People have the impression that writing a book = making money. That by writing a book you’ll suddenly be rolling in dough. Advances! Royalties! Cash!
But it just doesn’t work like that.
Not only is this an absurd notion for a little book like mine — I’ll be happy if it covers the expenses we incurred while writing it — it doesn’t even hold true for New York Times bestsellers, as author Lynn Viehl outlines in this blog post. Her bottom line is simple: Despite a $50,000 advance, selling about 73,000 copies and hitting #19 on the New York Times bestsellers list, you’d make more money stocking shelves at the local supermarket than she did on book sales for this book.
It’s important to know what an advance is. An advance is money given to you up front. Royalties are money earned on book sales. Money earned from royalties are held against the advance. In other words, if you got a $10,000 advance, you won’t see any money from royalties until you’ve exceeded $10,000.
(Full disclosure: We did not get an advance for A Year of Hitchcock, so for us, this is a moot point. Everything we earn will be from royalties.)
Even more, seeing a book on store shelves does not mean the author earned any money on it. Book stores return unsold books. Authors do not earn royalties on returned books. So, on the shelf does not = a sale, and hence it does not = income.
Stephen King, John Grisham, James Patterson, Tom Clancy, the guys who move millions of books and get movie deals and all the rest? THEY make a lot of money. But most authors make very modest incomes, if they make any income at all.
Which is why the next time I hear someone ask me about the money that will surely come rolling in, I’m going to scream.