Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Much Money Writers Make

One of my nieces told me this week that she's writing a book! I was very excited for her, of course. I have lots of happy memories throughout my childhood of writing my own stories...of finding some paper and folding and stapling it into a book, and then grabbing my trusty pencil, turning to the first page, and spinning fabulous tales that would take me anywhere I wanted to go.

Well, some things have changed. My niece tells me she's writing it on the computer. I can't say I blame her; that's what I do myself, now. But there's something charming and inviting about those folded-paper books, and flipping through those blank pages and wondering what will be on them as my story unfolds.

After we discussed her story a little bit, she asked me how much money I made from my book Just the Way You Are that was published last year. Well! Kids these days do know what's most important. I told her "not as much as I wanted to make," but I think that was a little more vague than she was wanting.

OK, Niki, here's the scoop. When someone publishes your book, there are a lot of people involved. There are usually a few people who read it over and help you fix things that need to be fixed. This is their job and they need to be paid for it. Then there are the people who actually put the book together into a book--people who make the pages look nice, people who design the cover, and so forth. They also need to be paid. The company that actually prints the books and puts them together needs to be paid, too. And the publisher who's overseeing all this wants some money, too.

But that's not all. Then someone has to "distribute" the book. That means they get it put into bookstores. If no one distributes it to bookstores, then guess what happens? Your book won't be in any stores! And if it isn't in any stores, it's pretty hard to get people to buy it. Distributors also get your book put in online stores like and (It is kind of fun to bring up these websites and see your book for sale there, and to see comments people have left about your book.)

Then the bookstores buy however many copies of the book that they want. They pay a lower price than people who buy the book at the store will pay. The reason why is because the bookstore needs to make money, too.

If you look at the back of my book, you'll see that it has a price on the cover at the bottom. The price is $16.95. This is how much it will cost you if you buy the book in a store. The store can offer a discount if they want. They might sell more copies of a book if they offer it at a lower price, but then they won't make as much money from selling it.

So, after all of these people get paid from putting together my book and selling it, guess how much money I get for each copy of the book that is sold? $16.95? No way. $15? $14? Not even close.

I get about 74 cents for every copy of my book that is sold. 74 cents! So, if they sell 1000 copies in bookstores, I get $740. But if they sell 100,000 copies, I get $74,000. (That is, if I don't demand that my publisher increase my royalty rates because my book sold so many copies.) So, you can make lots of money IF lots of people buy your book. But the truth of the matter is--and this is the sad part--most books don't sell anywhere near 100,000 copies. (And many of those that do are sold in bulk and the author makes even less per book than I do.)

But there are other ways to make money. I can buy copies of my book from my publisher for a lower price than you can buy them in the stores. Then I can sell them for more money. So, if I sold them for $5 more than I paid for them, and I sell them to 20 people, I'd make $100. Some writers "self-publish" their books--they pay a company some money (instead of the company paying them) and they make the book for them. Then these writers have to take care of distributing the book to bookstores themselves, and advertising, and everything else (unless they pay someone else to do it), but the nice thing is that they get more money for each book they sell. People who are good at selling lots of things by themselves can do really well with this option.

And there's always the chance that a movie producer would want to make a movie from my book and would be willing to pay lots of money for the movie rights. Part of that money would go to my publisher, but I'd get to keep the rest. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

But so far I haven't been approached by any movie producers. I don't think it will be happening any time soon. But I'll let you know when it does.

(Maybe then I can buy an iPod.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Still iPodless

A few days ago I told my family that I'd invented a new word. When I had their attention, I told them: "iPodless," looking meaningfully into my husband's eyes.

Both husband and son laughed. "You'd better get used to using that word," Husband said. "You'll be using it a long time."

...and all this time I only THOUGHT I lived at my house

True story. After having lived in Wisconsin for nearly two years, yesterday I finally got myself down to the DMV to get my Wisconsin driver's license. I know, I should have done it sooner, but I can give you a million reasons why I had to put it off (or forgot). Anyway, I'd done my homework. I knew what they'd ask for. They wanted a couple of forms of identification, including my old Utah license, and they wanted proof that I actually lived in Wisconsin now. I found a few bills that I expected to do the trick, and I was on my way.

Anyone who's been to the DMV knows that the wait is very, very, very long. So I'll skip that part. Those of you in Oklahoma who can go to tag agents in your neighborhood instead are extremely lucky.

