Friday, January 12, 2007

The Bottom Line

I'm am ravenous (I love that word) for knowledge of the publishing industry! I have 3 stats that I'm curious about and just would like some ball park figures? 1) How many books sold would constitute a successful first book? 2) What would constitute a nice yearly income of a successful author starting out? I know this is a tough question, but I need to have some idea as I plan my career. I cannot find anything on the internet! 3) What would constitute a nice advance for a first book?

Side note: I, too, love the word ravenous! I remember learning it in one of those SAT books and using it as often as possible.


Ah, great questions that every writer wants to have concrete answers to. If only I had them, and if only there were concrete answers. But alas, there aren't. Here's why.

1) What constitutes a good numbers of books sold? Well, that all depends on print runs and expectations. (FYI: Diana Peterfreund ran a recent poll on her blog to assess general print runs for new and established authors, and I'm anxiously awaiting her results.) If, for example, you have a 10,000 print run, and you sell all of them, well, then this is a fantastic sell through number and your publisher will be pleased. If, say, your name is Nora Roberts, and you only sell 10,000, your publisher is pissed. I think the thing to focus on instead, rather than number of books sold, is the sell-through and the percentage of books printed to books sold. That's what your publisher will focus on too.

2) What is a good income for a writer? Well, again, there's nothing concrete to say here. Why? Because what's more important is what's a good income for YOU. For example, I live in NYC, perhaps the most expensive place to live in the country. (Yeah, yeah, I hear you SF-ers - I know your rents are high there too.) So, what just covers my mortgage is going to be a FAT income for someone in Topeka, KS. Similarly, I probably wouldn't get by on that Topeka writer's income. Not to mention the whole other slew of factors: are you supporting only yourself? Are you the primary or secondary breadwinner? Do you drop dough faster than P. Diddy? And on and on. But I will say this: speaking from experience, it is certainly possible to earn 6-figures as a writer. But it probably won't happen the first year out (I think my first year freelancing, I earned something like 35k), and it probably won't happen if you don't spread your skills as far as possible. What I mean by that is that most 6-figure writers I know don't write exclusively for magazines - they might do corporate work or they might write books or whatever. That said, most writers don't make 6-figures. In fact, there was a recent survey as to what the average freelance writer makes, and I *believe*, though I'm not sure, since I'm citing this from memory, that the figure hovered somewhere around 40-50k.

3) Again, what would constitute a nice advance and what would constitute an advance that you'd dream of are two very different things. The average book advance is - breathe deeply - less than 10k. Yep, really. (Insert tears of sorrow here.) You're not going to get rich - most likely - writing books. At least not your first one. And probably not your second one. Write books because you really passionately want to, not because you're going to end up in an Aaron Spelling-like mansion. If you land a huge advance, it's the cherry on top. But don't count on it.

So...anyone want to add in specifics that I've overlooked? Maybe there's more concrete info out there than I think?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Messing with Multiple Queries

(Yo- my spellchecker isn't working, and I'm running the baby to the doctor, so please ignore any mistakes in this entry!)

As someone who is new to the magazine publishing world, I am soaking up as much information as possible, particularly on querying and marketing myself. Everything I've read so far says it's a no-no to pitch more than one editor the same query at a time. But, my marketing common sense says that the more bait I put out, the more fishies I will catch-- or, the more articles I will ultimately write. Then, last night, I read a book by a freelancer who says it is ok to send your query to several editors at once and take the offer that best suits you. What gives? As someone new, the last thing I want to do is create a bad reputation for myself. But also, as someone new, the first thing I want to do is get as much work as possible. What is your advice?

I've blogged on this before, so definitely search the archives, but I think it's such a valid question that I thought I'd revisit it.

Ask most new freelancers if they multiple-query, and most will tell you "no." They fear the wrath of editors, and they suspect that their idea will be coveted by more than one magazine.

Ask most seasoned freelancers if they multiple-query, and they'll smile slyly and say, "If it serves my purposes, then, sure."

What's the difference? A couple of things.

1) The chances that your query will be snapped up by more than one market are extremely unlikely. Hell, the chances that your query will be snapped up by ONE market aren't that high either. This isn't a cut on your query or writing skills: it's simple odds. For the average freelancer, the ratio of rejected queries to accepted queries is probably at least 25 to 1, and only sky-rockets from there.

