The Author World, Part 2

Let’s talk stats

Hopefully from the previous post you have a general idea of why most authors aren’t rich and what happens once a book is written. Here are a few more things I’d like to add. I’m going to be personally open and honest here, because I think it might be helpful for both authors and readers.

There is only one JK Rowling, only one James Patterson, only one Tom Clancy. They are the authors you know about who have done well, and there are a handful of others in their orbit. These authors command six or even seven figure advances. Kudos to Patterson, in particular, who gives back in a big way to many charities.

Me with my books, 2019. Kind of surprising to have written so many!

“Midlist authors” (I count myself among them) can receive advances from four to five figures. For each of my books my advances have been in that range, but not high numbers. Over the 12 years of my career so far my advances, spread out as they are, do not add up to a living wage.

Two of my books have earned out – my very first (GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT), and my middle grade novel (THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE). I’m earning modest royalties on both.

One of my novels, my second (FORGIVEN), although award-winning and recognized by Junior Library Guild, went out of print (OOP, or was “remaindered”) very quickly due to a “series of unfortunate events” (the closing of Borders, the sudden appearance of cheaper e-books, etc.). That means it never will earn out, or even come close.

I was able to recover the rights to FORGIVEN, and have re-issued it as an e-book on my own, with a cover that I paid to have made. I’ve made probably less than $100 on that re-issue over the years, so really my only objective is to keep it available.

My first novel FAITHFUL is vanishingly close to earning out and I hope it does before it goes OOP. (I’ll be doing a special 10-year anniversary promotion to help it along, starting this fall. Please stay tuned!)

I’ve also written a YA sci-fi novel (ARK) and out of curiosity posted it as an indie book on Amazon, with no marketing. It’s barely sold a dozen copies (hence the value of an author having a traditional publisher or, if indie, doing an incredible amount of marketing).

Ah, marketing

Doing an author thing I love.

For each of my books – whether my publisher has done marketing in a big or small way – I’ve done additional marketing, which costs money and time. I’ve made my own bookmarks, business cards, postcards, pamphlets, handouts, teacher guides, study guides, stickers, temporary tattoos, all at my expense. I’ve paid to have my main website made and maintained, and even set up an additional website for CHARMED CHILDREN. I’ve made or purchased items as give-away enticements. I’ve invested much time in social media, although it’s incumbent upon an author not to be all “buy my book!” all the time, so I have to give a lot of thought to what I post, where, and when. I’ve appeared at festivals and on panels at conferences, and gone to book signings at my own expense in order to help spread the word.

Sometimes I’ll travel to a book signing and have one person show up, who may or may not buy my book. (This is not uncommon, and is an author joke. Only, it’s one of those morbid jokes.)

These expenses are tax deductible, to a point, but every two out of three years I’ve taken a loss.

I have earned money by doing school visits, and some appearances are paid or reimbursed. I love the work and I love meeting young readers, and those visits also help spread the word. But the preparation and travel take precious writing time, can be exhausting, and the additional income is not huge. Many writers teach. Many others have quite different day jobs. Some of us are lucky to have supportive spouses. But most of us are not in it for the money.

So why do this author thing?

Because I love writing. I can’t not write. It is a deep thrill to write something that connects with readers. It is an emotional high to write something that I feel deep in my bones. I dream about my stories, I think about my characters when I take a walk, I believe in them and their lives and in what my young readers need to know from what my characters experience.

All the writers I know would agree with that statement above.

If you love books and if you would like to help your favorite authors please do check out my suggestions in the previous post, and….thanks.

PS: If you are a teacher, I feel you. I taught for four years. I know that most of your classroom materials, including books, you must purchase from your own pocket. This is neither right nor fair, as you are also doing a job you love. I do try to donate my books to classrooms as often as I can. But if I can’t, now it’s my hope that you understand why.

8 Responses to “The Author World, Part 2”

  1. Linda W.

    Janet, I’m grateful you had the courage to post this realistic look at the writing life. I’ve also had books go out of print so I feel your pain.

    During career day at a school, the eighth graders I spoke to asked me if I was as rich as J. K. Rowling. That was their benchmark for success. ?

  2. Cynthia Reeg

    These two articles have covered the reality of being a kidlit author so well. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge. I’m sure many beginning authors and teachers will find this helpful.
    Cynthia Reeg

  3. Augusta Scattergood

    Janet, I happened upon your excellent blog early this morning and I think I’ll go through the rest of my day thinking about your perfect choice of words: “vanishingly close to earning out”
    Like yours, two of my books are vanishingly close. I hope they don’t go OOP before that happens!

    • Janet Fox

      Oh, thanks, Augusta!! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. Every time I open my statement from Penguin it’s so frustrating. I’ll let you know if my publicity push this fall works to take it over the line! Cheers –


    Janet Fox ’s wonderful presentation energized our NaNoWriMo participants, children and adults alike. Her advice on how to develop characters, plot, and setting was accessible and motivating. The question and answer session was equally enlightening, not only in matters of writing craft, but in writing discipline. We’re proud to have hosted this talented author and are certain she made a lasting impression on our attendees.


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