writing rengeek magpie mind

July 2014



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don't have to speak anymore

Somebody just emailed to ask me, in light of Amazonfailers saying how overpaid (and wealthy and greedy) authors are, how long it takes me to write a book. She phrased it in terms of 40 hour work weeks.

I had to answer, I have no idea.

My schedule for today:

6:30 am: wake up, roll over, push cat off laptop and start writing Grail.
8:30 am: 771 words! Good enough. Time to quit and go for a run, do some yoga, shower, eat breakfast. (While running, work on plot elements for Shadow Unit.
9:30 am: back at the laptop, reading a book for review, answering business emails, waiting for mailman, proofreading galleys
12:00 pm: Run errands--bread, dental floss, vitamins, kitty drugs 
1:00 pm: Go to gym, swim, think about a scene for The Steles of the Sky.
2:00 pm: Eat a heck of a lot of sushi.
3:00 pm: Home, working. Write that scene for The Steles of the Sky (already written in my head.) Write another portion of the scene for Grail. Damn character still not dead.  Maybe tomorrow morning.
6:00 pm: Fuck this, I'm starving.
7:00 pm: Brush dog and watch Memento
9:30 pm: take out trash, take dog out, feed dog (OMG we need dogfood yesterday), crap cats have no water, can nobody in this place but me wash a dish?
10:00 pm: answer work emails, pet cats, back to reading that book for review. I thought I might get the review written tonight, and I still might, but I wrote this blog post instead.
Midnight: fall the hell over.

I get paid somewhere around $12,000 for a book. That's before my agent and the IRS get their cut. If you want to know how I write three books a year? That's how. If you want to know why I write three books a year....


You know what? It's a great job, but I'm in it for the love, not the money.

You know, publishing runs on tiny little margins. I happen to think a book that takes me something like three years of my life to write (albeit intermittently) is worth $15.99 if you want to read it as soon as it comes out. (And I also think $4.99 is a fair price for backlist.)

See, only about 10% of the cost of a book is paper and ink. There's all that effort that goes into it, too--the effort of people like me, and my editors, and my copyeditors, and the cover artists, and the book designers.

Every single one of those people has to pay rent and eat. Some of them, poor sots, live in Manhattan, because that's where they keep the publishing industry these days.

I'm a professional, with years of experience and practice behind me. I have a shiny rocketship or two and a couple of cheeseboards that say other people also think I'm halfway good at my job.

I am not a bestseller. I am a midlist author with no spouse, no means of support other than writing, and no family money. I work hard.

(I'm not actually interested in discussing this topic; nor am I interested in arguing it. As far as I'm concerned, the current slapfight is exactly as boring as every other slapfight I've ever seen, and I don't have time to moderate a slapfight. But I did think it would be nice to give a solid answer to the question "So how long does it take you to write a book?" So here it is, and I am taking the unusual step (for me) of screening comments from non-friends.)

And if you excuse me, I have to go read this book so I can turn in this damned book review.

ETA And it's one AM and I finished that book finally. Night, guys. </b>


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No artist is paid what their work is worth.
My advances are about the same as yours. It takes me about 200 total hours to write, revise, and proof a book. That's not such a bad hourly wage, but I can only get about two of them done per year, and as you well know, the payment cycle is over two years long, less agent commission.

So, erm, not a lot of money. Especially not per annum.
And frankly? Very little of my income comes from Amazon, and even less from ebooks.

A hell of a lot of it comes from supermarkets and airports, though.

It's a great job, but I'm in it for the love, not the money.

Yeah. But the money makes a love a lot easier. I made piles of money for my first coupla books, and was all enthusiastic about writing more; then I made significantly less for my next few, and have since downgraded my novel-writing to part-time.

