2009 at 9:36 am · Link

    Hiya, Lynn–
    Came across this, and I just wanted to let you know how fascinating it is, and how much I learned from your post. Wanna come do a tutorial here? LOL.
    Beth :)

  271. Mandy
     · April 24th, 2009 at 12:05 pm · Link

    Wow. I am SO impressed by this. My debut novel comes out in June, so I’ve never seen a royalty statement. This is wonderful to see!

    It’s maddening that there isn’t more information out there like this, so we know what we’re getting into.

    When I got my deal, i went back into my blog and unlocked dozens of entries dealing with rejection, becuase I think its wondeful when people open up on their blogs about ALL sides of their path to publication.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  272. Regina Richards
     · April 24th, 2009 at 2:48 pm · Link

    Could you expand on this? What is it these top of the food chain writers must do that is onerous?

  273. LViehl
     · April 24th, 2009 at 3:26 pm · Link

    Oh, you’re funny.
    (The lovely Beth is the lady who sends me my royalty statements, btw. She also listens to my babbling, puts up with my nonsense, and finds my agent for me whenever things go boom.)

  274. LViehl
     · April 24th, 2009 at 3:53 pm · Link

    I think when you reach the top of the food chain you cease being regarded as an author and become instead public property. You’re a walking target for the stalkers, gawkers and malcontents out there who are looking to make you their fame vehicle.

    You also become a money-maker, and the people who want to ally themselves with someone with that kind of influence start seriously kissing your ass. You gather an entire army of camp followers and fangirls, and we’ve seen how destructive they can be online. You no longer have friends (or most of your friendships don’t survive your superstardom), and I imagine you can no longer trust anyone new who offers friendship. It must look like everyone has a hidden agenda or wants to use you.

    On the professional side, you don’t get feedback from your editors, you get carte blanche. Think of all the big name writers who no longer permit their books to be edited. I’m not going to point fingers, but I can think of two whom I loved when they were nobodies and subsequently lost interest in after they became superstars because the quality of their work went south. And it went south because they stopped allowing the editorial process to happen. While some people think this is a great thing, I think it ruins a writer.

    Finally, no one stays at the top forever. There is always someone younger, prettier, faster, more talented and with fresher material waiting to take your place. And they will do whatever they must to take it while you do whatever you have to in order to defend it. I was a witness to one of these clash of the titans type situations at a national conference once, and it was utterly appalling. It destroyed any desire I might have had to go into that stratosphere.

  275. LViehl
     · April 24th, 2009 at 3:58 pm · Link

    It’s good to discuss rejection with other writers because it is such a tough subject to be public about, and I applaud you for making the bumps along your journey accessible. I got bounced four times last week, so it never ends, no matter where you are in your career.

    Good luck with the debut — may it end up in every teenage girl’s backpack. :)

  276. Brenda Hiatt
     · April 24th, 2009 at 4:40 pm · Link

    Mandy, I’ve been collecting anonymous figures from romance (mostly) authors for several years now and have the results at my website (the Money link). Not nearly as detailed as what Lynn’s royalty statement shows, of course. I warn you, it’s rather sobering stuff.

  277. Mandy
     · April 24th, 2009 at 5:02 pm · Link

    Brenda, i’ve been a fan of your “show me the money” survey for years!! I’m so glad you were able to get people to share the info…it’s really helpful.

  278. Holly
     · April 24th, 2009 at 5:08 pm · Link

    That is interesting, because I’ve been wondering if some authors get published without any editing on their books. I won’t name names either, but there are four authors that I’ve read for over 10 years, and have stopped reading once they reached superstardom status, as I found their writing was lacking. I thought perhaps, they had ghost writers now that they have reached that level, because their writing wasn’t tight any longer, sloppy and definitely not fresh.

    My attitude has been that I would write these stories whether or not they ever got published. I have an agent now, after numerous rejections and a lot of rewrites, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and reading these types of blogs is very helpful for writers like me just starting out.

    Thanks again.

  279. Debbi
     · April 24th, 2009 at 5:44 pm · Link

    Your observations about bestselling author/celebrities are right on the mark. At some point, the author becomes a public figure, so they’ve essentially lost their privacy rights. Not a situation I’d be happy with.

    Plus, it’s true that a lot of bestselling authors’ work deteriorates as their careers proceed, due to lack of editorial guidance (and probably the fact that they’re “phoning it in” after a while).

    I think the clash of the titans scenario you presented is just sad. I never want to be a super-star for that very reason. It sounds like a dreadful way to live.