2) It makes good business sense. In just about no other industry would you pitch your wares to solely one person...then wait...then wait...then wait some more to see if he or she is interested. I mean, could you imagine if this is how electricians or doctors or whomever earned their livings? (I realize that this isn't entirely analogous b/c a story idea is a unique item, but the general principle applies.)

3) We know to whom we're loyal. Look, I have a crew of editors who get first dibs on story ideas. I'd never dream of sending them an idea and then sending it elsewhere without hearing back. BUT, if you have a new-to-you editor who might take eons to respond and most likely won't respond with a "yes," you owe this editor nothing. Zilch. Nada. If the idea is a good one, then the editor should snap it up asap. And if she lollygags and loiters, her loss - you've sent it elsewhere. In other words, she snoozes, she loses. In this sense, it might serve you well to pitch the idea to one place, wait a week or two, then send it to another. You've given your top choice the chance to respond, and after that, all bets are off. If she later comes back to you with a "yes," and you've sold it to a different magazine, you certainly have a valid excuse that she didn't get back to you in a timely manner.

Here's the thing about multiple-querying. I don't recommend it for every pitch, and it's not a practice that I employ very often, really because as I mentioned above, I primarily work with a specific set of editors whom I'd never want to piss off. But if you're breaking in or if you're trying to boost your clips or if you have a really timely idea or if or if or if...there are countless reasons why sending the same query to a few outlets might serve your purposes. You have to assess what these reasons are and if they're valid. Of course, don't forget, you can always slightly tweak a pitch and send it out to non-competing magazines: this is entirely kosher and will never land you in editorial hot water. you multiple-query? Yes, no, why not?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Great Tips for New Writers

I was doing my usual quick blog tour this morning and saw this post from Nadia Cornier, the agent who founded Firebrand Literary. Scroll down to her past few entries for some great insights on the revision process and writing process in general.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Revision Rules

A few months ago I emailed you about my WIP. At the time I had about 100 pages completed. I'm now happy to report that I have a completed rough draft! I wanted to get your thoughts on the revision process. How do you go about it? Do you have a writing group or trusted friends you show your rough draft to?

First of all, congrats on finishing your WIP!! What an accomplishment!

Everyone has his or her own way that he or she likes to revise, so take the following with a huge grain of salt. I'm sure that others will weigh in on what works best for them in the comments section. But my process is generally as follows.

To begin with, I tend to revise as I go along. Once I've completed a few chunks of the WIP, say, 5 chapters or 50 pages or whatever feels like a good breaking point, I go back and reread. Not only does this allow me to tighten up the prose as I go along, but it also brings me up to speed on what I've already written...something that I might have lost track of. Honestly, I'll reread certain passages and have completely forgotten that I'd written them! (This is why some writers map out all of their plot points, etc, but that doesn't really work for my process.)

Once my WIP is complete or half-done, I shoot it to my agent. If you don't have an agent or if your agent isn't interested in reading a WIP, this is when, I'd guess, you'd pass it to a trusted reader. This doesn't include: your mom, your husband, your best friend, your therapist. The purpose of this read isn't for your reader to tell you how brilliant your draft is because, honestly, at this point, nearly every book needs work. I remember reading a best-selling novelist's blog a while back in which she noted that one of her huge sellers required something like four drafts. So even if you think your WIP is perfect, it's not. So hand your WIP to someone who can not only be objective, but will also ask you questions that require you to probe deeper into your characters and tweak your plot, etc. My agent does these things for me exactly, so I don't feel the need to bring it to a critique group or partner. Honestly, I'm also not sure how I'd find someone else whose opinion I trusted so much...but if you can find that person, then go for it.

From there, I rinse, lather and repeat. Meaning, I really don't expect to revise the WIP just once. Even reading the galley of TDLF, I see sentences that make me cringe, and we fine-tuned the last chapter only recently to tighten it up.

One other thought: a lot of people suggest that you take some time off from the WIP in order to step back into it with fresh eyes. I say to this: do whatever works for you. When I was revising TDLF, I dove into the new drafts without any time off - the time from the first word I typed to the last revise was no more than four months. But on the other hand, now when I reread my first novel (the one that didn't sell), I see SO many problems with it, problems that I was totally immune to when I wrote it. So I guess my advice here is that if you're stuck or if you're not getting any agent bites, maybe it is wise to step away, but if you're really in the writing groove and the creative juices are flowing, then keep at it.

So...what's your own writing process? I know that a ton of readers have writing partners. How did you find someone whom you trust?