“Publishing is a business. Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars.” – Nicholas Sparks
Obviously, I work in Pounds Sterling (until Brexit requires us to trade exclusively in Tears of Regret) but the general sentiment from Mr Sparks is spot on. Whether it be self-publishing or traditional, publishing is a business and, after your book-baby is ready for market, I wholeheartedly believe that there’s not much room for sentimentality.
ADVICE FROM MY PARENTS TO MY 7-YEAR-OLD SELF
I’ve adored writing since I can remember. When I showed
talent enthusiasm for storytelling in class, my Year 3 teacher, Mrs. Goode, told me that books were actually written by people – like me, but grown-up. This was their job and they got paid for it. After that, there was no other career for me. Mrs. Goode encouraged me in my ambition and I promised that one day, I would dedicate my first published book to her. This is a promise I intend to keep, by the way… y’know, if and when I ever get published.
When I told my parents I wanted to be an author ‘when I grew up’, they replied with “You’d best get a proper job too,” by which they meant one that pays enough to survive on. Not exactly what an enthusiastic 7-year-old wants to hear! However, it turned out to be the soundest piece of advice they have ever given me, with the exception of “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.”
- It is hard to get published (traditionally). This is a fact. Competition is high and there are so many moving parts.
- It is even harder to be a ‘success’ story; by which I mean that you:
- a) make back any advance a publishing house gives you (T) and
- b) can support yourself financially with royalty cheques (T) / sales (SP).
Back in 2015, I wrote an article called “The Future of Writing: Is being an author a viable career?“ which stated that the average author earned £11,000 a year. That’s less than minimum wage and obviously less than a living wage. Sadly I have no statistics on today’s wages but I assume the average hasn’t shifted much in the past 3 years. This is simply the reality of writing books and so I have always believed in having a separate career to support my dream. Ambition is laudable, but pragmatism is better. As the old adage goes, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
The article also stated that in a traditional publishing deal, an author could hope for 15% of the book cover price. This is because – as publishing is a business – the process of manuscript-to-bookshop is a lengthy and complicated one, which involves many people:
- literary agents
- the marketing department
All of these people need to be paid. They’re professionals and excellent at what they do, and deserve to be paid for it, the same as the author does.
Their collective expertise is the reason I would always attempt to traditionally publish a book instead of self-publishing, even though the profit percentage of self-publishing is much higher. In order to successfully self-publish a book, you need to be an author, agent, editor, cover designer and marketer all at once. Quite frankly, I don’t have the skills or time to do that and hold down a day-job. I applaud those who do but… well, you’ve seen my self-designed book cover, right? Yeah, exactly. Moreover, I barely have time to write a blogpost a week, let alone continually market my book. As valid as self-publishing is, I would rather focus on writing the stories and let someone else do the rest.
A LITTLE REMINDER
As much as I personally favour traditional publishing houses over self-publishing, there is a caution tag to add to my enthusiasm. Publishing is a business. The primary objective of all businesses is profit. For this reason, authors should read their contracts carefully and pay special attention to things like intellectual property rights / copyright. If you are signing a contract that relates solely to book profit, what happens if your story is selected for film, tv or even radio? If you are granted an advance but your sales don’t match what you were given, do you have to pay the difference? These are questions you should know the answer to before you sign on the dotted line.
For many authors, a publishing deal is the dream but the end-game should be approached without rose-tinted glasses. In the same way that you should pick the right literary agent for you and not just the first one who says yes, you should always go into contract negotiations with your eyes wide open – and possibly accompanied by a lawyer. You wouldn’t buy a house, a car, sign an employee contract or start up a business with another person without reading everything properly and this is exactly the same thing.