    I just want to write and would love to make a decent living at it. Not filthy rich–just decent! I don’t ask for much. :)

  280. LViehl
     · April 25th, 2009 at 7:13 am · Link

    I’ve had a couple of people ask me for links to Brenda’s survey, so here’s the URL:

  281. LViehl
     · April 25th, 2009 at 7:19 am · Link

    The editorial process is important, and if you’re fortunate enough to be paired with an editor who “gets” you and is a good match, it will make you a better writer.

    A writer who is no longer allowing their books to be edited has cheated themselves and their readers, but I guess all that lovely money makes them forget how necessary good editing is.

  282. LViehl
     · April 25th, 2009 at 7:25 am · Link

    Debbi, your goals are realistic and attainable; after watching how the titans fight for the top spots I decided it wasn’t for me. This is assuming I could even make it to that level.

    Fcusing on the work and having a quality writing life versus getting into the top of the food chain will make you a lot happier in the long term. I speak from happy experience. :)

  283. Michelle Reynoso
     · April 25th, 2009 at 9:45 am · Link

    I wanted to let you know that I referenced your blog in my blog.

    Michelle Reynoso

    writing and photography

  284. cindie
     · April 25th, 2009 at 1:00 pm · Link

    Thanks for your generosity in sharing this! It takes some of the butterflies out of my stomach.

  285. Thomas Pellechia
     · April 25th, 2009 at 9:45 pm · Link


    Great stuff and a good service to writers, especially new to the business.

    The thing in your story that rubs me the wrong way is the publisher holding that reserve on potential returns. The returns policy rubs me the wrong way. I know its origin, but it no longer applies as it did then.

    Publishing may be the only business that sells something at wholesale and then reduces the incentive for the retailer to sell the product by guaranteeing there is no need to sell it at all.

    I put that policy right up there with the publishers’ policy of selling books through distributors that go only to bookstores. For a nonfiction writer, like I, the subject usually exceeds an audience at bookstores–for a publisher, that’s an alien possibility.

  286. D. Kay
     · April 26th, 2009 at 6:25 am · Link

    The music business also has the same hold back for returns. I honestly do not know if other businesses do this with their products. I suppose they do. Distributors likely take back returns on anything that doesn’t sell through. For instance, if Home Depot doesn’t sell off the 100,000 new wonder hammer, they likely return the excess stock to whence it came.

    It would be way worse if they paid you a royalty as if the sales happened and then had to come back to you months later and demand the money back.

  287. Lynn
     · April 26th, 2009 at 7:45 am · Link

    No problem, Cindi.

  288. Lynn
     · April 26th, 2009 at 8:07 am · Link

    Reserves against returns is not one of my favorite publisher policies, Thomas, but I could live with it if reserves were held only until the first year after publication. I think holding them for two or three years is a little unreasonable, especially for a genre like mine where a novel’s average shelf life is six months at best. I also don’t think a book that has earned out and is generating royalties for me should have second reserves taken because the publisher has decided demand for it justifies a massive reprint. But they don’t let me run publishing, or things would be different.

    I’d like to see publishers overhaul the distribution and sales systems currently in place to address today’s market. I don’t think they can continue the way they’re doing business across the board, not if they want to survive.

  289. Pawyi Lee Montgomer
     · April 26th, 2009 at 10:57 am · Link

    Wikipedia says that Piers Anthony has sued publishers for accounting malfeasance and won judgments in his favor.

  290. James A. Ritchie
     · April 26th, 2009 at 11:28 am · Link

    From my experience as an editor, it’s a complete myth that the superstars of writing no longer allow editors to touch their work. Big name writers always get big name editors, the best the publisher has, and these editor have big names because they’re good at what they do.

    I know of only one big name writer who doesn’t allow her work to be touched by an editor, but she never allowed her work to be edited, even when she was an unknown, struggling writer.

    When someone does fall down on the job, it’s almost always the editor, rather than the superstar writer. Editors are extremely busy, and sometimes one will get the idea that the superstar writer doesn’t need his help. Superstar writers generally believe the opposite, and I’ve known several editors to be fired, and others more or less demoted, because the superstar writer realized the editor was no longer doing his job and demanded a change.

    Even Stephen King asked for and received a new editor a few years back, solely because he realized the editor hadn’t touched his latest novel.

    Nor do I think many superstars ever “phone it in.” Most are trying harder than ever to be good, to do the best possible work. What usually happens is not that the writer has gone downhill, but that the long term reader’s taste has changed. The writer’s books and style no longer excite him, and he blames it on the writer.

