Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Publishing Reality

This past week I saw some references to "that publishing article" on Twitter. I found it so you don't have to look for it.

Initial Thoughts 

  • How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying by Heather Demetrios deals with an author's disappointing experience with publishing her work. Another such essay got a lot of attention a few years ago. I don't want to say Demetrios's experience is common, but it's not totally unusual, either.
  • Demetrios is dealing with the stress she experienced by looking at it through a tend-and-befriend mindset.  (Discussed here recently in my time management feature.) She is trying to publicize the problems she encountered in order to assist other writers. Just thought I'd mention that since this seems like such a good example of a writer doing tend-and-befriend.
Demetrios's article deals with two issues: how she managed her income from publishing and her sales once her books were published.

The Money

First off, 99 percent of the people reading this post won't have to worry about handling six-figure advances, two of them, which is what Demetrios received.  According to agent Jennifer Laughran, advances for children's/YA writers are more like this: "Many new authors will probably be offered $4-8,000 on a debut picture book text-only to a normal mid-sized traditional publisher. $5-12,000 on a chapter book. $8-20,000 on a middle grade novel. $12-30,000 on a YA." Demetrios is a YA author so her first advance of $100,000 for two books was very good. The next year she got another advance of $250,000 for three books. Again, a lot of money, but, keep in mind she still had to write the second book on the first two-book deal, and probably at least two of the trilogy books.

Here's something I don't think she mentions in her article: It's unlikely she got either of those advances all at once. In days of old, you got half your advance on signing the contract and half on publication. Nowadays, you get it in three payments: on signing, on turning in a completed manuscript, on publication. If you have an agent, a percentage goes to him or her. Taxes need to be deducted. So Demetrios probably never had a huge amount of money in her pocket at any one time.

In her essay, she discusses various mistakes she made in terms of handling the money she did have, to make the best use of it and to make it last as long as possible. You can  read about those for yourselves. Personally, I think the basic mistake she made was believing that because she'd made two big sales, she was established and could expect to continue selling books to publishers and make a living that way. That happens for a very small percentage of writers. Writing is market driven. Your product has to sell in order more of it to be picked up by the middle people who sell it. For us, that's publishers.

You can find a lot of information on-line about the business of marketing. Jennifer Laughran's REAL TALK: $ix Figure Book Deal$ from 2015 (quoted above) is one example. An Agent Explains the Ins and Outs of Book Deals by Kate McKean at Electric Lit is another.

If you are a children's or YA writer who has received an advance and can use some of it for something other than food, shelter, and health care, you might want to consider joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It puts out a publication four times a year that always carries a column on taxes, for one thing. It sponsors writing groups and, in my region, anyway, meet and greets that are free, for another. There are also various SCBWI Facebook groups. Spending time with other writers could provide some information on their experiences in publishing.

Book Sales

One of  Heather Demetrios's books won an award, she got starred reviews, she did promotional work with a website and interviews, guest posts, and podcast appearances. One publisher sent her on a book tour. But sales were still disappointing.

What went wrong here? Maybe nothing. Seriously, I don't think there's anything that can really be done to make a book successful.

Sure, you want to go with the best editing and production values, a beautiful cover, attention from reviewers, a social media campaign. But many, many books get that and don't generate enough sales to make back what the publisher gave the author for an advancement. It's a mystery.

And when a book does become successful, there's often no way to determine why that happened, either. There's no way of putting a finger on what marketing or promotional investment did the trick.

The best advice I've heard offered for dealing with this dilemma is to move on to writing the next book. Even though it may mean a smaller advance. And, once again, try to network with other writers. Because misery loves company.

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