Saturday, 10 May 2008

Six Figures? I'll Keep My Day Job. Seven Figures? Well...

What would I do if I was fortunate enough to receive a seven-figure advance for my next novel? Yeah, I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but we can dream, can't we? Would I quit my job? Would I pay off the house?

Not likely.
Last week John Elder Robison, author of Look Me In The Eye, visited a friend's blog and offered a detailed account of an authors's life after the seven-figure offer. I'll condense it into a nutshell.

Say you're offered a $1,000,000 advance:

Well, 35% of the sale price goes to taxes. Writers have few deductions. 15% goes to the agent. And finally, the deal is paid out over four installments - 25% on signing, 25% on manuscript acceptance, 25% on hardcover pub, 25% on paperback pub.

This might take three years. It will likely work out to about $125,000 a year, which is nice, but rare. What if you got a $100,000 advance? Pretty nice change, huh? Well, that would only work out to about $12,500 to $18,000 per year depending on income tax. If in my case you have debts and a mortgage, this kind of money will just be another means to survive. It won't be an automatic excuse to quit your job unless you have a wonderful spouse who'll take up the slack.

In John's case he had a seven-figure advance, but he is already successful with his car business. In promoting his book, he must take time away from his business and has hired extra staff to cover for him in his absence. His case is also very rare, since only about 100 authors make that kind of money on one book.

So my question is, why do we do it? Most of us aren't going to get rich through writing, but we do it anyway. I do it because it feels good. It feels great to bring characters to life on paper or the computer screen. I get a warm feeling when a reader tells me she stayed up till 1 a.m. to finish my book. I love the camaraderie among the many authors, agents, editors and readers I've met over the last couple of years.

Why does an artist create lovely paintings, only to have them hang on his own walls, never to see the inside of a gallery? Why does the semi-retired housemate join the local theatre group, knowing that she'll get reviews only from the local paper?

We do it for ourselves, for our family and friends, and for the love of the craft. If all we expect from our efforts are fame and riches, we'll die unhappy.

Picture - a nice little bunch of violets I encountered while walking with my daughter today. Spring has finally sprung! I'll post trilliums when they pop out, which will be soon.


pjd said...

Yeah, but that's just the advance. Then you've got the movies, the merchandising and Happy Meal toys. The big fat speaker's fees! Not that hard to get to half a billion net worth when you think it through. Right?

Chumplet said...

Gosh, I totally forgot about the movie rights!

I wonder if a hockey puck would make a good Happy Meal prize?

John Elder Robison said...

Most movie rights deals are small, and they're for the option to buy the story. For example, you might sell the option for 12 months for $10,000. During that time, if they found a backer, they'd be able to buy the film rights for, say, $200,000.

The chance of getting the $200k is low, and if you make the decision to go down that road, you essentially sell total control of who and what movie for the $10k option.

For that reason, I have not offered an option for LMITE. So don't place your hopes on that.

As to speaker fees . . . a few thousand dollars a few times a year isn't making you rich either. Even if it's 10-15 times in a year, it's still no great thing.

And with lecture agents, the agency fee is 20-25%. So the cost burden is even higher.

You've really got to be seeking something beyond cash to want to do this.

Chumplet said...

You're absolutely right, John. That's why I write mostly for the love of it.

I'm sure there are lots of hidden expenses too, like travel and promotional materials. The author can recoup some of those costs through writing them off, but I'm sure we won't get it all back.

I wonder how much it would cost to put my book cover on 500 hockey pucks... okay, fifty.

mlh said...

Let me know if you plan on having a contest about those hockey pucks like you did with your book over at Chris Eldin's blog. I will try my chances again.

BernardL said...

I can't speak to non-fiction; but creating stories, which fire up the imaginations of complete strangers, makes it all worth it to me. I would never give up my day-job though. :)

Heidi the Hick said...

Since I don't really have what normal people would call a Day Job, I guess things would just go on as they are... except that I could pay down my credit card and not ever, ever have to go work at Zellers again!!!

We've been a one income family for so long that I'll take any little stream of income as long as it's doing something I love. It'll make a little difference once I start teaching riding lessons soon, but it won't cover the mortgage. And as for writing? I'll never stop!

Sandra, I saw your congratulations in the paper last week! That's gotta feel great. Keep up the good work!

Chumplet said...

mlh, I suppose if I can stuff a book into an envelope, I can stuff in a hockey puck, too.

Heidi! I forgot you live so close! I put that ad in for free just to illustrate that anybody could place a similar ad the next time the feature runs. Heh! Small world. I certainly wouldn't give up teaching riding if I were in your position.

Bernard, it's a good thing we love what we do, isn't it?

Chumplet said...

