Let’s talk money: Author royalties, or how much do you think you should be paid?

As I said last week, things have gotten increasingly difficult for new writers. No longer do editors and agents proffer a helping hand to those of us who have a fabulous manuscript that needs some help. Instead, writers are not only expected to write a brilliant book, and do impeccable research that underpins their flights of fancy (especially true for historical novelists) but they are also expected to sell their books.

The shocking thing is that this is not just true for those of us who choose to self-publish, it’s also true for those who choose to go the traditional publishing route.

The dirty little secret is that publishers will not help their mid-list authors. And these authors typically don’t find this out until it’s too late, when the 3-4 month window of opportunity for selling their book has passed.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst part about it is the low royalties that authors are expected to accept. Typically, authors are paid 6% to 10% on the NET price of the book. Net price means the price listed on the cover that’s been discounted by anywhere from 40% to 66%.

Let’s do the math. Supposing the price listed on the cover of your book is $15.95. The net price of your book will be around $8, if 50% is knocked off. What’s 10% of $8? It’s 80 cents. What’s 6%? It’s 48 cents.

Think about that. Think about all the hard work you’ve done to write your novel, and you get paid less than a dollar per book. It’s insulting.

When I think about my novels, I think about how I poured myself into them. I think about how emotional they made me. I think about the considerable amount of thought I had to put into each one, in order for it to be interesting (and easy) to read.  And I think about the fact that writing a novel is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including writing a PhD dissertation.

This is not just about money. It’s about self-respect and respect from others. Do you like being used? Do you like having that feeling of being screwed over when you’ve poured yourself into your novel? Of course you don’t.

What can you do about it? How about self-publishing? Let’s do some more math. If you sell your novel for $2.99 on Amazon, you pocket 70% of the proceeds. How much is 70% of $2.99?

$2.09.

What does that mean? By publishing it yourself, you make anywhere from TWO AND A HALF TO FOUR TIMES what you would make with a traditional publisher. And considering that a traditional publisher isn’t even going to bother to market your book (unless you happen to be that lucky author with a blockbuster on your hands), you might as well publish it yourself and pocket the proceeds.

OK, so what’s the catch?

The catch is that you’re going to have to spend an enormous amount of time marketing your work so that it actually moves. I have seen e-books sitting on Amazon, dead in the water, because no-one knows they are there. Yes, you have to sacrifice the time you would spend writing your next novel to market this one. And that is a big decision to make.

Image: 80 cents from raisetheroop.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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