October 14th, 2009


"Why aren't you rich yet?" -- reality and the single author.

I get this question a lot lately. "Why aren't you rich yet?" It sometimes travels in a pack with its two kissing cousins, "Haven't you quit your day job?" and "What do you mean, you can't afford to ________?" I don't punch people who ask these questions, because let's face it, the authors most people think of when they hear the words "professional writer" are Stephen King and Tom Clancy and the like, and they are rich. They live in the country of rich people's problems.

I, as yet, do not. I live in a different zip code altogether. While I'd love to move to their country someday, the odds are very low; they don't issue many passports, and they're very particular about their citizenship applications. For now, I live where I've lived for most of my adult life, in the country of the lower middle class, where shopping runs to Target are a reality, you thank the Great Pumpkin for five-dollar generic prescriptions (and recognize how lucky you are to have medical insurance at all), fifty-percent-off "eat it before the flies come" meat is sometimes the best excuse for a barbecue, and used book stores are a fiscal necessity, rather than a fun form of antique shopping. I'm not dirt-poor. I've been dirt-poor, I didn't like it, I hope to never do that again...but that means I don't quit my day job, and I don't take day-trips to Peru, or whatever other crazy rich person thing people are proposing today.

Publishing is a business. Almost every author, myself included, works on the royalties system, which goes like this:

Person A writes a book. Person B agrees to give Person A five dollars for the right to publish that book, with the understanding that Person A will not need to return the five dollars unless they violate the terms of their contract. This is called an advance. A certain percentage of the cover price of every book sold will be applied against this advance. Let's say six percent, which comes to just shy of fifty cents on your average mass-market paperback. Now, until the cumulative percentages from books sold come to more than five dollars, Person A will not be getting any additional payment. This is called "earning out." If the cumulative percentages never come to more than five dollars, Person A is basically done.

Once the cumulative percentages exceed five dollars, royalties become an option. Awesome! But remember, Person A's agent will still get a percentage of that royalty payment, and Person A will also be taxed on that income. (Self-employment tax is a nasty beast. Seriously, it's the monster under my bed these days, because the taxation on book payments is terrifying.)

Selling a book doesn't automatically make you rich, and I highly recommend that the first thing any new author does after selling a book is contact an accountant who works with authors, because otherwise, the self-employment tax is going to eat their lunch. Selling a book doesn't mean you can automatically quit your day job, and doesn't magically create medical insurance out of the air. John Scalzi once said that a smart author would marry someone with a stable job. I continue to support this as a sensible, if mercenary, approach.

This post brought on by a) the questions above being asked, yet again, and b) a lengthy discussion with my dentist about the incredible amount of work we're about to have done in my mouth, none of which would be possible without my medical and dental insurance. Finances are fun. Self-employment tax is not.


Current stats:

Words: 5,811.
Total words: 56,471.
Reason for stopping: finished chapter fifteen, bedtime.
Music: show tunes and the cats being crazy.
Lilly and Alice: finally exhausted, now that they can't bother me anymore.

I literally stopped just shy of two hundred pages—just shy! I could taste that milestone, dammit—because the chapter was over, and I couldn't bring myself to mess around with my word count just for the sake of a little extra length. Besides, with the book now more than halfway to 60,000 words, we're going to be ringing that particular bell any day now...and yes, I am now past the halfway mark, which is supported by the plot arc, the behavior of the characters, and the place where the chapter breaks. I am giddy.

The best thing about this universe is that it's completely silly in some ways, yet takes itself completely seriously, much like the horror movies of the early 1980s. This is life or death, people, even when the "or death" part of the equation is being represented by hopping, screaming yams (the yams hunger for the taste of human blood). And whenever things get slow, Verity just kicks somebody else in the head, thus speeding them right back up again. I have a fight scene coming up that's going to make me giggle for days. Days.

Life is good.