The Reality of a Writer’s Life
Or the Hard Facts of Why Readers Should Think Twice About Piracy and “Free Books.”
Before I begin with my post, I want to state I am very much against book piracy, but not against free books. I do, however, think offering books for free should be the author’s, or publisher’s, choice, NOT a reader’s prerogative. I also want to say, this is not a condemnation or a taking to task of readers in general. The majority of them are darling angels that authors depend on. This post is merely offering up information and enlightenment for, perhaps, common misconceptions. In addition, all number and figures are based on my experiences (and possibly bad math skills); some other authors may have smaller or larger publishing costs.
Now on with the rant…
When most non-writing people think of “authors” they think of the big boys, the bestsellers raking in the money. They are, though, a minority when it comes to authors. Most writers are lucky if they eke a living from their writing without supplementary income. That is a fact, and one writers deal with or decide not to write for a living. And I’m not asking for sympathy for this fact, it’s just the way the job works. What I am saying is that writing is a job. Yes, it may be “artistic” but it’s still work.
And like all work, we want to get paid for it.
We may love what we do, but we still need cash to pay the expenses.
And writers do have expenses. Especially indie authors.
Let me break it down for you.
It takes me three to five months to write the first draft of a novel (if everything goes smoothly). This writing does not happen as in the movies with a writer frantically tapping on a keyboard for uninterrupted hours at a time. It happens in spurts and fits between doing laundry, dishes, marketing, other work, running errands, the occasional family crisis, and so on and on…
After the first draft it’s weeks more editing and polishing until I have a fully functioning manuscript. At this point I’ve invested several months of hard work and time into one book. So you say, off to the publisher, right? Wrong.
If I decide to try and submit to a publisher, it’s weeks more, months more, even years more rounds of queries and rejections, until hopefully acceptance. All the while I’m writing more books in-between life.
But that’s if I go the route of traditional publishing. If I go indie, here’s what happens.
I find a professional editor. A service I pay for, generally around 500-800 dollars (novellas, which is what I’ve previously published will run 200-300 dollars) depending on the length of the novel, and the editing service. Some services are cheaper, sometimes you can get deals, but by far editing is the most money you’ll shell out to self-publish a book.
Let’s round it up and say I’m now 600 dollars in the hole for my book. That’s the minimum amount I’ll have to make back before I even see a profit. That’s assuming I can design my own book covers and format my own books (which I generally do). Most authors have to shell out more money for either cover design or pre-made covers, and formatting. And of course, after the editing is done, there may (may meaning the probability is high) be a few more hundred dollars for proofreading costs.
So let’s round up again to a nice $800 dollar cost for publishing my book. And this doesn’t include marketing costs, which can tack on another few hundred.
So in one final roundup, let’s go with 1000 dollars in costs, shall we.
So this is what I will pay to publish a novel. But wait, you say, you’ll rake in the dough in royalties, right? That 70% Amazon ebook cut, right?
Well, not quite. If I price my book at 5.99 (and that’s a big if, more likely it will be priced between 2.99 and 3.99) I make about $4.20 per book (if I did the math right there). That means I have to sell 239 books just to break even. If I don’t sell that number, I’m losing money. The more money I lose, the less likely the next book gets published in a timely manner, or at all. And if a book is priced at less than 2.99 you get a 30% royalty share, and an even bigger financial hole to climb out of.
Which brings me to my point. Publishing books isn’t free. Asking authors to publish their books for free isn’t fair. Pirating books, and downloading books from pirate sites, makes it that much harder for indie authors to make a living. It might put some out of business permanently.
However, this does not mean (and I know this is weird, considering what I just said) free books don’t have a place in the publishing business. They do. But authors need to control that place. They need to factor free book offerings into their marketing to boost overall sales, and factor them into their costs.
Free books are not a right, and they are not a privilege. Don’t treat them like one. Free books, like all books, are a product, a commodity, if one born from creative minds. Books are forged from hard work and imagination, an amalgam of invention and art. Be gracious to their authors.