WRITING Lessons: #1
Warning: this is a no-edit zone…
It’s already been a busy morning, and I wish I could say it was with good news. Instead, it’s been a steady influx of not-so-good to bad news.
A major publisher is scaling back 4%, editorial jobs are going away, authors are being cut loose. Normal shifts to bring the company in line with the ever-changing market, but ones that have a powerful impact on authors’ lives.
Across the board, multi-published authors are undergoing significant changes in their publication schedules (typically publishing half-a-dozen books per year and are now down to publishing two, or publishing two and are now down to one) and the very real impact is that the decrease puts authors’ families finances in dire jeopardy.
Of all the news, this immpact troubles me most. Far too often, I hear from writers who say, “But the publisher told me to expect between x and x earnouts on each book.” And the author budgets accordingly and then it doesn’t happen.
And that brings me to Lesson #1…
Lesson #1: when you write books for a living and someone else publishes them, it’s dangerous to bank your financial future on their earning expectations.
I’m not saying the publisher’s intentions are not good and honorable. I am saying that too many outside factors come into play that can’t be anticipated. And as much as we love and rely on readers, no one can accurately predict what they will want to read over a year down the road. Stuff happens.
When you sell on synopsis or proposal, the book isn’t yet written. It takes time to write it. Then the average in-house production time is a year. (Nonficiton can move a lot faster–i.e., Bob Woodward’s book was just finished two months ago and is now published. But let me tell you, Simon & Schuster had to pull off miracles and jump through halo-hoops to make it happen). That’s NOT typical for fiction. For fiction, you’re looking at a year.
So at the time the book is contracted, the publisher is specullating on what will be going on a year and a half to two years down the road.
Now maybe you’re comfortable betting your family’s finances on others being excellent speculators, but it’s a lot less risky to bank on your own assessment and budget according to what you have in hand.
Early on in my writing career, a veteran author told me to count on the money in my hand. Not on advances on future books–contracts can be cancelled–not on royalties–many books never earn out their advances. If those things do come, then terrific. But if they don’t, or circumstances change, then you’re not screwed and your family’s finances aren’t in jeopardy.
It was good advice, then and it’s good advice now. And so I’m passing it on–hopefully in time for some authors to benefit from it as I have.
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