Is there any money in writing a novel?
When I was little, I had to be weaned off Enid Blyton. And before you say anything, this was a long time ago, when racism was OK on the whole. But I get why she’s less popular these days.
Back then, I imagined Enid lived in a big house in the country with staff to tend to her every need. And a swimming pool. I couldn’t be talked out of the belief that everyone rich had a swimming pool. And a helicopter. But again, I’m going off the subject.
Writers who sold books were like pop stars selling records. They were celebrities. They were stinkingly rich.
And perhaps Ms Blyton did eat caviar for breakfast and pour vintage champagne on her cornflakes – this was, by the way how the kids at school used to insult me, because I spoke posh – apparently. These days, I’d likely be beaten to a pulp, so there’s something to be said about ‘the good old days’. Things only got worse when I put up my hand and told teacher I planned on being a poet when I grew up.
Six figure advances
But do writers these days make money? Apart from the select few, the answer is no. Six figure advances make headlines because they happen so rarely. Traditionally published writers find themselves dropped if they don’t earn back piffling sums in the first month. The top 10% of writers account for 70% of all writing revenue. That means not all authors make the kind of money that J. K. Rowling or Stephen King make. In fact, only 13.7% of authors have writing as their sole source of income. Even those writers who would be seen as doing fairly well with sales will rake in less than £10,000 a year from their work.
As an author, I’m happy to break even. Writing a book costs nothing but time. The money starts flowing away when the first draft is done. There’s only so much editing the author can do for themself. Like it or not, an editor needs to step in. And whilst many of us have friends who will read things over, there is no substitute for professional editing. I always set aside around £3000 for editing services – beta readers, a structural edit, a copy edit and then a proof read. And I’m being pretty tight by setting the budget that low. I have trusted partners who I can call on, so that keeps the costs under control.
The sky is the limit
Next comes cover design. I have a graphic designer in house in the form of my husband, but even then, I often commission a professional cover – so that’s another chunk of change. Then comes marketing – and the sky is literally the limit for this. It’s not just paid advertising that costs, I need someone to write a blurb that will catch the attention of readers, someone to advise on who else is out there with something similar and how they find their readers. Social media isn’t a place to sit and shout about your book, you need to nurture and develop relationships. Press releases are a waste of time, because NOBODY cares that I wrote a book but me. Advance reader copies need to be sent to bloggers, a book tour organised and paid for, competitions set up. The website needs an update. You’re talking as much again as you spent on editing. Don’t get me started on audiobooks.
The point is, I need to make my book as good as, if not better than, something from a traditional big five publisher.
Royalties per book range from 20 to 30 pence for an ebook on discount up to a pound if I’m lucky. The paperback will net me twice that, but people don’t buy paperbacks from new writers in anything like the quantity they do ebooks. I’ll likely end up giving the book away for a period of promotion too. It takes a lot of work to earn back the money and break even.
It may seem pretty bleak for first-time writers, but the beauty of writing is that you’re able to combine it with other methods of income.
Does any of this make me want to give up and stop writing? No. I’m already midway through another book.
What I’m trying to say in my roundabout way is PLEASE SUPPORT INDIE AUTHORS.