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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Charging Ramen--My Life as a Best-Selling Novelist

There was a show on TV I caught with my husband that made us both crack up. It was a scene with a group of poor white trash types sitting around the TV drinking beer and belching. One of them said he was able to quit his job because he slipped in a supermarket, sued and got a $47,000 settlement. One of the other guys said, "Lucky SOB will never have to work another day in his life."

People think the same of thing of novelists. Even my family thinks I'm rich, and that was before my book showed up on the CBA best-seller list.

Do you think that once you sell your novel your money troubles will be over? Let me tell you how it works then so you won't be in for the shock of your life when your time comes.

I've read that the average first advance for a book is $5,000. Say you're a good Christian and tithe--we're down to 4500. Your agent gets fifteen percent, so now we're down to 3750. Uncle Sam wants 30-40 percent, so now we're down to about 2000.

Not too shabby for a year's worth of work, eh?

Yes, you say, but what about royalties? Ask a few novelists about their royalties and see how hard they laugh. Most authors don't see those checks because they never out-sell their advance.

Before you feel too sorry for me, I got way more advance than most debut authors get. Heck, more than most multi-published authors get... but again, do the math.
People think that everytime a book is sold I get money. Um... no. My publisher gets money, the store gets money, but I already got my money in the form of that advance that the moths ate up.

Even best-selling novelists, which now includes me, make enough to be able to qualify for food stamps.

That chalet in Paris you're dreaming of buying once you sell your great-American novel is probably not going to happen. If I stopped writing now and went back to work full time as a nurse, I would double my take-home income. Nearly all novelist either have a day job, or a spouse who supports them. I have a bit of both.

And I'm now a best-selling novelist.

A friend recently wrote joking that it must be nice to be a best-selling novelist while she was charging Ramen noodles. I wrote back and said that I was charging them too.

I hope you're writing for something other than the money. (Oh and the fame ain't so hot either. If you don't believe me, go to a debut author's book signing sometime.)

Am I complaining? Nope. I feel so blessed to be paid to do what I love. I am a writer. A novelist! The money may or may not follow but that's not why I do this. Good thing, eh? :)


  1. I realize the realities and my eyes are wide open. But there's still a part of me that can't quit dreaming of buying a little cabin in the woods someday. *-)

  2. You have nailed it, Gina! After "Fireproof" hit the NY Times list, I had relatives and friends thinking I was set for life.

    With the average money I've made over ten books, including the bestseller, I have to write two novels a year to stay above the poverty line for a family of four.

    Heck, I made more money 15 years ago, working in customer service. But like you say, we get to write. It's what we love to do. That is a good thing--when we're not facing next month's bills.

  3. Thanks, Eric. I was hoping the NYT list was a different animal. Guess not. Ha. :)

  4. I think I'm glad I didn't start writing until I was near retiring age. At least I don't have to depend on books to eat. LOL Then again, I'd probably be as skinny as you, G. ;)

  5. Gina, I've seen on the Billboard music charts that the #1 album often sells double what #2 or #3 sells. Exponentially, the numbers go down. By the time you get to #20, it could be an album that sold 1/100th of what the #1 album did.

    I suspect it's somewhat the same with the NY Times list. My book was around #20 on the trade paperback list. Officially a NY Times bestseller, yes. I was also sharing the credits with the Kendricks, the original screenwriters, so the royalties were less. No complaints, though. It was fun to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience. (And who knows, maybe I'll get there again.)

    Congrats on your book's success. I really enjoyed reading it.

  6. Knowing the hard work and sacrifices made to bring forth something that is significant and has impact increases our appreciation of it. Thanks for sharing, Gina. :)


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