Friday, March 30, 2007

Should you write a book?

April 2007 - I'm thinking of writing a book. If you're my wife and reading this posting please settle down as I don't plan on quitting my day job. In all seriousness I'd like to someday take all the thoughts bouncing around in my head and put them to paper. Would anyone read it? I'd like to think so, but honestly it's more of a hobby than anything.

But let's say someone did like the book and wanted to buy it. How much would it sell for? And more importantly how much would I make from that sale? I'd like to think that if the book sold for $24.99, I'd get at least 75% of that. If you're a publisher you're starting to laugh off your chair. After a bit of research I can understand why. The writers of fine literature are paid for their work, but certainly not at the insane rate I'd like to see. So how much do writers make?

From what I can gather authors are paid in a number of ways, but all income is centered are around royalties. For a break down of retail, per book, and wholesale royalties see Stephen Nelson's posting ( For the purpose of this discussion, let's just assume my prestigious publishing house is using retail royalty payments. Retail royalty rates can range from low single digit percentages (e.g. with my luck 5% or lower) to lower double digits for well known authors (e.g. maybe 15-20% for Stephen King).

Using 5% and a book price of $24.99, each book sold earns me $1.25 in profit. Alright! Didn’t Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code sell over 20 million copies? I'm guessing he quit his day job. Realistically though, I'm guessing my first book won't be nearly as popular so let's say I'm able to sell 1000 copies to threatened friends and family members. While $1,250 is nothing to write home about, it's a start. How much is this an hour though?

If you don't count my long "deep thought" walks, I estimate writing a book would take me 1000 hours. This might be high or low, but since I've never written a book before I don't have anything to base it on. Dividing my estimated income by the total number of hours, I make $1.25 an hour. That is slightly less than I made pumping gas as a 15-year-old.

So it looks like I'm not going to be rich. Back to my question; Should you write a book? Yes and No. If you're planning on quitting your day job to start writing, make sure you're ready to move in with your parents. I talked it over with my wife and this is not an option. If you're planning on writing the book for nothing more than a hobby, then write away. If you make $1.25 and hour then great for you. At least you're published!


David said...

The other consideration is of course, will they publish you. If your book is expected to sell 1000 copies, that is a no. The publisher would be losing money on you. However, you could use a subsidy publisher like: iUniverse. You would get a much higher % of each sale.

Robert Smith used a subsidy publisher for his "much" esteemed "The rest of the iceberg"

Mac Noland said...

Hi David. Yes that is a good point. If you tell them you're only looking at selling 1000 copies to threatened friends and family, the publiser is probably not overly excited to take your work. I'm pretty sure if I ever do end up publishing a book, I'll have throw out some inflated arbitrary numbers (i.e. more than 1000 copies) for them to take my work.