Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why I can't show you the money

Every day I get e-mail from people who would love to write novels and see them published. Quite naturally, everyone is interested in knowing how much money might be made if and when that dream becomes reality. But while I don't consider it a dumb question, I hate being asked how much money romance novelists make. There's just no answer I can share that will satisfy the questioners.

Let me put it this way: If you sell a romance novel to a major New York publisher, you can expect to make about the same money as someone who lands a role in a Hollywood movie.

Not what you wanted to hear, is it? Because to make any sense of that comparison, you'd need to know:

  • Whether we're talking about a major motion picture or a B movie

  • Whether the actor in question is Tom Cruise or Udolpho Unknown

  • Whether it's the lead role or just a walk-on part that's liable to end up on the cutting room floor

I imagine there's a pretty wide gulf between what Tom gets for a "Mission Impossible" film and what Udolpho Unknown might expect to earn for his walk-on part in a low-budget horror flick. And so it is with romance novelists. The romance community has a few Toms, a number of Udolphos, and a whole lot of people in between. Everywhere in between. I have heard of romance authors making less than $8,000 on a mass-market paperback novel. I have also heard of them making $80,000.

What might you make? I have no idea. But I would suggest that the time to begin wondering whether you should quit your day job is after you start selling books.

Technorati Tags: , ,


Chris said...

Udolpho Unknown was brilliant as Lisping Urchin #3 in "A Flask of Amaretto," the 50's noir version of Poe's classic of similar name. Can't believe he never experienced broader success.

Brenda Coulter said...

Yes, that was indeed a memorable performance. Unfortunately, Udolpho found himself typecast and was unable to land a decent role after "Flask" and its far less successful sequels, "The Murder of the Rude Mortician" and "The Pit Bull and Mrs. Pendleton."

Shelley said...

I think it's human nature to want to know what someone makes in a particular job, primarily if it is a job you are interested in. I mean, if you are a construction worker someone who is interested in being a construction worker would want to know what the going rate is.

I think it's the same for writers. I also think that your answer is awesome Brenda, and it puts things into perspective (if that is the right word to use). Pay will depend on a number of factors and it is probably not the same for all writers. Like you said, someone who is well known and popular will get a bigger pay than someone just starting out...or at least that is my understanding.

Now, Brenda said I could post the link for my Christian writers web ring if anyone is interested in joining (it's free). Just go to my writing blog, and scroll down the sidebar to the Writing For Christ webring (below the picture of an open Bible with a pen on top) and click join. It will take you to the page to sign up.

I thought it would be a good way to link Christian writers together and make it easier to surf their blogs. Hope you'll all join :o).

Brenda, thanks for letting me post the link!

Ruth said...

Hi Brenda...I was wondering if that website quit stealing your posts since you haven't had bylines on them for a while? Just curious. Maybe they realized what negative publicity you were giving them?

Kristin said...

Personally, I think if someone is more interested in the money than in actually writing the book, they shouldn't be writing!

From everything I have experienced so far, publishing is a tough business. Your writing gets picked apart, your dreams get stomped on, and you have to learn to pick yourself up and try again.

It is very much like acting or any other art. There are very few highly successful writers and many that struggle in obscurity for years.

My goal has never been to have legions of adoring fans and millions of dollars. My goal has always been to see my writing in print. And if I happen to have a few fans, that would be cool. Oh, and if they're going to pay me (even a small amount of money) that would be the icing on the cake.

GeorgianaD said...

Great analogy Brenda. I don't write for the money (good thing since I'm unpubbed!) but for the enjoyment. Still, publication is one of my goals, and money would be nice. I'll still admit that I'm curious, because I'm a rubber-necker by nature.

Brenda Coulter said...

I think it's human nature to want to know what someone makes in a particular job, primarily if it is a job you are interested in.

That's very true, Shelley, but when someone asks, "How much can I expect to make if I sell a romance novel?" they're assuming that anyone who wants to write a novel and sell it can do so. Getting published isn't like cosmetology school, where you invest a certain amount of time and money in your schooling and then take a test and get certified. Even an MFA degree in creative writing does not ensure publication--as a couple of my friends can attest. So wondering how much you can make is quite definitely putting the cart before the horse. This is a very tough business to break into.

Maybe I come off sounding a little insensitive about this, but people who are more than casually interested in the How Much question generally aren't that eager to write (so it seems to me), but are fantasizing about having written. In other words, they seem to care more about the results (money and fame) than the process (creative expression). And quite frankly, I feel no kinship with those people. I am much more interested in people like you and Kristin and Georgia--people who are writing their hearts out, and who (I like to believe) aren't writing because they want to be rich and famous, but because writing is as necessary as breathing to them. If the rich-and-famous thing happens, wonderful. But that's not why we write, is it?

Ruth, the content thief hasn't removed any of my posts from his site, but he has stopped stealing the fresh stuff, which is why I've dispensed with the cumbersome byline. Thanks for noticing.

Claudia said...

I usually direct the profit curious to Brenda Hiatt's Show Me the Money spreadsheet and the related rwa conference recordings. The figures aren't exact and aren't represenative, but many aspirants consider that info better than nothing.

I don't agree that writers primarily interested in money are less genuinely motivated than "write for pleasure" folks as the latter group often seeks paid publication as well.

Authors like Suzanne Brockman and Cathy Yardley have been very open about deliberate choices made to increase their chances of selling and making writing an economically sustaining career. Book packagers are extreme example of that approach.

I consider myself a "book of the heart" kind of writer, but am often mystified over the negativity over money as a motivator when paid publication is the goal of pretty much every writer out there.

Brenda Coulter said...

Claudia, there's not a thing wrong with writing for money. That's no different from doing dentistry or teaching school for money. If Suzanne Brockmann and others are writing "to the market" in order to make a good living, more power to them. What I've been talking about here is people who talk about writing instead of doing it; people who dream of being published but who don't have the gumption to go after their dreams. Those are the people I don't understand.

People often ask me about Brenda Hiatt's annual survey. I don't think it has much value, particularly as she does not throw out the old numbers every year, but simply averages in the new reports. That can dramatically skew the results, particularly in those lines that are rapidly expanding (and whose authors may be making much more now than five years ago) and lines that are fizzling out (and whose authors may be making much less). Also, we can't know from the numbers if the results are being skewed by too many reports from the biggest (or smallest) moneymakers. If a line has 12 reports, we don't know whether they're from twelve authors of similar stature or from two or three bestsellers.

But as you say, Brenda's figures seem to satisfy the curious. So maybe I'll try to stop caring about their accuracy.

Nicolette said...

I'm going to write. I've made a small amount of money doing so -- very small. I can't help but be curious as to if it's at all realistic to see a day when I can quit my day job, focus on writing, and have time left over for a little bit of social life.

At this point I put in my time at work, sign up every day to leave early if we're overstaffed, and write when I can. I live in a beautiful area, but don't get to enjoy it fully because I'm on this endless treadmill.

I don't care about insane wads of cash, just a day when I can just be a writer, instead of hoping I have enough energy left over at the end of the day to even type real words.

Brenda Coulter said...

Nicolette, what you might make will depend on where you're able to sell your novels. But in general, most romance writers--even those publishing as many as three "category" books a year--do not make a comfortable living off their writing. Not to put too fine a point on it, most of my author friends have other sources of income.