Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Wow, you sold a book, what will you do with all that money?

My first book is out next fall (2021). What do I say to relatives who think it is destined for the bestseller list and we're going to be on Easy Street? (not even kidding). I told them that a modest return of $3000 or $4000 for a first book is good, but they don't believe me.
The only way out of this kind of very uncomfortable conversation is not to engage.
Any kind of question about money or finances; any kind of statement of how you'll now be on Easy Street (and thank goodness you have your head screwed on straight here), should be met with some form of "we're hoping for the best."

Think about who is saying this to you.
Is it someone who is taking delight in your success and hoping the book is going to do well?
Those folks need to be handled gently; they're your loving fans.

Or is it someone who has more mean spirited intentions?
Those folks you just shut down.
If they're hoping you fail, they're not buying your book.

I'm sure the readers here have had experience with this.
Let's get some ideas in the comment column too.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Congratulations, OP. That is quite the accomplishment. I do not understand why people think if you publish a book you will automatically be wealthy. My cousin has published more than a dozen books. She's not rich. She makes a living but it is a modest one and it took three of four published books before she was able to devote herself to writing full-time. And a supportive, working husband.

So many do not understand about publishing. This is not a get rich quick scheme. And I find it is useless to explain this to people. Just smile and wave. And go about your business. And if you ever do get that magic million buck deal....telll NO ONE. Your finances are no one's concerns. A writer is like anyone. We do what we must to get by. And that is seldom just writing.

nightsmusic said...

I agree with EM in that your finances are your business. Why would a book deal suddenly make them family and friend knowledge? Yes, there are a few authors out there who have become millionaires, but that's due in part, to movie deals and a great lawyer going over the contracts so they don't get screwed. The average writer still works or has a working spouse.

I have a friend with 30 books in print. She still had a working spouse and many of those books made the NYT bestseller list in her genre.

Smile if they ask and give them the proverbial, if I tell you, I'll have to kill you, line and leave it at that.

Katja said...

There is a lady here in my town in the UK I bump into from time to time. She is my former neighbour and knew me while I was editing draft 9 or 10. Heavily. Whenever she saw me around near our former flat, she said, "Work hard!" It annoyed me.

Whenever she sees me now in town somewhere, she says, "How's the book selling?"

It's SO ANNOYING. If I can't tell her it's all rosy-pink, she'll think I'm not working hard.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Regardless of how my books do, without universal health care or a better open market, I will never be able to quite my day job so let's just get that bit out of the way.

My friends actually never ask me about this, which I guess makes them pretty good friends. At least some of them read, I've seen their reviews! My family has very occasionally said something like "are they paying you?" when I tell them about a story publication, and I say absolutely, I don't submit to non-paying markets. And they've only occasionally asked about Run With the Hunted, but when I released my first one, one of my aunts bought a copy for every household and had me sign them all on Christmas, so that was really cool.

If not friends or family was asking me about such things? I'm very certain I would just say that I'm sorry, I don't feel it's appropriate to discuss. As I've had to say to so many library patrons about so many topics.

Ann Bennett said...

The truth is always good. To say you are publishing a book is similar to saying you are going into acting. Most actors are in Little Theaters all over the country and they work for free. A few more make a living doing small bits. Even fewer make a huge living.

As a friend of mine said, writing is great. Authorship is not what it is cracked up to be.

Megan V said...

Not published here, but I've heard plenty from friends on this score.

My personal favorite shutdown response:

Respond to the question with a question of your own. See conversation:
"So what do you do?"
"I'm a writer"
"Oh so you're like JKR."
"No, not really."
"Well, how much $ did you make for writing your book?"
"Well, how much money do you make for your job?"

For those you want to be gentler with,

"You're going to be the next JKR aren't you? Peachy keen and a bowl of cream from now on! We're so proud!"
"I'm so glad that you want me to succeed, but the book sales you hear about are the exceptions to the rule. Think of it like acting: There are some people who get a big break and land a major starring role on their first go and that's wonderful, but most actors don't. They have to work their way up. Books are like that. If I were an actor, it would be like I'm getting paid to act in a commercial. If the commercial does well I might get another gig, maybe even a higher paying one."

Terry said...

