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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Make a living from writing?

That publisher advance

Not long ago, a well established writer asked me if I thought that publishing on Amazon et al would ever match the traditional publisher advance, and I was reminded of this when I was sent a link to an interesting article in Salon by PATRICK WENSINK, one that asks more or less the same question.

Boldly headed MY AMAZON BESTSELLER MADE ME NOTHING, the story begins by confessing that Wensink, like many an author, shies like a nervous colt when asked what he makes in the way of money.

Personally, I think it is a very rude question. Asked that once by a total stranger who happened to be sitting next to me at a dinner, I returned the question instead of answering, saying with my eyebrows haughtily high, "So how much do you make?"

It turned out he was a high-flying physician.  I forget the mind-spinning figures he quoted, but I gathered he worked only five months a year, to keep himself out of a crippling tax bracket.

Authors (that woman who wrote about all those fifty shades, et al excepted) don't make money on that sort of scale.  Not anything like it. In fact, that traditional advance (which is not usually large) is often all the money they make from each book.

But at least that advance is real money.  Wensink's experience with Indie publishing, it seems, was somewhat of a contrast.

"My novel shot to the top of the site's bestseller list last summer," he begins.

The book was a satire called Broken Piano for President.  I'm not sure of the details, not having read it (yet), but after he was sent a "cease and desist" letter by Jack Daniels, the book went viral.  As he describes, it "was featured in places like Forbes, Time magazine and NPR’s Weekend Edition. The New Yorker wrote one whole, entire, punctuated-and-everything sentence about me! My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe."

So how much did he make out of it?

Twelve thousand.

Yes, you read it right.


That's the same as a fairly average advance.

Read all about it.


Rick Spilman said...

I am all for self promotion but this gentleman seems to be simply whining. In a reasonably short period of time his book sold 4,000 copies and he was paid $3 per copy so he earned $12,000. And so he complains that "my Amazon bestseller made me nothing." Nothing? He will not be able to retire on $12,000. He may not be able to pay off his mortgage for the year, but it isn't nothing.

One has to wonder what he really expected and why he thought it so important to share his innumeracy with the world.

Joan Druett said...

Maybe the book itself (or the fact that he drinks Jack Daniels!) explains more about his expectations and motivations.

I certainly agree with you that to scoop $12000 out of what was essentially a blip in the ratings wasn't bad at all. And that headline is just plain misleading! Did he write it himself, or was it a sub-editor who was willing to sacrifice veracity for impact?

Rick Spilman said...

A creative editor is certainly possible.

Did you notice the publisher's name?

Lazy Fascist Press

From their website:"Lazy Fascist is an imprint of bizarro fiction publisher Eraserhead Press. Lazy Fascist publishes authors who, through careful exploration of unique linguistic landscapes, create monstrous, unclassifiable fictions.

OK, then.

Joan Druett said...

Good lord! How funny. No, I didn't notice. "Lazy Fascist" sounds like an oxymoron. And their blurb sounds like one of those more baffling academic subtitles.