    New fans of this writer usually love him just as much as the old fan did back in the beginning.

    Though I would also add that it’s not an editor’s job to rewrite, revise, or change a writer’s style. We can ask the writer for a revision, for a rewrite, but the truth is that we’re often wrong, and the writer was right.

    And in reality, when hundreds of thousands to millions of readers are still buying a writer’s books, it’s real hard to argue that he’s doing much wrong.

  291. Holly
     · April 26th, 2009 at 11:45 am · Link

    James, thank you for clearing some misconceptions up.

    I have a question, if you don’t mind.

    If you are contracted with a large NY publisher and assigned an editor, and a debut author. If the editor suggests a major revision in the plot, or a scene, does the author have to do it? Or can she discuss it and say it doesn’t feel right to make a huge change? I think many of us just beginning are intimidated by editors at first. We also feel we have to do EXACTLY what they suggest?

    I also feel that way with agents, when one is a beginner and forget, the agent works for the author not the other way around.

    It is a confusing and intimidating business when one is starting out, because there are so many misconceptions, misinformation out there on the net.

    I feel that one can only write the very best story one can write, and hope the professionals behind the work know what they are doing.

    Also, how does a book get to be a NY Times Best seller? Do you have an insight how a book gets to that level?

    Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on these questions.

    I also want to thank everyone for sharing their opinions and experiences. Wonderful blog!

  292. Lynn
     · April 26th, 2009 at 8:31 pm · Link

    I’ll have to disagree with you, James. Both authors I mentioned have been public about their refusal to allow their work to be edited, so that’s not any big secret or myth there. As for blaming the editors for the majority of the problems, I think that’s like a bunch of editors getting together and blaming authors for everything — unrealistic and unfair to place all the burden on one side of the equation.

    I think the match of editor to writer is what makes the process work or not. I’ve worked with about a dozen editors now, and I know that an editor who is a good match is going to help me a lot. A bad match isn’t, but I tend to police myself a little more when I’m working with an editor who doesn’t fit me. But to point the finger at all editors and say it’s their fault 99% of the time is excluding the responsibility of the writer to be one-half of an important partnership.

    As for “phoning it in”, when a quality author begins producing lacklustre books that are rushed out to take advantage of a surge in popularity, such as putting into print that which basically consists of the contents of their web site and message boards, and expecting readers to pay top dollar for it, what else can you really call it?

  293. Lynn
     · April 26th, 2009 at 8:41 pm · Link

    James, I also meant to ask, where have you worked as an editor? All the info I’ve found about you online is a blog and some entries on a mystery discussion board, and I’m not even sure that’s you.

  294. Alison Kent
     · April 26th, 2009 at 9:40 pm · Link

    From my experience as an editor, it’s a complete myth that the superstars of writing no longer allow editors to touch their work.

    You may not be familiar with many romance authors, James, but there is a particular NYT author who is well known by many authors for refusing to be edited.

  295. Maya
     · April 27th, 2009 at 5:26 am · Link

    This makes me kind of glad I have such a low-paying job right now, because the prospect of earning $26,000 still sounds pretty good to me!! Hmm. Or maybe this means I need a better job. At any rate, thanks SO much for sharing this, and congratulations for hitting this milestone. I have to confess that I’m more likely to buy books that say “NY Times Bestseller” on the cover (partly because I know I have something to learn from them as a writer), so I hope this continues to reap dividends for you in the future!

  296. Holly
     · April 27th, 2009 at 8:41 am · Link

    Interesting, after I posted my questions to James I also used Google to see which house he edited for, but didn’t find anything except for some blogs.

    Whoever James is, I found his response gave another dimension to this discussion, but like everything else, everyone will have their own perception of their own experiences.

    Lynn, I find your answers and information enlightening, knowledgable and refreshing as you are shooting straight from the hip and you have an awesome attitude when it comes to your writing.

    I totally agree with you, that a writer has to find that happy place and stick to writing the best she can instead of aiming for lists or trying to topple over the stars.

    I can’t even imagine the pressure some of the top authors must be under to not only keep producing, but to stay on top of the lists. I also appreciate you expelling a lot of myths about the financial picture when it comes to writing.

    I still don’t know how some top writers do it. They turn out best sellers every year, they maintain facebook, myspace, blogs, interviews, interact with readers, have families, etc. I admire their energy! It takes a lot of energy to focus just on writing well, the promotion side of things daunts me and sounds like a lot of work, but I guess it’s necessary work.

