It’s not about the money.
Fantasycon, as ever, provided me with a great deal of new insights into the publishing industry. The biggest eye opener for me this year, was what is considered a successful novel in the sci-fi / fantasy / horror genres.
Now, up until this weekend, I assumed that for a first time author I was doing alright, if not spectacularly. There have been a couple of my US based writing buddies make comments in the past. One of them called High Moor “Wildly successful” in response to a snarky comment on Goodreads, but I’d just laughed it off (a little embarrassed) and waited for the book to take that next step, where it went from ticking over at a fairly steady rate to actually bringing in enough money to make a real difference to my life, or at least to allow for Horrific Tales Publishing to branch out a little and start publishing work other than my own.
What I learned this weekend is that, compared to many other writers, most of whom are very much better known and more talented than me, the book is actually doing better than I thought.
This is both immensely gratifying and a little bit depressing.
Since High Moor came out last November, I have sold almost 2000 copies of the book worldwide. I’ve also given around 6000 copies away as part of KDP Select free promotional days. Depending on the price point at the time, and the country the book was purchased from, I make between $1.78 and $0.35 per copy, with the Amazon lending library borrows coming in at slightly more. In reality that means I sell roughly between 150 and 220 books a month, and make somewhere in the region of £120 to £200 in take-home royalties from that.
Not exactly like I’m giving up the day job any time soon. To put it in context, if I get two more books out there that perform at the same level, month in, month out, then I’ll be getting close to making the same as I would on the dole.
Now, where my eyes were opened is that even with traditionally published novels from well known authors, this is considered to be pretty good. From what I gather, for a book to be considered a commercial success it needs to sell 5000 copies in its lifetime. Most mid list presses will give royalties that range from £2000 – £5000, with the big 6 giving out the larger advances, which can be up to around £15000. Very few books sell enough copies to earn back the advance, and so that initial cheque is often the only money that an author will ever see.
It can be very easy to get carried away, especially if you look at some of the posts on Kindleboards and the like, where people are (allegedly) selling thousands of copies each month, sometimes even each week.
Do you know what all of those books have in common? They are not, for the most part, horror, science fiction or fantasy. They are chick-lit, thrillers, young adult or paranormal romances.
The Scifi / Fantasy / Horror market in the UK makes up about 10% of the total market between them, so roughly 3.3% of the market each. In 2010, there were 229.3 million books sold in the UK alone, so the entire UK market for horror books sold each year would seem to be around 7.5 million copies. Not bad until you look at how many books are out there. Amazon’s UK kindle store currently lists just over 25000 horror novels on sale in ebook format, while it’s paperback site shows around 50000. All of them competing for that same market share. Which, if divided equally amounts to about 100 copies each per year.
Clearly, that’s not an accurate figure. Some books will do better than others, while many more will die on their arse’s and make almost nothing. The big name authors will take the lion’s share of that money. Quite a few will hover around the mid-list, while many more will disappear from sight, never to be heard from again.
What it does go to show is that there is not as much money in this as people might think. A genre writer is going to have to be absurdly lucky and hard working to make a living as an author, and have a huge back catalogue of work to even consider giving up the day job. This is why there are so many talented and successful writers still slaving away in offices up and down the country, while writing in the evenings. Even those who do manage to do it full time have to take on projects that they might not be that interested in, such as movie or game tie-ins, to pay the bills.
So, there you have it. If you are writing your first novel, expecting it to make you rich and famous overnight, then you are probably in for a rather nasty surprise. Unless you write Paranormal Romance or Chick-Lit. If you want to write genre stuff, then you had better be in it for the love of what you do, because the likelihood of making it big is even smaller than you might realise.