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Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011


We’ve all heard about authors paid million-dollar advances. We’ve seen the debut book that sells millions and attracts a huge movie deal. Such stories make the headlines precisely because they are so uncommon.

In recent years, I released a vampire trilogy (a biblically-based tale of spiritual warfare), and certain people accused me of selling out for money, “fleecing the sheep,” and cashing in on the vampire craze generated by Twilight--although I started pitching my own series in 2005 before I’d ever heard of Stephenie Meyer. I’m not concerned with unbiased accusations. I am, however, intent on helping new authors as they step into the fray. A decade ago, asa budding novelist myself, I would’ve loved an honest representation of how the finances worked. So here goes . . .

I signed my first fiction contract in 2002. I committed to writing two novels for the publisher, Dark to Mortal Eyes and Expiration Date. My advance was $12,500 per book, with 15% going to my agent and another 20% going to Uncle Sam--meaning, I brought home around $9,000 per book Of course, I received only half up front, the other half upon publication. So I planted my butt in my chair and started writing. I turned in book one and book two. They hit the shelves in ’04 and ’05. They never sold enough to earn back my advance, and so the publisher had no obligation to ever pay me a dime in royalties. In the meantime, a film company optioned my second novel for a movie, paying $500 for that right. No screenplay was ever approved by investors, no movie was made, and my publisher kept the $500 toward the money still unearned on my advance.
I signed my second contract in 2004. Same terms. Same basic advance. Same results. The Best of Evil and A Shred of Truth came out in ’06 and ’07, and neither book earned me a cent in royalties.

Yep, you guessed it. My next three novels, Field of Blood, Haunt of Jackals, and Valley of Bones, all sold to a different publisher for the same advances I had earned on my earlier books. I pushed for more, I really did. But my agent said I had little bargaining power, based on my previous sales. Those books came out in ’08, ’09, and ’10. Slightly better sales, but still nothing close to earning any royalties.

In between publishing my own novels, I had the opportunity to write three novelizations based on original screenplays for the movies Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof. Each book sold in accordance with the success of its matching film, and the third book earned good royalties--a first for me! It hit the lower end of the NY Times bestseller list, in the trade paperback category, and stayed there for 14 weeks. Many of my friends and family thought I must be set for life. I have to admit, I wondered how lucrative these types of sales numbers would be.

The reality? With ten books published, I have brought home $180,000 since 2002. That’s $22,500 a year, after taxes and agents. Personally, I believe in tithing on my income, so that came out of there too. I’m not complaining about the published books, or the bestseller, or the approximate $160,000 earned. No sir! But I could’ve made that amount of money in four years instead of eight if I’d stayed at my job back in 1996. And, my family would’ve had health insurance. And 401K. Unfortunately, those are not things publishers are in a position to offer, and most contracted writers and musicians have limited ability to obtain them.
I will never regret the road I’ve chosen. My wife has walked hand-in-hand with me on this journey, and we have seen provision in unexpected, often last-minute, ways. It’s a struggle some days, a joy many others, and yet I have the satisfaction of pursuing what God has put in my heart.
If you want to write, be aware of the financial realities. If you’re married, be sure you are committed to this path as a couple. Then, I say, do it with all your heart, soul, and mind. Do it so as unto the Lord. As followers of Jesus, as those who want to honor God through our work, we find life’s truest riches on the path that leads to Him.
Eric's Bio:
From an early age, I wanted to be a writer. Although I was born in California and raised in Oregon, my more enduring memories start in Europe where my parents took Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Life was an adventure, full of exotic cultures and peoples.

Back in the States, I went through junior high and high school. I loved soccer, basketball, chess ...oh, yes, and girls. It took a few years to learn how to talk to them, but they interested me from a distance.
After high school, I traveled in eastern Europe and China. I returned to my parents’ crumbling marriage. I moved to LA and began college. During my junior year, a childhood friend showed up as a freshman. Within months she and I were married, and we’re now going into our twentieth year, with two daughters to keep us on our toes. We’re not perfect, (our kids could give you details), but we refuse to stop fighting for our family...and for our faith in Jesus, who is bigger than our self-centeredness.


  1. Even modestly informed writers seem to be well aware of the not-so-rich-quick sheme that is the writing life.

    The toughest part is the HUGE misconception on the part of all the non-writers of the world who think everybody who sells a book earns like the "household name" writers.

  2. Someone recently remarked that when I sell my first book I'll be able to quit my teaching job. I laughed. They stared at me as if I'd lost my mind. When I started on this journey to be a full-time writer, I researched every angle of the business. I started, fully aware that I would probably not be able to support myself as a full-time writer for many years to come.