  297. Lynn
     · April 27th, 2009 at 11:09 am · Link

    My pleasure, Maya. Btw, I really enjoyed visiting your blog, and I’m going to try your recipe for homemade hummus — I don’t like the storebought variety, which has way too much salt and preservatives in it. Thanks!

  298. James A. Ritchie
     · April 27th, 2009 at 11:16 am · Link

    Yes, there’s always one or two or five in any large group that give all the others a bad name. The problem is that we find one or two big name writers who refuse to be edited, and we then apply this to the group as a whole. There have been thousands of bestselling writers over the years, and almost all work as hard as they can, try as hard as they can, accept all the help they can get.

    And refusing editing is not always a bad thing. An editor offers suggestions, which may be right or wrong, an editor tightens a bit, does his best to get the grammar and punctuation right, etc., but it’s the writer’s book, and any writer, new, mid-list, bestselling, etc., must do whatever he thinks is best for that book.

    I’ve been told by one of her editors that Anne Rice has never allowed any editing on her books. Ever. Now, it may well be that some editing would have helped, but it’s awfully difficult to argue with the success of her novels, in sales numbers, and in how incredibly enthusiastic her fans are about those books.

    When writers blindly follow an editor, well, it doesn’t always work. Editors can make books worse, just as they can make books better. Darned few editors have any special insight above and beyond what the bestselling writer has.

    New writers usually have to make whatever changes an editor wants or the book won’t sell, but bestselling writers have, and deserve, more power to say no. This isn’t a bad thing. When an editor harms a book, the writer gets the blame, not the editor, so when a writer believes his way is best, he’d be a fool to make changes.

    Readers ultimately make the decision, and most complaints come not from readers, but from other writers and critics.

    Anyway, my suggestion is to visit the websites/blogs of bestselling writers and ask about editors. Most will tell you they love their editors, value the editor’s input, and take advice readily.

  299. Debbi
     · April 27th, 2009 at 12:14 pm · Link

    I think you’re right, James . . . about not painting all bestselling authors with the same broad brush. (I feel the same way about self-published authors and self-publishing in general, but that’s a whole ‘nuther topic . . . and let’s not go there, please . . .)

    A few (or even several) bad apples doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. I know there are multi-published bestselling authors who are still working hard to keep their series’ fresh. (I’d say Sue Grafton is one of them.) It’s just a drag when you see certain people who used to be great doing less than stellar work, simply because they can get away with it. If anything, it makes me wonder about the taste of the people reading their books. I can only assume it’s simply because that author’s name is on the cover.

  300. Lynn
     · April 27th, 2009 at 3:31 pm · Link

    Your comments had me rereading back over all the comments your statements could be applied to, and I don’t see where anyone has applied the generalization you keep mentioning. I cited two authors who have been public about their refusal to be edited, which I don’t consider a sweeping condemnation of all bestselling authors. Possibly you’ve misinterpreted my meaning; I’m not sure, but I apologize for an offense I may have inadvertantly caused.

    I’m sorry you didn’t respond to my question about where you’ve worked as an editor, too. You speak like someone with a lot of experience, and commenters who are professionals (past or present) always contribute a great deal of validity to any discussion.

    In any case, thanks for your observations.


