Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For Love or Money

“I didn’t go into writing to get rich – in fact, I don’t care if I make any money. The most important thing is to get my book out there.”

This is a paraphrase of a comment I read recently, made by a writer who had signed a contract with a startup micropress and was warned about their paying royalties on net rather than on cover price. But it’s something I’ve read from writers printed by vanity presses as well, where they’re even less likely to recoup their initial investment.

Everyone has their own reasons for writing, and I don’t believe embarking on that with the primary goal of making money from it is a good idea. Mostly because it takes so much time and effort to produce work of a marketable standard (a commercial market, not just family and friends). But when it comes to publishing, money is more immediate and more important.

Getting the book out there

If writers only wants to make books available to the general public, they have two choices. They can either look for publishers with good distribution (in other words, not vanity presses and unlikely to be startup micropresses), or they can put the text of the book on the web. Whether they make it all available for free or go through Amazon for the Kindle, and set the price as low as possible, this is preferable to signing away rights to a press which won’t make the best use of them.

Vanity presses get paid by authors and therefore don’t need to get the books out anywhere. Micropresses or startups without distribution may want to get the books out into the marketplace, but they’re unable to do so.

Money isn’t important

Especially after a long slew of rejections, a publishing contract can be an oasis in the desert. You’re so relieved that someone loves your book and wants to publish it that fiscal considerations are the last thing on your mind. At worst, discussions of advances and royalties may be to the magic of publication what a prenup is to the honeymoon.

But there’s one reason money is important even for writers who don’t need or want it. It’s because sales are directly correlated to royalties. When the royalty statement arrives, it shows how many copies were sold and from where. We can’t count individual readers, but we can count sales.

Plus, I like getting paid for my work. Ideally, I’d rake in the Filthy Lucre hand over fist at a rate that would make John Galt weep, but in the real world I just want to get paid as much as is reasonably possible for my books. I didn’t work as a technician for free so I’m certainly not going to publish for free.

A bad impression

What are commercial publishers and literary agents likely to think if they come across such a claim from a writer? Actually, that’s not an “if”. Sample mistakes in query letters include “I’d be willing to forego an advance”.

Publishers and agents aren’t going to say, “This is an artist willing to make any sacrifice to get the book out there”. They’re more likely to see this as desperation or inexperience or both.

They’re in this business to make money, so chances are they’re looking for writers with the same goals.


M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

Good post. Something I think those writers are also missing is that money correlates with success. Money correlates with the book getting into the hands of readers. No money, no books to the general public.

Publishing is a business. It's not wrong for us to expect to be paid a reasonable amount for our work just as it's not wrong for a publisher to expect a book to deliver a certain amount of success.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...


I don't write for money. But at the same time, I'm not handing over my stuff for free OR allowing a publisher to walk all over me either. I used to do "for-the-love" anthologies and e-zines, but now I've widened my scope to royalty-paying presses. Focusing on single-title work now.

But I DON'T write for money. Honestly, I don't. And I don't ever want to either. I write for fun. If I get paid, GREAT! But my sole objective isn't for cash, it's for my own enjoyment, really.

Writing as a business takes all the fun out of it. You have to do promo work and put up with reviewer/interviewers on book blogs and blah blah blah! Then you have to write crap that is "trendy" and not really what you want to write because studying the market is just as important as your book. Then there's the actual reality of people READING your book (silly, I know, but I'm so used to being ignored I'm baffled when anyone tells me they've read my stuff) It's a hassle! Honestly, I'm amazed I've been published at all!

But despite all my complaints, I still love to write. It's what I do. I just hope I don't let my soul get sucked into the business side so my creative side suffers for it. We need writers with creativity as their inspiration. Not the Benjamins. :D

Cool post!

LM Preston said...

Whether you write for money or not, the sad fact is, once you finish writing it, you have to sell it. I didn't start writing for money either, but once I decided I wanted others to read my work my eyes were opened and I realized that in the end, I had a product to sell.

JH said...

I felt like this post was sort of a shout out in that I've told Marian that I have no financial motive for anything I write, and am more interested in just telling my story. (Although recently, my focus has shifted to "explaining my thesis," i.e., away from fiction.) Having non-financial motivations for writing is one thing. Letting oneself get taken advantage of by a predatory industry, or making decisions contrary to one's goals (such as telling the business of publishing you don't care about money, or signing with presses that have poor distribution) is quite another. In any interaction with businesspeople, it always does well to be professional, even if you have "unprofessional" goals.

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: discussions of advances and royalties may be to the magic of publication what a prenup is to the honeymoon.

What an interesting analogy. I like it.

I've never made any bones about why I write or that I expect to make money at it.

I have expenses and if I take time out of my busy day to write, it better repay me in some concrete form--like paying the electric bill. :)

Marian Perera said...

M. R. J. - Exactly. A publisher saying they didn't care about money and just wanted to get books out there would not inspire me with confidence. So when a writer does the same...

Vegetarian Cannibal - I think it's possible to keep both creativity and money in mind when writing. Just as an example, I love worldbuilding when I write (creativity) but I've learned to watch my use of semi-colons and too-long paragraphs (marketing considerations).

I wonder if there's a prevailing idea out there that concern about money can interfere with creativity. In my case, I'm pretty sure a lack of money will dry up my creativity, because I'll be so worried about paying the bills that I won't be in a writing state of mind.

I agree that writing as a business is difficult. But the people who've reviewed and interviewed me have been unfailingly gracious, so I never felt I had to "put up" with them. That part of it has always been fun, actually.

These days, it also seems unlikely that a writer will be pressured to conform to a "trend" unless that writer is trying to get into one of the category romance lines (where it's understandable). There are so many markets and niche markets for whatever genre or type of story a writer puts out.

I mean, if I were doing what Samhain seems to consider trendy/well-selling, I'd be writing M/M erotica or menages. But no one's even suggested that I should try that, much less that I "have" to do it. I wrote what I loved and am getting paid for it. Kind of a happy ending, really. :)

Marian Perera said...

L. M. Preston - Right, once it gets on the market it stops being one's "baby" (if it ever was in the first place) and becomes a product to sell.

And it's competing with a lot of other products, many of those from writers who do care about money and are therefore determined to recoup the investment of their time and effort.

JH - Honestly, it's not in reference to what you said. :) If a writer just wants to tell a story, more power to them.

I do that too, with fanfic. There's something I will never make money off (except by advertising my novel to other fans, but that's different). There is absolutely nothing wrong about having non-financial motivations for writing.

But when going into publishing and signing away one's rights... that's different. If you (generic you) enter into a business venture saying you don't care about money, expect to find your funds ending up with someone who does.

Marian Perera said...

Maria - Thanks! And I hear you about the bill payment.

That's one reason I like the idea of profiting from my work. It combines pleasure with business. :)

JH said...

Sorry if I sounded defensive, I just wanted to say that you made a good point. No matter what your intentions, it makes sense to understand the business world if you interact with it. said...

"I didn’t work as a technician for free so I’m certainly not going to publish for free."


Writing as a hobby/pure personal enjoyment, and writing as a profession are two different things. There's no reason that a writer who gets published in a professional medium, shouldn't get paid for their time and effort.

No one would go into their office/retail store etc., and announce, "I love working here so much that you don't have to pay me."

I love writing with all my heart. But as someone who wishes to be a professional writer, I most certainly expect to get paid.