The subtle idea is often there that because I'm a "successful" author, I must be raking in the big bucks. For example, if I go on book tour, people ask if my publisher pays for the tour. I tell them that, sadly, it's only the top tier of authors who get paid to tour. I don't think most people wish anyone ill; they're just curious, or excited about the idea of someone being paid for their creative work. And if there is the occasional slip over the line into rude questions, my go-to is always humor. "Yep, raking in those big bucks--both of them!" If someone asks how my book is selling I answer truthfully: "Who knows? All I can do is just keep writing and hope for the best."

Leslie said...

I never fail to be astounded at the personal questions people I barely know feel free to ask.

All anyone needs to know is that I get paid to write. How much is nobody else's business any more than it's mine to know how much they pull in at their jobs.

A while back, an acquaintance at my synagogue twice pressed me - in front of other people - to tell her how much I'd paid for my apartment. The first time she asked, I responded by telling her that since I'd just moved in barely a week earlier, I was still unpacking.

When she immediately asked again, I told her how much I really like the new neighborhood and was looking forward to getting to know it even better.

She looked at me and "You're not going to tell me, are you?" I just smiled and said "Correct."

Since she was an acquaintance and not someone I wanted to offend, I tried to give her a graceful exit. Two of them, actually.

General nonsequiturs are the best ways to gently deflect without being harsh, in my experience

Emma said...

Basically, people who are not in publishing and who don't write have no idea whatever how books get into bookstores or libraries or amazon. My family, who is very proud and supportive of me, couldn't understand what an agent was no matter how I tried to explain, and kept asking me when the book was coming out and where could they buy it, even when I was still on submission (for a year). I would say, well, my novel is on submission with ten publishers, and they would say, so when is it coming out? And I'd say, when someone buys it. And they'd say, but it's finished, right? And I'd say, yeah. And they'd say, so when can we buy it? And I'd say, when I sell it.

So on and so forth. So I'm not going to get offended at any questions, as long as they're not mean.

And congratulations OP!

Sarah said...

I agree with Janet: it depends on who's asking.

If it's a random adult being nosy, I turn the question on them: "Why do you ask?" (I'm a huge believer in letting folks explain their own nosiness before I decide how I want to answer.)

If it's during a class visit (and it always comes up!) I'll get a bit more specific because sometimes kids are trying to figure this out, to see if maybe they could do this, too. ("I could have bought a good used car with my advance." or something like that.)

If it's a new author trying to figure out options, I'll be as specific as needed to be helpful.

Laura Stegman said...

"We're hoping for the best." That is PERFECT for questions about money and sales! Thanks, Janet.

Adele said...

A bit OT but still in the ball park:

In my twenties, a local published author filled out his bank account by teaching a "Night School in a Day" class called "The One-Hour-A-Day Novel". I had only just realized that books were written by real people who were alive and living in the world, that it might be something I could do, and off I went. During his class, he said he did not make enough money from writing to quit his day job (college lecturer). He said it several times.

Of course we all wanted facts and figures, and later in the day, he gave us his own example - in the previous year, all he had been able to make from his writing was about $42,000 (he had 7 books in print). He sounded so despondent; it was too bad, so sad. But I was overjoyed - I was making $1,500 a month working full time and to me it was a fantastic sum.

At the time my takeaway was that advising somebody else that they can't quit their day job isn't something anyone is qualified to do, because nobody else knows your circumstances.

I think, though, that people who expect you to make a fortune are mostly just trying to be supportive in their own cock-eyed way.

S.D.King said...

Mary Poppins - I never explain anything.

Theresa said...

There was a Twitter thread this week of black and white authors divulging the details of their advances, but that discussion had a specific purpose.

I think a lot of people don't know much about writing as a business, so maybe this is how they learn. Still, I can't ever imagine asking such a personal question of any other person who works.

Miles O'Neal said...

There are some great answers here, but many don't address the initial question.

"Obviously I would love to have a best-seller! But very few authors hit Easy Street. When my book is out (or almost out), please make sure to tell everyone you know to buy (or pre-order) a copy to help push toward that goal! And review it!"

John Davis Frain said...

First, congratulations.

First-and-a-half, c'mon, OP, lean into it. You're a writer. Especially if you're a fiction writer, you make up everything anyway. So, make up your answer here.