Some of that creeping disinterest would have happened anyway, as I'm not good at doing the same thing endlessly. (And I'm certainly not protesting my hard luck; on the contrary, I was ridiculously fortunate.) But people who claim that author pay doesn't matter because Real Writers do it for the love are self-deluding morons. Less money for writers means fewer good books.
Personally? I would love to be able to afford to write one book a year. That seems reasonable to me.
Reminds me of people who see a some poor academic slave of a lecturer teaching four three hour lecture classes in a killer piece-work term, and say wooooooooo, that slacker dude is only working twelve hours a week.
(Have heard.)
Been there. Done that. Heard that song. Didn't like it then; don't like it now. Doesn't mean we won't hear it again, though.
I, for one, am totally fine with paying $15.99, or $21.99, to read a book that's taken you three or five or however many years of your life to write. You write things that nobody else can write, and they make me think, and transport me to a different time and place, and there is nobody else who can do your job, and I'm ... not proud, but joyful or pleased or something glad to be in a position to benefit from it, and support you (and your publishers for having the good sense to make your books available to me.)

Anyway, I don't expect or want a cookie for thinking that authors and artists who create things that change the way we see the world, or that simply amuse us for a time, deserve to be paid well, and that their work is worth my money. I just, I wish you all didn't have to deal with quite so many people who seem to think that you should work for nothing or that, at any rate, they should not need to support you, even though they want to consume your work.
You know, I've got a hell of a socialist streak. I'd just be happy with healthcare, a living wage, time to see my family, and no constant sensation of impending death by overwork.
Bwah? Wealthy? Greedy? Overpaid? Authors?!?

How can anyone who actually reads anything even say that?

The only authors who actually get to "wealthy" have tie-ins like movies. Overpaid is highly subjective - is Stephen King (for example) overpaid? Depends on what you think of his writing. But he sure didn't start out that way. Greedy? That's as subjective as overpaid.

Yeesh. Idjits.
Sometimes, in nasty moments, I feel like John Grisham and Stephen King and Dan Brown are overpaid (best-selling authors whose books I don't like).

But when you come down to it, that kind of earning is about the most honest there is. Nearly every penny that reaches the author was voluntarily handed over by a customer who knew that author was the target (probably overestimated how much of it went to the author, actually). My libertarian side insists that that can't be too evil. No matter how little I like their books.

Depending on where you draw the line on "wealthy" I'm not sure you're completely right that it never comes primarily from writing. Heinlein's did, back when; he did have a couple of movie involvements, but those weren't a big source of his wealth. And I wonder what Tom Clancy's books would look like; there have been several movies, but have they been tremendously successful? Oh, I know -- W.E.B. Griffin. Repeated NYT bestseller and lots and lots of backlist in print, and no movies that I can think of.

One of the things authors have the least ability to negotiate with publishers is royalty rates. So being "greedy" won't help much there. Now, if "greed" gets you to work hard and write good books faster, maybe it will pay off -- or maybe you'll burn out and produce hackwork, if your heart isn't in it. Nothing is certain in this business.
I just saw Memento is psych! :D

Don't let dumb people bug you. "Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self." -Cyril Connolly *stolen off of CM's wikiquote*
Just like I can't imagine not thinking about stories all the time, it must be really hard to imagine thinking about them all the time.

I have a 15 hour work day, sometimes, because of story building in my head...and have been in an 11+ year training program.
As a fast reader, I bemoan how long it takes for someone to WRITE a book vs how long it takes me to read it and go "moar plz?"

And as someone who buys well over 20 books a month even if she does read too much on the internet these days, sure it would be nice if they were cheaper.

But they can't be. I'd actually rather pay more, because I just want you (nonspecific author-you, it's not all on your head!) to give me more to read! I consider this MUCH more important than you working a nine to five job that pays rent. (Life is much simpler when it's all about ME, what can I say? >_> )

Really, though, I just have to say that "Write another portion of the scene for Grail. Damn character still not dead. Maybe tomorrow morning." made me laugh and laugh. I love reading author blogs for lovely lovely bits like that.
I tried, I really did. But just barely got to the fight scene.
For me the question of how much I'll pay to read something is moot; I'm a librarian. Most of what I read is checked out to me, and all I pay is the tax that allows me to enjoy a free library card.