I worked at Zellers about thirty years ago. I still have that icky feeling every time I detect the odour of vinyl.

Kanani said...

You're right. We do it because we love it. If you don't absolutely love what you do, it just won't happen.
By the way, I've got a rather gratuitous Patrick Dempsey shot up on my blog on the sidebar. I like him too, but my chance of finishing a novel is greater than landing him.

ChrisEldin said...

I loved that he was so upfront about the numbers.
It's funny, because my husband is an investment banker, and we have become quite used to being around *other* people who are loaded. You need a steady stream of that 7 figure income.

And you know what's scary, (to me)--I saw Suze Orman on the Larry King show last year. He asked her what amount of money would a person need to be truly wealthy/secure. You know what she said? 50 million dollars. Yep. Because if you have a mortgage, children who need college, parents who need retirement care, etc etc...that's the amount you will need so you won't worry about running out.

Anyway, great topic!

Write on, Write from the heart.

laughingwolf said...

money IS a motivator, of sorts... at least, an incentive lol

but you're right, we do it for the thrill, by and large

ok, ok... SOME bragging rights, too ;)

Josephine Damian said...

Alert the media! It's official!

Stuart Neville, my Prince of Darkness, and the writer formerly known as "Conduit," has landed an agent - and not just any agent - but literary powerhouse and legend, Nat Sobel.

His agency, Sobel Weber Associates, New York, represents a few scribes you might have heard of: James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia, American Tabloid), Joseph Wambaugh (The Choirboys, The Onion Field, Hollywood Station), Pulitzer winner Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool, Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs), F.X. Toole (Rope Burns - adapted for the screen as the multi Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby - and Pound for Pound), Robert Jordan (the Wheel of Time series), Tim Dorsey (the Serge Storms series), and many more.

Oh, Nat also loves him some cats. My kind of guy.

And how did Stuart get on the Uber agent’s radar? I’m going to steal a bit of Stuart’s thunder and reveal to my blog peeps that Mr. Sobel scouted him on the Internet. That’s right – a big name agent was scouring the online crime magazines and plucked our man from obscurity. (of course I’ve been singing Stuart’s praises loud and clear since last fall when I first read his work in Agent Nathan’s Bransford’s writing contest). To those of you that don’t believe agents are poking around the world wide web looking for The Next Big Thing – here’s your proof. Here. Is. Your. Proof.

So do stop by and give a big shout out to the literary world’s best and brightest rising star!

*shake my booty*

Having already read Stuarts’s manuscript (it already holds the distinction of being only one of four books I liked well enough to finish this year) GHOSTS OF BELFAST, I can tell you it’s nothing by clover ahead for this blessed son of Northern Ireland.

Chumplet said...

Oh yay, Josie! Thanks for telling us! I must scoot over and congratulate our Conduit.

Kanani said...

As far as John, I think his big effort is to make back that 1.3 advance for the publisher, plus a profit. So that's why he's going to all the effort to tour extensively with his brother Augusten, which probably helps a lot in terms of draw and sales of books. The publisher has marketed the books together and often I see the side-by-side over at BN.

But yes, keep the day job. One look at writing programs and every teacher there has a book or two published.

Kiersten said...

Hey, I never got a chance to thank you! I got EE's portrait in the mail, and it made my night. You're very talented! But with that subject matter, who wouldn't be inspired?

(Okay, stop laughing.)

Thanks again!

Bernita said...

I'm happy when I can buy a tank of gas.

Chumplet said...

Yes, Kanani! Sell through and it's royalty time! Since I had zero advance, every dollar is royalty.

I'm glad the portrait arrived safe and sound, Kiersten.

Not only gas, Bernita - I'd be happy to afford the GOOD toilet paper.

Whirlochre said...

Just to let you know that I've tagged you with one of those ridiculous meme things.

Apols if you don't want to play - it's a bit like kiss-chase for would-be intellectuals. Or dimwits.

Details are posted over at my blog.

wordtryst said...

Just popping by to let you know that author/literary agent/writing coach Orna Ross will be stopping by my blog on Sunday 18th, (that's a few hours away) and will answer (on Monday) any questions left in the comment trail. You're welcome to drop in!

Strange, I was pondering this very question (the money) just days ago, and wondering why we do it. It definitely isn't for the money (what money?) - unless we're all hard-core gamblers at heart.

"I'd be happy to afford the GOOD toilet paper." LOL! Thank goodness - I don't feel so alone any more...!

Chumplet said...

Whirlochre, I'll try to post the answers to your meme in a few days, but I don't generally pass the game on, although the questions are interesting. I'll invite anyone to participate but won't impose on anyone in particular.

Wordtryst, I'll drop in tomorrow!