Okay, here's the grand plan:
1. You finish this novel you've started this month, during NaNoWriMo.
2. You get an agent to love it.
3. The agent gets an editor to buy it.
4. You get that first advance check. (Fair warning: you'll wait a month for the contract, and another few weeks for the first advance check–around a third of the agreed amount, after you've signed it and sent it in; another third when you deliver the manuscript, and the final third by your launch date.)
5. The editor does a superior job massaging it into an even greater book.
6. You get your pub date. (Prepare for it to be anywhere from 12-18 months off into the future: AAAGGGHHHH, yeah, I know).
7. The book hits the shelves, and you throw your launch party. (Hurray! Hurray! Par-TAY!)
8. Then, you watch it sell…..
Welcome to the world of the mid-lister: the publishing world's version of the 99%.
And that world — one in which nearly all authors inhabit — is shrinking by the day.
Aye, there's the rub: If you aren't already a best-seller for whom front table co-op is a given (yes, folks: those first tables in a bookstore are purchased placement), or have had a “breakout book” (a debut or mid-list novelist whose book gained incredible word-of-mouth, and the sales that go with it) you are only as good as your last book's sales figures.
A few years back — prior to the flood of sales of eReaders such as the Kindle, Nook Kobo, iPad, and the multitudes of iTablets and Android devices, that meant depending on your pub house's sales team to sweet-talk your book onto the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores: independent bookstores, and the larger chain bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders.
But then Borders went under, and with it 900+ stores where midlist authors' books (including those who wrote in such genres as romance and mystery) could be purchased.
You could (bad pun) see the writing on the wall. Authors who had even a dozen or two of published books under their belts were passed over, or asked to write under pen names in order to re-establish themselves as “debut authors.” Think about it: in any other industry — say, perfume — that is the equivalent of taking a fragrance that has sold steadily as White Shoulders, then re-packaging it as “Tabu.”
You are a brand. Your books are your products which your publishing house sells.
The only difference: in the perfume industry, besides its research and production, a very substantial investment is made on a product's packaging and promotion.
Not so for any mid-list book.
(And, according to my bestseller pals, other than co-op or an ad here or there, their books aren't that well promoted, either).
To give the author's return-on-investment picture even more clarity, consider that the initial advance to a mid-lister is around $5,000-$20,000, and the units that cover that must be sold prior to the author receiving any additional compensation, which, after that ranges from 8-12% of the book's retail price.
(And by the way, any books that are returned by the booksellers is counted against your advance; and retailers are allowed to return as many as they want, for as long of a time as they want.)
The other 92 to 85% of the retail value is what the publishers hold onto, and divide with the bookseller, who gets up to 55% of the price.. And taken out of the publisher's revenue comes such costs as editor's salaries, cover design, sales force commissions, and marketing promotion.
Writing a book is not an easy endeavor. You've just gone through NaNoWriMo, a marathon that proves the point. The time and effort it took you to concept, outline, research, write, and rewrite your book was speculation on your part. Perhaps it added up to 150 endless days and nights.
Now, divide all your time and effort of, say, 150 days by your advance of, say, $10,000:
That's about $66.66/day. Divided by ten hours for the average writer's work day, your down to $6.66. an hour.
Obviously, you'd make more money at Wal-Mart — selling other authors' books.
This is why authors — both published, and unpublished — consider self-publishing.
At the same time that brick-and-mortar bookstores are shrinking, the sales of digital eReaders — and digital eBooks — are growing.
For the past couple of years, self-publishing has looked like the gold rush. Those authors who were among the first to get to that rich riverbed of consumers with digital eReaders (Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, Bella Andre, Kate Perry, Barbara Freethy and Stephanie Bond) have struck the kind of financial riches the rest of us dream about. Whereas Hocking debuted as an eBook, the last three (Konrath writes thrillers; Andre writes romance; and Bond writes romantic suspense) were strong mid-list genre authors whose backlists had decent sales for their established New York publishing houses.
Granted, by cutting out the middle man (the publishing house) you also cut out such crucial services, such as editing and cover design. But for a couple of hundred dollars, you can get a free-lance editor to help you with clean-up. And for another couple of hundred plus dollars, you can get your manuscript formatted as per required by all the online bookstores, as well as a decent cover to boot (and have a say in what that cover looks like)…
And you hold onto 70% of the online retail sales price.
However, there's a rub in the self-pub world, too: the gold rush has slowed down. Supply (a plethora of digital eBooks) is way up.
The good news: demand — and digital eReader sales — is still growing.
As a one-person industry, you will still need to do that thing the pub houses missed: PROMOTE.
I get it: all you want to do is write your books…
But even if you are “lucky” enough to sell to a New York publisher, you'll also need to promote the books they publish for you.
I'm warning you up front.
That means knowing your core target audience, and how to reach them. Make them know you (brand awareness) and love your books (sampling, contests, word-of-mouth).
Welcome to the business life of an author.
Plan A: Get New York to want you (doable), love you (doable), and promote you (don't hold your breath).
Plan B: Skip New York. Write a great book. Get it edited, and give it a cover that sells. Uplink it to all the online bookstores. Promote the hell out of it to its most obvious readers….
And write more books.
The photo above: Jessica Berry
Question of the day: If New York passes you by, will you be self-pub'ing your book? Will go detour from New York altogether? If so why?