So you want to be a novelist?

Fancy becoming an author? Then don’t give up the day job. BoingBoing links to this survey of novelists’ advances, and it’s clear that writing books is hardly a licence to print money:

The range was from $0-$40,000 for an advance on a first novel.

The average was $6363.

The median advance is $5000. The median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘average.’

7 thoughts on “So you want to be a novelist?

  1. Stephen says:

    And that’s for the lucky 1% or so who had their manuscripts accepted for publication.

    But I suppose no-one (well, except maybe Dan Brown) writes a first novel for the money. I doubt you started Kasino to make money. Sure, at the back of everyone’s mind is the dream of fabulous wealth, and it could happen, but it’s really like winning the lottery. You write a novel or play in a band or create any kind of art because you have to, driven by that need for self-expression that makes us pour enormous energy into something that will in all likelihood never produce any tangible reward.

  2. Gary says:

    True, but cash is nice too :-)

    It is something of a lottery, though. The book industry works much like the music industry, with the majority of titles barely selling at all and yer Dan Browns writing any old crap and shifting millions of copies.

    The other parallel is that in both industries, the average punter assumes that getting the deal = a life of fame and fortune, when in the majority of cases the reality is rather less glamorous.

  3. Stephen says:

    Very true, that: getting the deal is but one step closer to winning the lottery. The odds are so tiny.

    In thinking about this I’m often reminded of Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker. If you haven’t read it, it’s a very funny account of his years at Salomon Brothers as a bond salesman during the bond boom years. He observed that these guys, overnight millionaires for no discernable reason, tended to take one of two attitudes. Either they decided that they were just lucky, and didn’t let it affect their sense of self-worth, or they became ridiculously obsessed with justifying why they deserved all the wealth. The latter, of course, suffered the most when they crashed to earth.

    The irony is that Lewis quit the business before he became seriously rich because he couldn’t justify to himself the worth of what he was doing. He wrote the book immediately afterwards- and it was an instant bestseller. Seems he was fated to be rich!

  4. a nonny mouse says:

    for what it’s worth, i took part in that survey, and i’m from scotland: i suspect based on my own experiences – and those of many other writers i know – the figure can be a little higher here than over there (ie the US). since i’m staying anonymous, i can tell you i got twenty grand for my first two books together, and i’m not sure this is necessarily unusual (that money also included world rights except for the US).

  5. Gary says:

    Hey Nonny. That sounds like the beginning of a folk song :-)

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve heard a similar thing, that advances are better over here than in the States; apparently it’s usually the reverse for journalism. Boo!

    Good luck with the books…

  6. vic says:

    Just got back from a writers’ conference in Michigan. One successful writer told me 80% of his survival revenue came from speaking engagements. Another successful writer was on the road all the time pushing her books.
    When asked when they had time to write, the response was, “A few minutes here and a few minutes there.”
    The publisher and agent at the conference both agreed that book marketing was a citizen in the writer’s city.
    So, for all you book writer’s out there, you better come up with a good marketing approach if you plan on having much success.
    Good luck.

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