How much money will I get for publishing a novel
October 19, 2005 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Suppose I were able to write a publishable novel. How much money would I get, as a first-time author as soon as it was picked up? How much would I make over all? Assume This an action sci-fi/cyberpunk type book (think William Gibson).

I'm just wondering how much money I could expect to make assuming that the book did get picked up. I realize that different genres have different prices. If you know the values for more then one genre I'd be interested in hearing those too.
posted by delmoi to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: About $5000-10,000 in advance money.

About $5000-10,000 overall. (Most novels do not earn out their advances).

You might want to look at this first novel advance survey.
posted by Jeanne at 4:11 PM on October 19, 2005

Response by poster: bleh.
posted by delmoi at 4:33 PM on October 19, 2005

Anyone know the numbers for a fiction/literature novel?
posted by luckypozzo at 4:48 PM on October 19, 2005

I read Stephen King's biography and he got something over a million dollars for his first book. What's that all about?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:01 PM on October 19, 2005

Luck. I don't think he got a million-dollar advance though, did he?
posted by kindall at 5:14 PM on October 19, 2005

Stephen King is atypical:
Life in the trailer ended in 1973 when Doubleday bought one of his novels, “Carrie,” for a $2,500 advance. Hardcover sales were not spectacular, but the paperback sales — boosted by the film of the novel — were nearly 4,000,000 copies.
That's a lot of first novels to sell.
posted by smackfu at 5:25 PM on October 19, 2005

Response by poster: IIRC, Stephen King's first short story was sold to a porn mag for $250.
posted by delmoi at 5:27 PM on October 19, 2005

Getting published has other benefits in credibility, though - for example, if you want to pick up some reviewing gigs, it sure sounds better if they can say you're "author of the cyberpunk novel Space Virgins" or whatever.
posted by zadcat at 5:33 PM on October 19, 2005

I had the bio to hand--he got a $2500 advance for hardcover rights, then a $400,000 advance for paperback rights, which was an absolutely unheard-of sum for any writer, never mind a new one. That was Carrie, so he got movie rights too, and between that and royalties, I'd guess it adds up to over a million.

Recently, Susanna Clarke got a million-pound advance for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Hope springs eternal.

(I think literary fiction advances are somewhat higher, but not by any orders of magnitude).
posted by Jeanne at 5:33 PM on October 19, 2005

You're saying King's not "literary"?

No seriously, thanks for all those details, which I obviously remembered wrongly.

But still, no publisher would have offered him that much money for the rights if they didn't have to. He would have been happy with anything. Was there some kind of bidding war involved? Did his agent hold out for a really good offer?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:41 PM on October 19, 2005

AmbroseChapel: But still, no publisher would have offered him that much money for the rights if they didn't have to. He would have been happy with anything. Was there some kind of bidding war involved? Did his agent hold out for a really good offer?

From what I could dig up, the paperback came out along with the movie.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:11 PM on October 19, 2005

Response by poster: According to my calculations, if you assume $5k for a first novel, in order to make $20/hr you'd need to spend no more then 250 hours on the work. Given an 80k word novel works out to 320 words an hour, on average.

I'm planning on coming up with a detailed timeline, followed by a detailed 'shooting schedule' for the first half of the novel. Maybe I will do this over NaNoWriMo, given that half a novel would be 40k words. How pedestrian of me.
posted by delmoi at 6:34 PM on October 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Get a credible literary agent first! They'll be invaluable in getting you the best deal and getting editors to look at your book. But literary agents are hard to get as well. Look for one who handles your genre, then submit sample chapters and a kickass letter to them. You must really make yourself stand out. I used to work for an agency and the influx of material is frightening. Also, get yourself published in magazines or journals. You'll want nice samples to send your potential agent.
Don't count on much advance as a new writer, but fight for one.
posted by smartypanties at 7:53 PM on October 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm enmeshed in the same calculations (even in the same genre, isn't that a swell feeling), but I'd have to say there's no answer for the question. I mean, that survey above doesn't mean anything because he is just taking the random input of whoever happens by. Who knows, in other words.

This is what I came down to: I could think about whether writing the book would be "worth my time" from a financial perspective forever and never have a practical answer. Either you take the chance with your time or you don't. Because what I really need to know right now is first, can I do it, second, do I like doing it. Having done it, then and only then will I be able to find out if it can possibily pay. If it only seems worthwhile to do it if it can earn you a wage comparable to a day job, well, maybe its not really your vocation.
posted by nanojath at 8:12 PM on October 19, 2005

I got about $5,000 for my first fantasy novel and about $6,000 for the second, and then about $500 each over that in royalties (so mine did make back the advance), and I did have an excellent professional agent.

Writing novels is simply not a good way to make money. Unless someone is really lucky and/or works really hard (actually writing ability is a factor but not as much as luck and hard work, sadly), they will never 'make a living' at it. Most novelists have either day jobs, or supportive spouses. And this is assuming the work even gets published.