  1. Nadia Lee :: Author » Blog » If You Wanted to Know How Much NYT Bestsellers Make…
  2. A NYT bestseller’s royalty statement at Tobias Buckell Online
  3. Anatomy of a Bestseller | Seressia Glass: Blog Me
  4. The Daily Square - Poet Edition | Booksquare
  5. Angela Benedetti » Blog Archive » Bestseller Numbers
  6. Link dump - because I can! « Natasha Hoar - adventures in paranormal romance writing
  7. Jordan Summers » Blog Archive » Tattoo The Info On Your Forehead
  8. NYT Bestsellers « Alisha Rai
  9. » links for 2009-04-19
  10. A New York Times Bestseller’s Royalty Statement « Children’s Book Biz News
  11. Theresa Meyers | Blog » Blog Archive » NYT Bestseller - The Truth About Writing
  12. So, how much money do writers make anyway? « Kimberly Pauley
  13. We write because we love it, not because we’re going to get rich « Isaac Espriu’s Place
  14. The Not-so-deep Thoughts » The Reality of a Times Bestseller
  15. Cracking the NYT « Romantic Reads
  16. Royalties and marketing « Day By Day Writer
  17. anecdotes » Readers, writers, and money
  18. John Brown - the author’s official site » Blog Archive » How many copies makes a best seller?
  19. Ein Blick ins Nähkästchen « Internationale Krimis
  20. Deconstructing the fantasy «
  21. » Wednesday Linkfest
  22. » Blog Archive » Breaking Down a Bestseller
  23. Stats From A Best Seller
  24. Contagious Content | GENREALITY
  25. Not-so-crunchable numbers « STEVENHARTSITE
  26. Nicky Penttila - Dose of publishing reality
  27. Weekly Roundup for April 24th | Cameron Chapman
  28. Cheater day, part million and a half « Barbara Ann Wright
  29. Litopia Daily & Litopia After Dark » Litopia Daily 197: Half-Truths & White Lies
  30. Advances and Royalties « Ronica Stromberg
  31. Scribble Scribble - Home of Matt A. Hughes » Blog Archive » In It For the Love
  32. Quid plura? | "...but they won't slow down the roundabout."
  33. Advice, protocol, survivor’s guide, and NYT Bestsellerdom : I Should Be Writing
  34. Romance author documents the income she actually received from a NY Times best seller
  35. Twitted by NextMoon
  36. BVS-U Blog » Blog Archive » Ever Wonder What A NY Times Bestselling Author Earns?
  37. Secondo piano | Tragedia in due battute
  38. Empi Baryeh’s Blog
  39. How pirates hurt authors and readers | eBooks and ePublishing | EPIC
  40. The Best Seller List: Myth and Reality « CreateWorkLive
  41. How Much? | Books
  42. Platform 201 for Busy Writers: 1,000 True Fans | Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
  43. Ever Been Curious About What a NYT Bestselling Author Earns?
  44. New York Times Best Selling Author Tells the Truth | Anjuelle Floyd
  45. Link: School’s On! 2009 Edition |
  46. Lincoln Crisler Online » A Handful of Helpful Hyperlinks!
  47. More on The Reality of a Times Bestseller | GENREALITY
  48. Revenue reality of a bestseller « Dance4
  49. Advances and Royalties, Part 2 « Ronica Stromberg
  50. Changing reality — Chocolate and Vodka
  51. Reality – Times Bestselling Author’s Earnings « Kindle Review – Kindle 2 Review, Books
  52. | Πόσα Βγάζει Ένας Μπεστσελερίστας;
  53. :: blog » Artists don’t profit, rights holders don’t get it
  54. Autorenexpress: US Bestseller » Viehl, Lynn, Pseudonyme, Tipp, Montsegur-Forum, Einkünfte » autorenexpress
  55. Writer’s Group notes 3 December 2009 « What Have We Learned?
  56. The Reality of a Times Bestseller « Either/Or/Bored
  57. A Look into Publishing « Wall Notes
  58. Love ‘em or Hate ‘em – What Amazon is doing for the e-Book Business is Phenomenal. | Tracy Cooper-Posey
  59. Calculate how much you need to earn as a writer «
  60. Blogging, writing, publishing
  61. Things I Found Interesting Around March 29th | Chris Coyier
  62. Why are you doing this? « View From the Library Window
  63. How to get published for the first time
  64. The E-Book Experiment: Know Your Customer | JA Marlow
  65. The E-Book Experiment: Product Quality | JA Marlow
  66. Show me the money. | GENREALITY
  67. Statistics | GENREALITY
  68. So, how much money do writers make anyway? « Kimberly Pauley »
  69. Day jobs and writers (3) « Claire Hennessy
  70. Is The Printed Book Dead? at
  71. If your writing for monetary reasons only… « Writing Is The Easy Part
  72. From The Desk Of A Neurotic Non Writer « Tentative Scribblings
  73. The Copyright Alliance Blog » Blog Archive » I Don’t Own a Yacht
  74. Royalty accounting with Penguin royalty statment
  75. Goal Setting for Fiction Writers | rockyourwriting
  76. On Being a New York Times Bestseller | Jennifer Becton
  77. NYT Bestselling Author - On My Income, We'd Almost Qualify for Food Stamps | The Passive Voice
  78. The Truth about What Authors Earn – some great articles to read — Better Than Bullets
  79. Sales Statistics: A New York Times Bestseller | How Publishing Really Works
  80. What are your words worth?
  81. How Much Can A Creative Writer Make? | Writers Training
  82. How to Set Goals as a Fiction Writer | Rock Your Writing
  83. Melinda Thielbar