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Advances and Royalties April 27, 2009

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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About ten years ago, I was talking to four romance writers published by Harlequin. As a group, they figured their average earnings at $4,000 per book. This sounded low to me, but one of the better-known writers assured me that they were being completely forthright. She said she wrote about ten romances a year to make a living but also supplemented her income by working part-time at McDonald’s. Not quite what I expected!

Even though romances are selling strongly even in the current poor economy, earnings from them still aren’t usually enough to quit a day job for. Check out this site, www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html, for up-to-date information on earnings.

Recently, Lynn Viehl posted online her earnings from her New York Times bestseller, Twilight Fall. Anyone can view the statement at http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

She received a $50,000 advance. An advance is money that a publisher pays an author upfront for the right to publish the author’s book. Before the author receives any royalties (which are a percentage of the sales, such as 10 percent of the cover price of the book), the author must earn out the advance. So, if the author had an $8 book at 10 percent royalties and a $5,000 advance, 6,250 copies of the book would have to sell before the author received any royalties. Many first-time authors never earn out their advance, so they never receive any royalties. And some publishers expect authors to pay back the part of the advance they didn’t earn.

Even though Lynn Viehl’s book is a bestseller, she still hasn’t earned out her $50,000 advance and, thus, hasn’t received royalties. The advance may be all that she ever receives from that book. Still, she received a much higher advance than most writers receive. Publishers usually pay an advance in accord with how well they think a book will sell. Some publishers don’t pay advances.

A friend of mine who wrote a nonfiction book about classroom teaching strategies received no advance. She looked forward to her first royalty check. Then she received it:  a whopping $12.

That’s the reality of writing books: no guarantees of making a living. As one of my writing friends says, “Love the process.” Most of us aren’t in it for the money anyway, but a realistic understanding of advances and royalties goes a long way in loving the process.

Book Tour April 15, 2009

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I’m still catching up after getting back from a book tour to Southeast Iowa, where I grew up. I did an interview at KILJ radio station in Mount Pleasant; appeared on WTJR Christian TV station in Quincy, Illinois; and did a couple of book signings with my sister Roxanne for an anthology we both contributed stories to. The TV interview can be accessed off the Web site, WWW.wtjr.org, starting May 5. I appeared on “Outreach Connection” with Dr. Deborah Peppers.

TV and radio interviews don’t make me as nervous as presentations, probably because I’ve conducted so many interviews myself as a journalist. I understand the need for a “sound bite” and try to keep my answers short.

Dr. Peppers (she uses the taglines “Add Spice with Peppers” and “Shakin’ the Salt with Dr. Peppers!”) was a gem to interview with, so inspiring herself. We talked about my picture book, The Time-for-bed Angel,  and my two upcoming teen novels, A Shadow in the Dark and Living It Up to Live It Down. She’s invited me back once my teen books are released.

After the taping, Dr. Peppers encouraged me to sign up with a speakers’ bureau to gain more speaking engagements. She was a teacher for many years and then moved into professional speaking and hosting TV programs. Like many speakers, she would like to author books. For the past 10 years or more, speakers have been getting pressured to write books to gain credibility and back-of-the-room sales. Authors, on the other hand, are being pressured to speak to gain notice and a forum for selling books (a “platform”). Authors and speakers generally are not one-and-the-same. Most speakers I know are bubbling, enthusiastic extroverts while the authors are introverts content to stay out of the spotlight. To combine those two personalities, it seems a person almost has to be bipolar. But that’s what the speaking and writing industries want these days.

Part of the reason I started this blog (besides establishing another platform!) is to give readers insight into the life of a real author. TV and radio appearances and bookstore signings may sound glamorous to people who haven’t done them, but they tend to lose their luster after a while. Big-name authors like J.K. Rowlings often quit doing them.  At my first signing this past week, a sick child vomited at my table, splattering me. The next day, my sister and I were signing at a chain bookstore and an elderly mall walker strolled past our table, expelling gas all the way. My sister looked at me like, “Can you believe it?” I had been vomited on and tooted at in just two days of my book tour. Ah, the glamorous life of an author! But one of my books earned the rank of a bestseller at the store. And, for an author, that makes it all worthwhile!

Back from SCBWI Conference April 6, 2009

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I spoke at the SCBWI-Nebraska conference last weekend about “Divine Words: Writing for the Inspirational Market.” One thing about teaching: you learn your subject so much better yourself. I had ordered most of the children’s magazines in the inspirational market to share with the writers and illustrators attending the conference. A few of those magazines I had never seen myself. I became interested enough in one of them that I submitted a story immediately after the conference–and sold it within two days!

Andrew Karre, editor at Carolrhoda, also spoke at the conference. Talking with him, I learned that he expects most of his YA submissions to be in first person. He said he almost questions it if a YA manuscript isn’t written in first person.

I’ve written most of my books in third person even though first person would have probably been more natural to me. I kept diaries from eighth grade on into my thirties, and my first novel (which never saw print) was in first person. I had submitted that first novel to a couple of editors, and one of them, Wendy Lamb, responded with a full, one-page personal letter. I didn’t realize at the time how rare that is.

I guess I quit using first person shortly after college. I had read interviews of editors at literary journals, and they said they were tired of all the first-person stories they received. They described the writing as “navel-gazing.” Some also seemed to suggest that first-person writing had been overused as a shortcut to immediacy with the reader. I took up the challenge to try to evoke emotion through third person. But now I’m rethinking first person again . . .