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July 26th, 2010

Getting ready for the RWA national conference, in the House of Mouse, Orlando FL. I will be signing twice. Times and rooms are listed on the Appearances page.

But since I am thinking about writing, here is a short FAQ for new writers. And don’t worry, if you just asked me this question, only to drive me into a blogging fit. I get asked all of these, all the time. Time to gather them up and answer.

How much do you make?

The answer to this is either: “I don’t know” or “Less than you think.”

I never would have believed that, when I was first trying to get published. I figured there was some kind of illuminati handshake involved, before anyone told you the straight dope on how stinkin’ rich they all were.

Turns out, it’s true. A writer’s primary income gets paid in two ways: advances, and royalties. The advance check is the up-front money, and it’s a loan out of the royalty money, which is a percent of every book. Right now, I do at least two books a year, and my advances are 4 figures, not 7.

Since you cannot predict sales, you cannot predict royalties. For me, that check comes twice a year. I can make a guess at its size. But I am wrong about half the time.

I expect my income to go up, if I keep at this. But to give you a vague idea of the yearly total right now? More than minimum wage. But not that much more. That’s before expenses. And there is no health insurance. And no two years have been the same.

Have I mentioned how much I love my working husband, lately?

How long will it take to make enough so I can quit my job?

“I don’t know.” And “How much money do you need to live?”

If your first book is an Oprah best seller, your mileage will vary from mine. But it can still take a year and a half or more from “the call” to the beginnings of regular writing income. If you have savings, a second income, or a low standard of living? That will help.

It has been five years since I sold. I’ve been a full time writer for 3 ½ of them. And that is because I accidentally quit my job. I went in to the boss’s office, thinking I was going to cut my hours to part time.
Strangely enough, he was not thinking that. Given the choice of working full time or throwing myself into writing and hoping for the best, I gave notice on the spot.

How do you manage to stay on task?

There is nothing like “sink or swim” to clarify the mind and give purpose to the career plan. I had books under contract, and had just quit the best job in the area for my skill set.

But the short answer for everyone else is: “Treat writing like a job.” Set regular hours, and stick to them.

How long do you wait before calling your publisher about a missing royalty statement?

The answers again: “I don’t know” or “Maybe a week.”

I don’t know because it’s never happened.

But if it did, I’d be on the phone the next week to find out what the problem was. I do this for a living. I love my job. I feel I’m on friendly terms with my editors. I like them. I want them to be happy. I do not bug them all the time, and am always polite.

But they do not cut my checks. And I am all about the Benjamins. The accounting department is probably full of nice people that I would probably like them if I met them. But as far as I know, it could be run by a machine. It is smooth, regular, and automatic. The fact that they do their jobs so well makes it possible for me to do mine, without worrying that they are going to forget to send me half a year’s wages.
But if they mess up, my personal finances will be screwed. If there is ever a problem, I will call them, politely, ASAP, so they can fix it. And they will. They are really good at their jobs.

But if you complain, won’t you get a bad reputation in the industry?

I hear this a lot about everything from money to edits to contracts. Writers are very worried that they will make their publisher mad, and ruin everything. Hell, I sometimes worry about this. But not about money. I jokingly tell everyone that I work for a soulless corporation. But I mean soulless in the nicest sense of the word. They act like a business, and not someone’s crazy best friend, Betty, who you need to walk past on tiptoe because she really should be on some different meds.

My publisher isn’t going to try and guilt me into silence if I have a money or contract problem. They aren’t going to cry or yell or hang up on me, if I ask a polite question. They aren’t going to talk about me behind my back to other publishers and ruin my career.

Really, why would they care what other publishers think of me? It’s not like they are going to protect their competition from me. If I am too big a pain in the ass to work with, or not making sales, they will kick me to the curb. But they will cannot get me blackballed from the industry.

Crazy BF Betty publisher might be vindictive, but a soulless corporation is not. If I am a huge waste of resources, and a PITA, they might even be happy to inflict me on the competition. But mostly, they just won’t care.

But what if you’re wrong, and I call, and they get mad and won’t publish my books any more, and I’m never published again?

If your publisher is crazy, or angry, or both, and they gossip about you to other writers and publishers, and won’t answer the phone or e-mails, and you aren’t getting paid, does it really matter so much if you can’t work with them anymore?

You can’t please people like this. You can only avoid them. They aren’t good business people. They aren’t good publishers. Don’t go there. And don’t let your friends go there either.

But my publisher is my friend…

No they aren’t. BFFs don’t screw each other over.

Your publisher is a company. Your editor works for them. It is ok to be friendly with them, of course. And all my advice, direct to you is to be polite in business dealings, even if you have a beef. But do not think that their best interests are always the same as yours.

Also, the “never published again” thing can happen to anybody. Sometimes, a career just dies, and there is nothing to be done, and no one to fault. But normal people lose their jobs too. Try not to worry about it.

As a writer, you can control the quality of your work, and your own personality. Work on craft. Be polite. Meet deadlines. Take your meds (or at least a multivitamin, and maybe some calcium). Being healthy, sane and having a good work ethic increases the chance that you will continue working.

The only other power you have is to recognize a bad deal when you see one, and walk away from it. Do not fool yourself into thinking that any publisher is better than no publisher. It is better to remain unpublished and wait for a better deal than to let some loony ruin your self confidence and get a death grip on the rights to your work.