My number was called, and I went up to the window and presented my application and supporting materials. When the nice gentleman got to the part about documenting my residency, I gave him our electric bill. What follows is pretty much exactly how it happened. True story.

Nice Gentleman: We can't accept this. This doesn't have your name on it.

Me: It has my husband's name on it.

Nice Gentleman: It has to have your name on it.

Me: But the utilities are in my husband's name.

Nice Gentleman: It has to have your name on it.

Me: (whipping out my "Plan B" documentation, having anticipated this problem earlier) Well, here's a bill with my name on it.

Nice Gentleman: This is a cell phone bill. We only accept land line telephone bills.

Me: (feeling smug) Ah, but look. This bill with my name on it shows the same address as the electric bill with my husband's name on it.

Nice Gentleman: We only accept land line telephone bills.


Nice Gentleman: I'm sorry, we can't accept that.

Me: (whipping out my "Plan C" documentation, feeling miffed) Okay, here's another bill. This is a cable bill, and it has my name on it and my address.

Nice Gentleman: We can't accept that, either. We only accept electric bills, gas bills, and land line telephone bills.

Me: (feeling desperate) What about a house deed? We own a house in Wisconsin. My name is on the deed to the house.

Gentleman: No, we can't accept that, either. (He pulls out a list that I've already been over many times.) This is the list of what we accept of proof of residency. You clearly need to study this list.

Me: I've already been over this list, and I don't have any of these things.

(He doesn't believe me and goes over the list item by item. I shoot down every single item on the list. I don't have a Wisconsin bank account because we've been happy with our banking in Utah and we like it where it is. The utilities are all in my husband's name. I'm not attending school in Wisconsin, so I don't have official records there. I don't have a paystub from a Wisconsin employer because I work freelance, and so far I haven't worked for anyone in Wisconsin.)

Me: Look. I've lived in Wisconsin for almost two years, and I should have a Wisconsin license.

Gentleman: Yes, you should.

Me: But I can't have one.

Gentleman: Nope.

So, according to the DMV, I don't live in Wisconsin. I fully understand and support their reasons for requiring proof of residency, but when I can live in the state for almost two years and still not meet their requirements, something is wrong with the system.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's iPod...

...or thy son's iPod. Or thy husband's iPod.

You know, up until recently, I thought an iPod would be fun to have, but it wasn't anything I really thought about. Even when my son got a Nano for his birthday last year at his request (demand?) it was way down there on my own list of things I aspired to own. Things like, oh, a house, a car that worked, bathtowels that weren't frayed on all four sides, maybe a blender--things that we needed were much higher.

Not anymore.

My husband's birthday came along not too long ago, and my son decided that what Dad really wanted was an iPod of his own. After thinking about it for about ten seconds, I decided, sure, why not? So I went to the store, picked one up, took it home (well, OK, I paid for it first), and hid it until the magic hour of birthday presents.

He was happy with it, all right. I was glad I'd gotten him a good present for once.

Then he spent several evenings ripping CD's. And he and our son exchanged songs. They've been comparing notes on how many gigs they have filled up with music. My husband can listen to his iPod for 2.4 days straight and never hear the same song twice, he says. And that's only the beginning. We have to buy more CD's now so he can fill up his iPod. Or buy more music online.

I am left out of these discussions and collaborations because I have nothing to contribute.

I watch them walk around connected to their iPods. They can take music with them wherever they go. Meanwhile, I'm still fumbling with the family stereo, and turning up the music too loud so I can hear it in another room. While I have to run and switch CD's out, they can flip instantly to any song they want.

I used to be happy with the family stereo.

The ultimate injustice came last night at the dinner table. Both Husband and Son were hooked up to their music. I could hear bits and pieces drift through their respective earbuds. But I ate my meatballs alone in pitiful silence. Poor, poor iPodless me.

I'm going to have to come up with a way to get even. I'll have to turn up the stereo louder than their iPods so they can't hear. Or I'll have to start talking really quietly while they have their earbuds in their ears. I could say, "Honey, I'm taking all of the money out of your wallet now and putting it in my piggy bank," and if their music's too loud they'd never know. Or maybe I should just get up in the middle of the night and hide their earbuds in, say, the fishtank, and solve the problem altogether. Wah ha ha ha...

Or I could just wait till my own birthday in a million years and hope I get my own iPod. But that's the mature, patient way to deal with things. Maybe that'll happen when I'm patient and mature. Meanwhile, boys, hold onto your earbuds.

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