So there, Amazon.

ETA: Just realized this may not sound great to an author who depends on people buying what they write. Rest assured, I do buy the book if I happen to love it.
I may be wrong about this, but I believe that libraries are a great source of author income - libraries after all must buy the book before they can lend it. And books bought and checked out often are sometime bought more than once. So. Authors like libraries.
Creative jobs are very hard to compare to routine jobs. People who don't do much creative work probably have no idea. (I consider software development a kind of creative work, and despite being done in an office for an employer mostly, it's still true that you can't force good code to come exactly when you need it, and you can't push the hours too hard when doing more creative parts of the work. Other bits you can push harder on and get useful output. I think it's more subject to pushing than writing for most people.)
Software development is indeed creative. I've lived with a programmer for 3 decades and he's always staring off into space writing in his head. The time he spends at a computer is nothing to the time he devotes to the task. I can take him anywhere and he's content to work away happily to himself. There's always something to he's working on.
"But Stephen King is a millionaire!"

So you know, all writers are millionaires! And all writers live in Bangor, ME!
Unless they are female, in which case they live in the UK and are billionaires, because JK Rowling is a billionaire!

Or is that if they're Americans, they're Stephen King, and if they're Brits, they're Rowling? I can never keep you all straight, you filthy rich writer people.

Also: Music should be free!


Hey, my kid could paint that!

I do a lot of writing scenes in my head on the bus. Anyway, my opinion is that the people who think novelists are overpaid are the same ones who think that a blogger (who doesn't get paid at all unless there are ads) should either 1) Be Pure, meaning no ads, 2) Write what they want rather than what amuses the blogger, or 3) Both. Now, if you want enough traffic to justify ad revenue, by all means give the people what they want. But that means writing something popular, NOT letting Random Q. Internetguy tell you what to do. If I'm not getting paid for my blog (which I'm not) that means I am writing for my own amusement, which means you get both my political opinions and anecdotes about my cats.

The economics of it is partially why modern poetry is sometimes so inaccessible to people (though it's not as much so as its reputation). No poet makes money off it, so they are writing mostly for themselves and other writers (often, other poets of their particular ilk, like songbirds singing for a mate of their own species), and the in-jokes are way convoluted. So if you want there to be poetry that is less arcane, find some you like and buy it.
Also, if you want books to be cheaper, find some you like, and buy them.

Economies of scale work in publishing too.
I'm sorry to say that I don't buy nearly as many books as I used to. I read television scripts all day at work and now reading (even though it used to be my favorite thing in the world) now reminds me of work.

Too many people assume that because the top earners in a field (look at actors) make millions, everyone in the field does too. There are thousands of actors who have to supplement their acting wages with all kinds of other jobs. I wish people would do their homework before saying silly things.
I never cease to be amazed by this stuff. (This price thing seems corollary to all of the customers at my bookstore who ask me why authors take so long to put out books when it's only been a year or less.) It boggles me. How do these people imagine writing a book goes? Do they picture us plugging our brains up to our PCs with magic USB cables and just downloading a fully realized book to the word processor in five minutes?

Boggled and baffled and displeased in general.
If you find any of those USB cables, can you send one my way? It would make things SOOO much easier. :D

And agreed, btw.
Please correct any misconceptions I have:

My understanding is that, of "succesful" novel authors, that being those who are published, and are continuing to be published, the pay differentiation pyramid is *extremely* steep.

At the top of the pyramid you have Stephen King, Dan Brown, (the late) Michael Crichton, and a handful of other top authors. We're probably talking about 1% or 2% of the "sucessful" authors who are making several orders of magnitude more then the typical midlist authors. These are the millionares and there are Damn few of them.

