Six Thousand Copies

I guess on a side note I should say that my doctor’s visit went fine. There is nothing else wrong with me on top of the PCOS and he’s happy with how the metformin seems to me working and I should continue to try to lose weight, but that was the extent of that discussion.  I did show him the remains of my giant rash, which I was working on the last time I went to see him, and I said I didn’t think it was connected, but if I had been more insistent 10 years ago about informing doctors of the things that were wrong instead of just taking their word that I was fat and just not trying hard enough, they might have caught the PCOS then. So, I showed him where it was all healing up.

And he looked at it, on my arm and all under my boob and said, “Yeah, I, too, don’t think it’s anything, but it’s not that hard for me to imagine how an endocrine problem could cause this, so let’s just run another blood test to be sure.”

So, it was great. And, in honor of being “more” active, I am going to tackle one of the beds that got flooded this summer.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this post because I ended up talking to some of the folks from Chapter 16, who I kleinheiderdid not make out with, but totally would have, if they would have but asked (I also kicked Kleinheider’s butt and then shook my butt at him in a friendly, but taunting manner, after which, he hid outside on the porch. Bah.).

Ha, sorry, I got so distracted by how much fun I was having drawing this historically accurate artistic representation of what happened between me and Kleinheider, I almost forgot to get back to my main point.

The Chapter 16 folks.

So, we’re standing around talking about books and they’re talking about how 6,000 copies for a piece of literary fiction is not a bad sales number.

And I guess I knew that was true, but to hear someone who knows say it?

I don’t know.

And it’s not that I think 6,000 copies is some small amount. But, if you figure a dollar a book in royalties, how does $6,000 mean anything in the face of the amount of work that kind of writing takes? It’s not just that writing fiction is a skill, but it’s also then a luxury. You have to have some means by which you have a lot of free time and no dependence on that as a steady income.

And shoot, no wonder authors and publishing houses were/are so caught up in Oprah.

And I’m constantly amazed by the disparate communities, even within our own community, that know nothing of each other. I don’t quite know how to articulate that, but six thousand people could read a book that no one else has ever even heard of and that book has done okay. Not great, but okay. Even though only six thousand people have read it.

I know that, between this, Pith, and my guest stint at Feministe, I’ve had more than 6,000 people read me. Shoot, more people than that probably read me over at Pith in a day.

I don’t know. My thoughts are jumbled but I wonder about the future of publishing. It’s funny because people are always complaining about writers on the internet giving it away for free.

But really, in the vast scheme of “trying to put food on the table,” how is $6,000 for years of work not pretty much the same as “giving it away for free”?

14 thoughts on “Six Thousand Copies

  1. I must hear of the throwdown. Your photos are very accurate although I see Kleinheider, in my mind, as very tall. Of course, I’m a shorty so I also see oompa loompas as very tall too. :)

  2. I don’t know. My thoughts are jumbled but I wonder about the future of publishing. It’s funny because people are always complaining about writers on the internet giving it away for free.
    But really, in the vast scheme of “trying to put food on the table,” how is $6,000 for years of work not pretty much the same as “giving it away for free”?

    It’s the earnest debate that goes on whenever I’m in a group of writers. And it frustrates me.

    Because there are some writers out there with an absolute disdain for Commercial Fiction. I remember one author’s lecture where she was repeatedly talking about how she was published and lording it over the rest of us in the room. Turned out she had gotten her book pressed by a failing University press in another state that ‘pays’ authors with free copies of the book.

    It’s some arrangement where they’ll print 5,000 copies of your book and give them to you to distribute on consignment. And for every X number of copies you sell, you get a dozen free to either give away or sell for total profit.

    Great deal for anyone who is both aching to get ‘legitimately published’ by a non-vanity press and is also fantastic at self-promotion. This particular author was both.

    Anyway, she mentioned Commercial Fiction the same way I would mention ‘anal mucous’. The point of her talk was that a true writer lives to write (I can attest to that) and doesn’t ever expect to make any money. Unless they write anal mucous. Excuse me. Commercial fiction.

    Well, I like to think I write both. While there is a lot of not-great writing out there on supermarket spinners and Walgreen’s racks and airport stores, there’s also some genuinely good stuff.

    And I want to write things that entertain people besides myself. So I have high hopes that, against all odds, I will get something published that’ll sell. I don’t want to be J.K. Rowling, but I wouldn’t mind pulling $25K-$30K out of a good book, which can be done.

    Yes, 6K copies is a not-bad print run for literary press works. And if that’s what you write and the audience you want then I’m very happy for the success of any author who has that deal and that audience. I’ve read some great literary press things over the years, and one of my all-time favourite books is such a thing that came out of Indiana University Press 20-odd years ago.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have made the acquaintance of both types of authors, commercial and literary. The only difference between the two is that more of the commercial authors are making a living wage from their craft.

