Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Price We Pay

I am thinking that all publishing dreams – self or traditional – need to be faced with realistic expectations. Yes, there are some who write a great book (or even a not-so-great book) and manage to find an agent who manages to find a publisher who manages to find the right promotional vehicle to reach millions of readers and then lands a movie deal. This happens. But the odds are not in our favor…

Most authors will never sign a contract with a traditional publisher. Those that do may still never see their book in print. For those who actually get to the printing and distribution stage and have that (no doubt) fabulous feeling of seeing their book in a brick and mortar store, most will never be able to quit their day job. It could be years before they see a royalty check and the numbers on that check may be far less than our lofty dreams have led us to expect.

I read an article today called “The Financial Reality of a Genre Novelist,” by Jason Boog. I knew that a new novelist shouldn’t expect large checks right away, but had no idea that the amounts could be so paltry. One writer he quoted, novelist Mark Lawrence, calculated that he brought home a mere 12 cents per e-book for a novel that had reached the top 20 on Amazon’s e-book sales lists. That is only $120 per thousand sold!

That is an eye-opening story. I fear that most writers will not soar to the financial heights of Danielle Steele, Stephen King or even John Grisham. These authors were persistent and prolific. They wrote a lot in their careers and I am sure they had many rejections along the way, yet they kept at it. They worked on their craft for many years and paid their dues.

Other authors had that heady mix of a great story coming together at the right time to create an explosive response. J K Rowling is one. I loved the entire Harry Potter series – own all the hard cover books and each movie! But recently I realized it was a wonder she ever got published. It came down to the publisher’s grand-daughter reading a chapter and demanding the next. That was the final catalyst that moved a publishing house forward and started the momentum for her.

Most of us will not be so lucky. Heck, most of us may never be that good at our craft and that may have something to do with us not being so lucky. 🙂 But even those of us who hone our craft and massage every single word and punctuation mark in our story to a state of blissful perfection, may never be so lucky.

Most writers either wind up unpublished or as I like to say, pre-published, or they end up as midlist authors who have some titles selling, but not at the best-selling level. Self-published authors, in theory, can make more money from each book, and can make more money selling fewer books than traditionally published authors, but they still will most likely never be a household name.

What I take away from this article, and many like it, is that if you are not in this game purely for the love of writing, you are going to be disappointed.  Yes, lightning can certainly strike, and don’t we all want to be standing in the field holding a metal umbrella when it does!? 🙂 But, if you are writing fiction to become a millionaire or a famous author who everyone has heard of, you may be in for a very rude awakening when it comes time to actually make your work available to the world at large.

This is ok.

This is good to know.

Because, if you can know this and still write, still send queries, still research copyright and formatting requirements, then you must be a writer in your deepest heart and soul.


  1. Cindy Hutchinson

    thought of you the other day,a childhood friend posted that he had just received his Royalty check for his books, $4.12 ! Keep pondering, his name is JohnHowell ,on my friend list on FB love ya Cindy

    • Thanks for visiting, Cindy! 🙂 I keep hearing stories about the royalty checks being paid out by big publishers and am leaning more and more toward the self publishing path. I read an article that said that the vast majority of authors will only sell 500-1000 books, if they are lucky, regardless of the publishing path they choose. If a big name publisher can’t get more books sold, why use them?

  2. The only reason I have stuck with this for so long is because I love it. There’s no other way.

    • Right there with you! I could not have made it through the first rough draft without loving words and stories.

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