If the money-for-time issue is what matters, you should look into writing TV scripts. A 30-page script for, say, a cartoon show, will tend to net you $3000 to $5000 and you will rarely have more than 2 weeks to devote to it.
posted by Rubber Soul at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2005

Market is a big factor here; if you're in Canada, for example, it's iffy whether you'd even get an advance at all if you're a first-time fiction author. And yes, do whatever you can to get an agent; they know the industry, you don't. That's invaluable when negotiating a contract, especially with larger trade publishers.
posted by chrominance at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2005

Market is a big factor here; if you're in Canada, for example, it's iffy whether you'd even get an advance at all if you're a first-time fiction author.

Which is why so many Canadian authors (genre fiction writers in particular) avoid Canadian publishers.

In any case, delmoi: the odds of you getting a novel punished are small, the odds of you making minimum wage from a novel are minuscule, and the odds of anyone ever having heard of it in fifty years is somewhat lower than that. Unless writing and publishing a novel drives your very existence and you can't rest until you've succeeded, don't bother.

I speak as a professional; I have made money from short fiction and non-fiction. Writing novels? I can do it. I don't especially enjoy it. Whether they're good enough for publication is doutful. I can say what I need to say, achieve fame and earn money more efficiently by other means.

Lastly, the world doesn't need any more near-future action SF with cyberpunk trappings. I would be very. very surprised if you or anyone else had anything novel (pardon the pun) to contribute to the genre.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:57 PM on October 19, 2005

Response by poster: Well, I would like to get this novel done with, since it's been on the backburner since 1999. My basic plan going forward is to get the plot worked out and then see if I can keep to a regular schedule.

Just typing isn't all that hard for me. If you took all the text I've posted on metafilter you could fill a book or two at least. Add in slashdot and Kuro5hin and you'd be looking at several volumes. I haven't made a penny doing that, and it'll always be on my mind if I don't finish.

Lastly, the world doesn't need any more near-future action SF with cyberpunk trappings.

Sure, sure. But I sort of view this as a literary novel about relationships and whatnot set in a sort of cyberpunk world (a story who's plot I'd already developed). I guess we'll see.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 PM on October 19, 2005

Don't let solid-one-love discourage you. He's right that the world doesn't need your novel, but the world doesn't really need any particular novels. One or two people might need yours. So finish it. But don't expect to get paid more than minimum wage.
posted by escabeche at 10:53 PM on October 19, 2005

Forgot the other fun thing... If you're in the USA, bear in mind that income from writing and selling a book is 'self-employed' income, and thus the IRS will take... oh, about half of it. (wince) And your agent, if you have one, will take about 10% as well, of everything you ever make from that book. Just more numbers for your calculations...
posted by Rubber Soul at 6:25 AM on October 20, 2005

Don't even expect to get minimum wage. If you're writing in the expectation of some sort of pay scale, you're scratching at the wrong tree. Write it because you want to; if any money comes of it, that's gravy.
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on October 20, 2005

I'm working on an SF book too! More China Mieville than Gibson, with a little DF Wallace thrown in.

I am thinking more about getting it done and perfect than about publishing it for now.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:17 AM on October 20, 2005

Best answer: If you're looking to make money writing, the best course of action is to think of the stupidest fucking idea you can, then turn that into a self-help book, a la Who Moved My Cheese? or The Purpose-Driven Life.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:55 AM on October 20, 2005

I got an $8K advance for my first book, and have earned about $2K in royalties so far; my next three books totalled about $20K in advances ($15 for the two, $5 for the one; they're not out yet). And I'd say if you're serious about publishing, you definitely need an agent.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 11:02 AM on October 20, 2005

Rubber Soul's advice is technically true--if you write and sell a TV script, you will get more money per hour of labor than if you had written and sold a novel.

The problem is that to sell that one TV script, you will probably have to spend a LOT of time writing spec scripts, not to mention networking, learning the craft, etc. The WGA (the union to which most TV and film writers in the US belong) reports that about half of its members are unemployed in any given year. That has certainly been my experience; I've learned to save half of all the money I make at writing, since I can reasonably expect a complete year of unemployment for every year I am gainfully employed.

For books, my experience is in line with the numbers people have quoted. For my first book, my co-author and I got an advance of $7000 (of which our agent took 15%, leaving us each with $2975 apiece before taxes.) The book seems to be selling well, so I expect we'll get some royalties beyond that, but I don't yet know that for sure.

In any case, when you factor in the time we spent writing the book, trying to get an agent, doing PR for the book, etc, we probably ended up making about minimum wage. I agree with everybody who says "Don't do this to make money; do it because it's something you want to do."
posted by yankeefog at 7:04 AM on October 24, 2005

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