Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Lo, What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks

So, after Saturday’s look into the statistical improbabilities involved in NY publishing, I first want to add a few caveats. Because, while statistics say a lot about how hard it is to get published in NY and stay there, they don’t say much about individual experience. In other words, statistics provide generalities, but assuming that they apply perfectly to you as an individual isn’t right, either.

Those numbers (some of which are validated and some of which are just my own best guesses based on my “insider” knowledge of having friends in the biz who’ve either gotten–or haven’t–multiple contracts) might make you think I’d just chuck the whole pursuit of another NY contract right out the window on the theory that it’s like playing the lottery, and there’s not much point in trying. (I do NOT, in fact, play the lottery. I always figure I win a dollar–or five or whatever the going rate is–by NOT playing. It’s 100% guaranteed rate of return if I don’t play.)

Getting a contract from a NY publisher isn’t really a lottery, though, any more than getting a contract from a epublisher is. (Epublishers don’t publish everything that’s submitted to them, either, though I believe one of the knocks against them by many outsiders is the perception that they can and will publish “anything.”)

But bottom line, the author does have a limited amount of control over getting that contract. There are no guarantees for any one project, but I do believe that honing one’s craft and keeping at it will ultimately lead to a sale–and then another and another. You just have to be willing to suffer a lot of disappointments and rejections before that happens. (Note: not all authors DO suffer those disappointments and rejections. There are a few geniuses out there–I count some among my friends–who could probably write the phone book well enough to go to auction with it. But we can’t all be those writers.)

So, no, I’m not anywhere near giving up on getting that next contract. I have a project on submission right now and, while I’m not counting on an offer for it, I’m still hopeful. But if that project doesn’t sell, my agent and I will sit down and discuss what’s next. Sooner or later, we’ll hit on the right combination of factors (story, voice, etc.) that snags that next offer. I have complete confidence in that.

But in the meantime, I would be foolish to overlook the opportunities epublishing presents for me to continue earning some income from my writing. For all the fantasticness of the “guarantee” of income an advance provides to the author, it’s only guaranteed AFTER you get an offer of publication. If you’re between contracts, it can be a long time before you see any guaranteed money, and until you get that next contract, everything you’re writing is earning you EXACTLY $0. Unless and until you sell something, you are guaranteed to be writing for free.

And that’s where epublishing comes in. I definitely draw a line in the sand between the projects I write with the intention of trying to sell them to a NY publisher and those I write with the intention of getting a contract from an epublisher, but I love the fact that I can write those shorter, slightly quirkier manuscripts and find a home for them where I can earn SOME income on those sales. To me, the possibility of earning even $50 on a story that (because it’s 25k in length or less) takes me relatively little time to write and that I wanted to write anyway seems considerably more sensible than thumbing my nose at the “unfair epub business model” and holding out for the “guaranteed” advance I may not get for months or even years.

Now, it would be a wholly different matter if I didn’t LIKE and WANT TO write stories that are a good fit for epublishers and a poor fit for most NY houses. In that case, I can see why it might be a waste of my time and effort to write for so little return on my investment. But the truth is, I enjoy writing those stories, I like the regular income stream they provide, and I am sure I get some benefit in terms of name recognition and new readers by putting out new stories on a regular basis.

Furthermore, if these were the only kind of stories I wanted to write, I imagine I might be perfectly content to be only epublished for the foreseeable future. And I could imagine a quite comfortable income from doing so, not because any one of those ebooks would earn as much as NY-published book, but because put together, my ebook backlist (once built to a certain level) could easily sell enough copies to approach the average NY advance. That’s especially true for writers who can reliably hit bestseller lists at the bigger epublishing houses.

I kind of forgot where I was going with all of this, lol, so let’s see if I can sum up. It seems to me that RWA is so focused on the “guaranteed income” provided by an advance that it doesn’t see it’s promoting a model in which the vast majority of its members will never see a dollar from their writing or if they do, they will work for years or even decades before they do and may have to work for years or decades for no pay BETWEEN those income streams.

I’m not saying epublishing is perfect. Anyone who is under that impression need only read my article on The Perils and Pleasures of Epublishing to understand exactly what I see as its pitfalls and potential problems. But it does offer a space for writers to grow their careers and their skills and, yes, earn a little income from their work, even if it’s less (or a LOT less) than $1,000 per title (and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times–a ridiculous amount to apply evenly to all works from 20k-100k words in length).

The advance model is definitely “better” than the no advance, high royalty rate model…for those whose books are selling to the publishers who provide those advances. But to demand that all publishers must offer a $1,000 advance to be “legitimate” or worthy of recognition is simply blindered, because it doesn’t recognize how few authors are actually able to consistently and reliably achieve sales under that model.

Tomorrow: It’s All About the Pie.


  • Ericka Scott June 23, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I’m really enjoying this series of articles that you’ve been writing. I’ve been following the controversy and this has been a breath of fresh air presenting sides of the story I hadn’t thought about! Thanks Jackie!

    Plus…glad you did the math. That subject makes my head hurt!

  • Evangeline June 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    I’m really loving these posts. They are brutally honest, yet upbeat, and do more to help me make decisions about my career than a blog full of squeeing. *g*


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