Below that you have some very succesful authors who, while they aren't the megastars, are still quite significantly more succesful in their genre then the bulk of everyone else. This would be the Laurel K Hamilton, Anne Rice (unless she's up there with King), and a few others. I'm guessing probably maybe 5% to 10% of the total sucesful authors. For thrillers I'm thinking John Sanford (at the top of this category) and Michael Connelly.

Below that you get into the "high end" of the midlist. These are the guys who are still midlist, but have built up enough name recognition and sales volume to where they make a pretty decent wage, by most standards, and have some level of security. I'm thinking of say, Spider Robinson (although he may have dropped from his high end), John Ringo (maybe) and some others. This is probably the top 10% of the midlist.

Below that, you get the main body of the midlist. These are the authors who work hard and struggle to make a "living wage." They are getting published, but they aren't getting rich, and making a living depends on a combination of factors beyond their control, their talent and work ethic, and often a spouse with a full-time job. Based on what you said, I'd guess you are in this area.

What would you say? Would these be about 70% of the "sucessful" authors out there?

Below that, at the bottom of the midlist, you get the people who have been published, but are now just hanging on. Maybe their first book didn't sell well, or their follow up sell-through dropped significantly for their second book. These are the authors fighting to keep what they have and not fall out of the business altogher. That's probably a good 10% to 15% of the midlist (not the total) at any given time.

Some will stay where they are, more or less, some will move up and be more secure (at least for the next book or two) and some will be essentially forced out altogether.

If I could graph it out I'd expect a pretty standard Bell Curve with the very high end being *very* small, a pretty sizeable mid-list making a more-or-less living wage, and many more authors on the "bad side" of the curve then at the top end of the curve.


That picture of the midlist is exceedingly, unrealistically rosy.

I am more "successful" simply in monetary terms, than the vast majority of my colleagues. Most writers have dayjobs or understanding spouses, and not some struggling few.

Some names you might recognize:

John Kessel teaches. Sarah Monette is married to somebody who makes a wage sufficient to support the family. Liz Williams teaches, works retail, and runs a witchcraft shop.

...and so on.
I was talking to my friend who is a town librarian last week, and recommending those Elizabeth Bear books I thought she should purchase for her library. In doing so I mentioned that I would bet Seven for a Secret was good, but I hadn't read it yet because I wasn't able to purchase it when it came out, and now it is not available on amazon and I haven't had a chance to look elsewhere for it yet.

Being the wonderful librarian that she is, when I saw her the following week, she handed me the book. She had ILLed for me, knowing I wanted to read it. Strangely, my first reaction was "No, I wanted to BUY that book. Bear deserves for me to buy that book."

I have bought the DVDs for both Life on Mars (UK) and all seasons of Criminal Minds for similar reasons. Despite having downloaded them to my computer, they just deserved to be purchased as well.

Now I will go back eying the book on my table, and decide if I am going to read it or not.
Read the damned book. Libraries are there for a reason.

Besides, it's out of print, so the only way you'll get it is second-hand for an inflated price.
Every single one of those people has to pay rent and eat. Some of them, poor sots, live in Manhattan, because that's where they keep the publishing industry these days.

I have to say, I wonder why it is they keep the publishing industry in Manhattan. Looking at cost of living in that area on even a quite generous software engineer's salary, compared with, say, Boston, makes my ears curl and my bank account go cry itself to sleep in a corner. Boston would be happy to take the publishing industry in, I bet. And Boston ain't exactly cheap either, but it's cheaper than NYC. I don't quite understand what about New York City is so awesome that people will pay such a premium to live there.

I suppose it's for the same reasons they keep the software industry in Boston, NYC, Seattle, and Silicon Valley -- critical mass of established companies, proximity to good schools, proximity to venture funding, etc. All good reasons, really.
Also, several hundred years of practice.
A couple years ago, I needed a technical writer, and a good midlist SF author was bemoaning the difficulty of paying a mortgage on authoring and adjunct-professoring money. So I hired her. Course, she didn't have a place to live here, so I let her move into my spare room.