    And honestly, I wouldn’t mind if I had a book come out on a literary press. (The only type of publisher I don’t wish to pursue is the Thomas Nelson/Zondervan variety.) But it’s a different world. And one where you mostly have to be content with saying “I have a published book.”

    Funny-ish story: The publisher i worked for had a small gift-book division. Our print runs were always in the 5-6K realm, but we had two books that were phenomenal successes in the Christian book world. They had been first published about 40 years ago and were still selling fairly well when I worked there. Fairly well being about 3K a quarter.

    But they were nothing more than a collection of thoughts from sermons this woman had heard over the years and books she’d read by other Christian authors. We got around copyright by calling it a “compilation” or some such thing. By the time I came along she was long dead and her son was an elderly man himself who was living partially off the royalties of these books. They were the kinds of things you’d see at the checkstand in a Bible bookstore that people would buy to give to their grandmothers or great aunts or neices and nephews graduating from high school.

    The sales started slipping when I was there (I managed the contracts division and the royalty payouts) and this guy called wanting to know where his money was. He’d been getting about $5K every three months for something he never had a single thing to do with. But we were phasing out our bible book business and printing and distributing fewer copies so his royalties were decreasing every quarter.

    He called and asked us to put him on a book tour to boost sales.

    A book tour for a 40 year old book of happy thoughts and sermon notes.

    I ended up advising him to try to buy back the contract from us and take the book to another publishing house if he wanted better support because our current parent company was profoundly disinterested in the bible book side of things.

    Our other authors were content with royalty checks of about $12 a quarter.

    So I guess the success of a book is measured differently at different times by different people.

    Right now for me the successful book is one I finish and get query letters sent out for.

  3. Well … a lot of writers I know would be happy to have commercial success. And would have success at the around-$50,000 level, I think, if they could get some publicity. I mean, their books are good enough, enjoyable enough, that if people heard about them they would buy them at that level. But since the writers can’t get their publishers to spend much on publicity for their books (since they obviously aren’t going to be blockbusters, and that’s where the publicity budget goes), and can’t afford $5,000–$10,000 out of pocket to pay for it themselves, and newspapers don’t do book reviews any more, they are stuck selling a few thousand books instead. We live in a winner-take-all economy, and carving out that niche of low-level profitability is one of the hardest things to manage in it.

  4. Authors don’t make their money on the royalties, they make their money on the up-fronts. The up-front payments are what Internet writers like us are missing out on. You either forfeit the up front money and pray like hell for the long tail to hold out (like ad revenue and PPM) or you take the money up front (pay per post) and give up on the PPM/ad share. Either way you’re not getting something that a “real writer” would be getting. Which is why it’s like working for free.

    At least, that’s my understanding of how the commercial publishing industry works. I’ll have to ask some author friends of mine if I’m painting an accurate picture of how it works these days with small-time presses.

  5. Upfronts–non-recoupable advances–are generally between $5k and $25k for first time authors with representation. Back end royalties are generally $1 per hardcover volume, $.60 fo mmpaperback and aren’t paid out until the advance is earned back by the publishing house.

    So if you get an non recoup advance of $10k on a title that sells 6k units you the author are ahead by $4k. However you may have a bit more trouble selling your second book.

    Nm, I tried to touch on the problem of the stupid marketing at publishing houses a couple if weeks ago. Not sure if you read that one. Nut you’re exactly right. The lack of desire to promote entry andidlevel titles in the big box book market is killing standard houses. They’d rather sink millions into one or two titles per quarter buyin. I’m hopeful that things like the Brown and Niffenegger flameouts, coupled with the walmart undercut will change things up a bit. FWIW, the houses and imprints making the most right now are those with broad entry and midlevel promotional systems: Harlequin; harlequin Mira; bantam discovery; vanguard, etc.

  6. Oh damn it. That’s why you didn’t see that entry. It’s the one I never published, back on October 30th. But yeah. That was the gist of what I said but didn’t say. Bugger. I promise I at least thought it and typed it.

  7. Oh, that post. No, I didn’t see it. But I would have. Or: nut, would have.

    What is Vanguard publishing these days? I realize I have no idea.

  8. Yeah. I was all “but didn’t i just say this??” And then I was all “uhhh, that’s what happens when you change posts in midstream.”

    Vanguard’s model–which is working well for the authors on their table from what I’ve heard–is to do no advances. Instead they do what’s called the “shared risk” model. Meaning that they don’t pay advances to authors; instead they channel the typical advance monies into front-end marketing and then pay higher royalties at the back-end. They also pay out monthly on sales instead of bi-annually or quarterly.

    I’ve noticed that the marketing dollars they put into the project (usually double what the standard non-recoup advance would be) is paying off big-time. I was at B&N just today; a high percentage of the faced-out books were Vanguards. That’s a huge investment in the property that ought to–and does–move fiction.

    Since they’ve got their unique model they tend to go with more “sure things” and they also tend to diversify titles more than other houses. They’ve got a smattering of everything from Sci-fi to self-help.

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