You CAN Make a Living as a Writer

Well, at least I can.

I just got my quarterly royalty statement from one of my publishers.

The only known about a royalty statement is the approximate time it will arrive and the period it will cover. The amount is always a surprise.

Imagine having a job and getting paid once every three months and not knowing how much you’ll receive. That’s the boat I’m in.

Of course, when I write or revise a book, I get advances on royalties. The idea behind the advance is that it provides some income for the author while she is hard at work. This is a good thing because royalties are usually paid two to four months after the end of the period they’re due for. So, for example, the royalty statement and check I got today was for the quarter ending June 30, 2005.

Advances are deducted from future royalties. So a book has to “earn out” before I get another penny for it. That means that if I get a $5,000 advance and I earn about $1.00 per book, the publisher has to sell 5,000 copies of the book before I see more money. I’ll be the the first to admit that I’ve written more than a few books that haven’t earned out. That’s partially the fault of the publisher, for offering such a high advance. Fortunately, I never have to give it back. But if I revise that book the amount that was overpaid to me is cross-deducted from the earnings on the revision. Books that don’t earn out are seldom revised. Why through more good money away?

Another thing that can eat away at royalties are returns of previous editions. This really hits me because so many of my books are revisions. For example, my Tiger book is selling very well and, according to the royalty statement, my Panther book (which is the previous edition) is also still selling. But my Jaguar book (the one before Panther) is in its return phase. Since that book no longer has net earnings, the returns are deducted from my Panther book. When that goes into returns, the returns will be deducted from my Tiger book. Get the idea?

The first book I ever wrote was co-authored with Bernard J. David. Bernard once said to me that I should sign books in bookstores as often as possible. Why? Because then they can’t return them.

But I’ve never had to guts to go into a Borders or B&N, introduce myself, and ask if I could sign books. Heck, what if they were on to that trick and said no? How embarrassed would I be?

Anyway, I got a statement from Peachpit today and it came with a nice check. A very nice check. The best check I’ve ever gotten, in fact. Cliff (my editor) said my Tiger book was doing well, but he failed to communicate just how well that was. Now I know exactly how well. And those numbers are three months old.

A bunch of my other books paid out, too. Oddly enough, three editions of my Excel for Windows (2000, 2002, and 2003) are still selling briskly. (What’s very odd is that Excel 2000 is outselling Excel 2002.) And I got some royalties on translations of various titles to French and German. (My royalty statement from Peachpit is 53 pages long, with 29 ISBNs on it. Good thing I have an accounting degree.) So even if the Tiger book hadn’t done so well, the other titles would have pulled me through.

But my Tiger book is doing well. And I think it deserves it. This book, and the previous edition (Panther) are two of my best works. I worked very hard on both of them. They’re big, fat books with very reasonable price tags, giving readers a lot for their money. And I continue to support them by appearing at Apple Stores (I’m going to Tucson tomorrow), writing articles about related topics for Informit.com and the books’ companion Web site, and now publishing podcast entries with even more tips and tricks.

This is what I do for a living. I’m a writer. And I’m doing pretty well.

What do you think?