    Although I'm writing articles regularly for several publications, none of them are paying positions - yet. I applaud both you and your wife for staying the course. It's not easy!

    Thank you for this dose of reality!

  3. I applaud you (with a standing ovation) for your courage and grit in telling it like it is. I'm in that place in my career right now where I'm wondering how I can continue doing this financially. The impetus to move forward has been this "knowing" that I'm supposed to carry on. So I will.

    Sorry to hear about your parents' marriage, particularly after they'd been missionaries. We saw a lot of marriages break apart when we church planted in Europe. It's a hard place.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Erik. As a writer myself, I can wholeheartedly agree with everything you shared here. Of course, I haven't been lucky enough to get my first contract yet, but I am going into this well aware of the reality, and wish the rest of the world understood how it works. I know I won't be rich anytime soon, if ever, from writing. But it's what I love and what I'm called to do, so I keep doing it, knowing that God will provide for me and my family. And I am lucky enough to have a wife who understands, as she too is a writer.

  5. The longer I stay in this business, the more I glean from those who've gone before. I never entered in with my eyes closed, my husband was well aware of the long haul and has kept me grounded about it. In the last year or so, I've come up with a plan for the first advance I'll earn and he's agreed to it, with the full intent of keeping me to my goal.

    Thanks for sharing the realities of being an author.

  6. Eric... just wanted to mention that I was led to your book FIELD OF BLOOD this Christmas, when I was praying for a granddaughter who was alarmingly hooked on vampire books. I was asking "Isn't there any Christian who is covering this dangerous territory out there?" Not only did she read it (first book I've bought her in years that she actually read), but she is reading -- and buying for herself -- all others you have on the subject.

    So, not only do I say thank you for giving me hope that there is hope for her, but also to remind you that your books -- all your books -- are not done selling, yet. And that God is able to make a harvest spring up even years after it was planted. His timing is perfect, both for those who are touched by your work, and for you and your family, as well.

    It's not over till it's over.

  7. Dear Eric, Your post made me feel guilty enough to order the Trilogy, so I will have red something before I receive my free book later in the year. Spiritual warfare is an important topic, I wish I had been more exposed to the fight I was facing when I was young. Thanks for sharing the realities of the publishing world.

  8. Eric, thank you for your willingness to share and your honesty. I'm wondering if given the current ebook craze, and the real opportunity for authors with a bit of a following such as yourself, would you consider publishing your next works yourself, or will you continue to seek traditional publication?

  9. I've canceled my order for the yellow Lamborghini ... thanks! But I was going to ask if you wanted to go for a ride on my yellow moped?

  10. Only if I get to go, too. :D Glad I waited to get into this business after I became a millionaire. Oh, wait ... I'm not. This could be a problem.

  11. Eric, thanks for being honest abou this subject. I went to a writing class just this weekend presented by a well known editor in the New York community, and I couldn't keep from laughing when he tossed these unbelievable advances being paid. All I could think was these poor people in the class have absolutely no idea of the truth when it comes to publishing houses and money.

    And it's not just other writers--it's the public. When I told my boss I had sold a book, he 'teased' me for the next six months, telling me how 'rich' I was going to be.

    Right up until the day he let me go. ~sigh~

    Thank Heavens, my husband understands that my writing is a part of me, something that I have to do.

  12. Thanks for being honest, even if it is a bummer to hear.
    Do you think that it is possible to make a living from writing?
    Not millions but like a normal job?

  13. Here's my cartoon response to your post:

  14. Thanks for the responses, everyone. And, D. Ann Graham, although the Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy is not for all readers, I'm thrilled to hear it's touching lives still.

    Yes, you can make a living at writing. I'm doing it, just as described in this blog, but that means my wife and I drive one car--a '95 Toyota Avalon we bought for $1200. We live on a tight budget, but we do what we feel called to do, and we are not tied down by credit cards, the need for the latest gadgets, and so on.

    You can do it! It just means tons of work, lots of sacrifice, and knowing that this world is a temporary home. We have rewards and eternal life yet to come!

  15. This is probably a sobering post to read for aspiring novelists, but I'm glad someone is saying it. People should really be prepared when going into publishing. I especially agree that if you are married, your spouse really needs to be on board. Great post.

  16. I just did my taxes and my accountant knows I'm on the best-seller list. Humbling to see on paper that I made 8500 as a writer last year. That was before taxes. Next year will be better but I make much more as a nurse.


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