I did this partly because I really needed a technical writer (and if you ever find yourself in that situation, you could do a hell of a lot worse than an accomplished SF writer and former English professor) and partly because of a fundamental belief that something is wrong with the universe when I -- a freely-admitted hack -- am living well writing books nobody reads about computer software nobody uses, while PKD-nominated authors are making less than what I did when I was delivering pizza or driving a truck.

I was asked to give her a reference recently. I told them "I hired her once, and I'd do it again. Hell, if I had budget, I'd do it NOW."
I -- a freely-admitted hack -- am living well writing books nobody reads about computer software nobody uses, while PKD-nominated authors are making less than what I did when I was delivering pizza or driving a truck.

Same here. I'm a technical writer. No one even looks at the stuff I've done. It's hard as hell to get anyone in the review team to look at it, so I know end-users don't look. My degree is in film. Since I have a degree at all I get paid more.

What I make writing fiction isn't enough to buy dog food for a month.
Sigh. Your day sounds wonderful. Now if I could only figure out how to work from home, arrange my own time, *and* make a decent salary....

well, I suspect if that secret could be described in a book one could retire on the proceeds.

(I spent yesterday stuck in the office from about 8:15AM - 6:45PM, with a 40 minute commute on either end of that, and then had a telecon from 9PM until after 10. On the other hand it pays well. It's always time or money, never and.)
I don't have time *or* money, frankly. But everyone assumes that since I work for myself, I have both.
I am not a bestseller. I am a midlist author...

What's depressing to those of us who write science fiction is that you're at the top of our genre right now. The meagre reward you're receiving is the absolute most that we can hope for. :)
Nope. Not even close, actually.

I'm doing incredibly well on awards and critical response, but I'm not even close to best-sellerdom.
You are and always will be a hero for me as a struggling-to-be-author and even as a human being. And a beacon of light. We are out there (your probably already knew this), us struggling writers trying to exemplify cool in the same way you do, and we are that much better off for your efforts.

In the words of "Lil Weezy F Baby, please Say the Babay": "keep doin what you're doin'.
(*you probably already knew this)

::finishes Sangria::

::goes to sleep, or tries to::
I must be crazy. I read this and want to be a writer.
I write fiction pretty quickly -- lots of time thinking before I type, admittedly -- so the wages work out okay for me, but then, I have a day job I enjoy, too, and novel money has mostly gone to paying down debt and buying used cars and having a wedding and such, rather than to keeping the lights on and buying food.

Alas, my novel career seems to have stalled with my editor's layoff last year, etc. I've admired the way you diversified across multiple publishing companies, creating something more like job security, which I haven't managed. I'm hoping to get a bite on one of the books or proposals I've got out now, but who knows. In the meantime I'm freelancing as much as possible, doing work for hire stuff, and selling short fiction... and, since my wife was out of work for six months, that writing money *is* necessary to buy food and keep the lights on lately. It was a perfect storm of suck -- my career hit turbulence just as my family's economic situation went bad.

But, still, best job in the world. I love it. I love it more when I get lots of readers and lots of money, but I love the writing regardless, even when it's hard. I do laugh when people point to me as a "successful" writer, though. Really, really depends on how you measure success. I measure it by being able to write whatever I want and find an audience for that big enough to support my efforts. Still working toward that.
Yeah. I'm not a very fast writer. My best days are around 6K and I get maybe one or two of those a year--1500-2000 words is more typical. And for that, I work pretty much all day.

I diversified because I kept getting rejecting. *g* And it worked out well, because at least one of those publishers has since dropped me.

And yeah, that's how I measure success as a writer, too. That and being able to eat. Eating is nice.
in light of Amazonfailers saying how overpaid (and wealthy and greedy) authors are

Ooh, where was this?
Not a clue. Possibly on the Kindle forums? I stopped reading anything relating to the damned slapfight sometime on Sunday. I'm semi-quoting various emails I have received about it.
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