Saturday, June 15, 2013

Writing, Research & Reading – What’s a book worth

Ever pick up a hard cover book and look at the price?

Yeah, me too…….. Ouch!!

I have a copy of Robert Parker’s book, Fool Me Twice sitting on my desk and it’s $25.95.

Like me, I am sure the thought crossed your mind that the writing field is certainly a good financial place to be.

Sadly, you would be just as mistaken as I was.

As a writer, there are three things you should always be doing. Obviously #1 is writing. If you are not, then you should be doing either research for your book or reading, as in other author’s works. It helps to see what others are doing that connects with their readers.

But lately, in between editing my current book and writing the sequel, I have been doing a lot of research into the whole publishing scene and it’s amazing what you learn.

For those of you unfamiliar with the whole process, the book you may have just read has most likely been a great struggle to find its way into print. Why do I say this, because traditional publishing houses want to make money and are not willing to take risk.

On its face that sounds like a great business model, but does it work? If any of you have read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels would you be surprised to learn that her first book was rejected by one of the big traditional publishing houses? No, guess again. It was actually rejected nine times!! How about a seminal work like Frank Herbert’s Dune? Twenty-three rejects!

Surely the classics have faired much better. Let’s look at Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Frankly, the big publishers didn’t give a damn and rejected her thirty-eight times!!

Sometimes the comments back are stunning like one who said about George Orwell’s Animal FarmAmerican readers don’t like animal stories!” or another who said about John to Le Carré “You’re welcome to Le Carré; he hasn’t got any future.”

The simple truth is getting published is amazingly hard. In fact, absent luck you’re pretty much doomed. So why is this you ask?

The art of book publishing is like a polygamist marriage. It’s not as simple as marrying up an author with a publisher, first you have to find an agent to shop your work to them. The problem is everyone’s interests are different. So, even if you have a GREAT book that requires no changes, the quickest time it takes to give birth to a printed book is generally eighteen plus months. That of course only applies when the stars align perfectly and everyone is smitten with your baby.

So, that being said, what can you expect to make as an author from your “blockbuster” debut? Sadly, not a lot.

Odds are you will not be the next James Patterson or Stephenie Meyer. You might, but the odds are better of you hitting Powerball with a ticket you found on the street. Truth is most authors are going to end up as what are called midlist authors. Neither at the top nor at the bottom.

But that’s okay right? Because they are still making a ton of money from those exorbitantly priced books, right?

Sorry, it’s a fable. It’s like when the government tells you how bad the oil companies are with their greedy profits and forgets to remind you that they, the government, actually make more off the taxes then the oil companies do from the profits. It’s true, but I digress.

Royalties on hardbacks, like the one on my desk, are based on the published price and usually range from 10% to 12.5%, with 15% for more important authors. For paperback it is usually in the 7.5% to 10% range. Again, for a select few it might go up to 12.5%.  From that, the author then has to pay his agent. Typically, agents receive a 15% commission on the books they sell and everything relating to the book, such as audio tapes and film. In addition, they usually receive 20 % for overseas sales. 

So, let’s recap. Since math has never been my good suit, we are going to say our work sells for $30.00. Like I said, the odds are you are a midlist author. So let’s say you somehow manage to get the 12%. The publisher cuts you a check for the whopping sum of $3.60 per book sold. From that you then have to cut your darling agent a check for about $0.53 a book.

At the end of the day you are walking away with just about $3.00. The only problem is that hardbacks are really tough sells. It’s a tough market financially and people forced to choose between buying a hardback and feeding their families are most likely going to opt for the latter. chances are you are not going to sell a lot of them and so publishers are less inclined to risk a big run of them.

So, what about the good old paperback? The price for the paperback version of Parker’s Fool Me Twice retails for about $9.00. This means that you are going to make about $0.90 from the sale of each book and then you will pay your agent their cut of about $0.13.

Are you getting the picture that it’s not really a lucrative business for authors. It’s one of the reasons why authors write so many books, because you will not financially survive off the royalties from one book alone.

More and more authors are turning to self-publishing, as in e-books, as a result. It’s a way for them to connect directly with their readership and offer them the same quality at a much lower price. In fact, in most instances you are generally going to get a better item.

Why you ask?

Because paper is money and the big publishing houses are only interested in giving you a good product. They hire teams of editors to take a manuscript and streamline it. An author might finish a book and it has a 120,000 words. Unless you are Tom Clancy, prepared to get trimmed. The editors will most likely whittle that down into the 100,000 range.

Why? Because it takes up less paper. 

There is a unique policy in the printing industry that goes something like this books are considered a success if they sell 50%. What does this mean? For every two books a publisher prints they expect to have at least one returned. When they ship a hundred books to Barnes and Noble, the odds are that less then half will sell.

No biggie right?

Big Biggie!!

There is a really odd business model in the publishing industry. There is a return policy in place that requires publishers to accept returns, at their expense, and give a full refund.  That means if your publisher did a run of ten thousand books, they are realistically going to get stuck with at least four to five thousand rest urns. Chances are those books will get destroyed and recycled to be used for the “next big thing.” It also means that they are less inclined to take a chance on you in the future.

The policy itself dates back a century, to the Great Depression, when publishers were looking for a way to encourage booksellers to buy more books and to take a chance on unknown authors. So they offered bookstores the right to return unsold books for credit. It's become an entrenched way of doing business. Now that the times have changed, many publishers have sought to change this practice, the only problem. They can’t. If they get together with the other publishing houses and say we are not going to accept returns, as an industry, they can be slapped with an antitrust lawsuit.

E-Publishing their own works gives authors a greater ability to pass along their book in its entirety, the way they wrote it, since they are not dealing with the restrictions placed on them by big publishers. There is also less risk since you are marketing direct to the consumer. For those who like the feel of paper, there is most often a print on demand (POD) option. Advances in printing technology now allow the reader to have the same publishing house quality physical book that they could get in their local book store.

Many in the industry have sought to malign this method, but the reality is it is a much better economic model. Maybe not for the publishers, but we are talking reality here.

One thing I would like to point out is that the item you are buying isn’t something that can easily be quantified.  The book that I just finished took nearly nine months to write. It will be a year before I believe it is ready for publication. How much money is it worth? How do you add up the number of hours spent writing, researching and trying to over come writers block. No, authors do not write because of the financial windfall, they write because they are storytellers and want to entertain.

Think about that the next time you pick up a book or download one to your tablet. 

Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_G_Nelson

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Remembering D-Day - June 6th, 1944

It has been nearly seventy years since the D-Day invasion. The vast majority of our veterans who served during WWII are gone and their deeds and triumphs left to the history books. It is our duty to honor them by never letting what they accomplished be lost or minimized.

The world would be a very different place, save for the sacrifice and valor of these brave young men. As you gaze at the photo on the right, looking out at the daunting cliffs and the enemy emplacements that await, ask yourself one simple question: Would you have followed them off that transport. God Bless all who went into harms way for us.

For those who served, and for all those lost at Pointe Du Hoc and Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah & Omaha beaches, a reminder that you will never be forgotten.