This question is Story knocking on your door. Answer!

"Oh, you'll be on Easy Street now."

"Are you kidding me? Do you realize banks only provide FDIC insurance up to $250K? I'm gonna need random banks on multiple streets to house my advance. If people actually buy the book too ... this is Rue de Pain in the Ass Street."

There are a million ridiculous answers for every single ridiculous question.

Also, I'm starting to realize a lot more people beyond my wife would consider me nosy. Apologies to all those people I've unintentionally offended.

Congrats, OP, on the book and all. Now then, think you could front me fifty till next Friday? I'm good for a hundred, so practically speaking, I'm saving you fifty bucks outta the goodness of my heart here.

BJ Muntain said...

Congrats, OP!

I, too, agree that it's not anyone else's business what you make from your writing. Except my financial advisor, because he'll be the one figuring out how much I have to hold for income tax.

My dad always used to ask, "So how is the book coming?" Even after he had his stroke and could barely speak, he would ask. All I could say was that I was still trying to find an agent/publisher.

Personally, I wouldn't try to explain the realities of publishing - how little an advance you expect, how hard it is to quit one's day job, etc. They won't listen, and it won't change their idea of what publishing means. When one is working, all anyone really cares about is if you're going to keep working at your job (and the answer would most probably be 'yes') because that's something a lot of people do need to know (like your boss, for instance). Me, I'm not working. If my family were to ask how much, I might tell them, simply because I'd be all excited about it. I'd probably tell them more than they want to know. But if people ask when I don't think they need to know, I'd simply say something like 'That's between me and my publisher' or maybe something like 'no more than I expected' or simply 'I'm okay with it.'

Craig F said...

T'isn't about the money for me, I just what the little voices in my head tell me to write.

Writing has actually been a long time hobby of mine, I even have some fans. One of them asked me to immortalize her and I picked up the game. It is as competitive a game as any I have tried, but the teammates are amazing.

AJ Blythe said...

Congrats, OP!

Some great suggestions here that I will be completely stealing for myself for when the day comes.

Because I have nothing else to add to OP's original post, I will say to Leslie, that in Australia, it's rather tricky to hide how much you've paid for your personal castle, because the dollar value is posted on real estate websites. You don't have to ask, you just have to wait for the contract to settle.

MA Hudson said...

If or when the time comes, I might tell people that getting onto the Bestseller lists is like winning gold at the Olympics - it's extremely difficult to achieve and although it looks brilliant on your CV, it doesn't guarantee any financial gain.

Beth Carpenter said...

Congratulations, OP! My husband is retired. Several of my neighbors are fans of my books(unfortunately they borrow each other's copies, lol) and one day my husband mentioned to me he's pretty sure they all think we're living off my earnings from writing. And we laughed. I've never done the math, but I'm fairly certain I'm earning less than minimum wage.

Leslie said...

Even if you're trying to help students or newbie writers figure out how things work, you can still do so without being specific.

Nearly 10 years ago, I took some continuing ed courses in journalism at NYU (not something I generally recommend). One class was to learn about interviewing and the instructor spent a few weeks bringing in friends of his who wrote books that had been traditionally published to talk with us, etc. Without ever sharing numbers, both stated that they still worked their regular jobs and didn't see any way to quit to write full-time in the foreseeable future. Each did talk a (very) little about their day jobs, so I was able to put things into context and realize that most authors can't make a living at it.

And AJ Blythe, I suppose someone who is that interested in my life might find out what I paid, but I don't feel comfortable giving that information to an acquaintance. Even more so in front of other acquaintances. I suppose I could've shot back with "So, how much do you weigh?"

Brigid said...

I love that, Leslie. I often answer the question I WISH they had asked, which is nicely flexible:

"When will you give me money, you millionaire?"
"I can't wait to visit my local bookstore as an author for the first time."

"How many children do you have?"
"She's 1, and I have a 3 year old at home."

"When are you two getting married?"
"Did I tell you she just got a big promotion?"

Alina Sergachov said...

#PublishingPaidMe trend is very popular on Twitter right now. Many authors share information about their advances there. It started because of the concern about a discrepancy between what POC are paid and what white authors are paid. Since many advances are six figure numbers, it's easy for people to assume that every writer is going to be paid $150,000...