Have you ever met an author and thought, ‘Wow, they’ve written a book! They must be well off’?
Well, unfortunately, ‘author’ and ‘well off’ are rarely found in the same sentence. There are many authors of really good books, who are just regular people like you (and I) that just happen to have written a book. And hence are an author. Most aren’t a booming financial success.
The book that started it all: Rockin' Whitewater
Although I’ve written and traditionally published two books, I don’t make a living as an author. Yes, I receive royalty cheques; yes, I am paid to write articles; but no, it doesn’t pay for my horse’s hay or dog’s breakfast (pun intended). Consider this: the first book I wrote took 6 months to write and research (I was very fast); the second book took five years; the third book will have taken two+ years and about 30 years of horse experience. So you see… it would be difficult for book royalties to pay enough to cover all that.
However, assuming that the research and writing time and costs are donated by the author (donated = unpaid = starving author), surely once the book is published, the proceeds are enough to live off, right? Well, actually, no. Not unless you sell A LOT of books. Here’s some math.
An author of a book that retails for $20, receives, on average, $2 to $4 per book sold. So…. if the author wants to make $50,000 in pre-tax earnings (not an extravagant living by any means), then they have to sell 12,500 to 25,000 copies of the book. In one year. Or have a whole shwack of books (you see where I’m going) that each sell a bunch of copies every year. Of course, books have a ‘shelf-life’ and in our fast-paced world that life isn’t very long….
But anyway, how likely is it that one book will sell 12,500 to 25,00 copies in one year? Well, a Canadian book is generally considered a bestseller once 5,000 copies are sold. So if you’re a Canadian author and you write a bestseller, then you might make a living if you're lucky. For one year. And the initial costs of researching and writing the book are still not paid for.
So I started thinking about how authors go from writing and publishing books in starving-author-mode, to actually making a living. Assuming that your first book (or second, for that matter) isn’t a bestseller, how many books have newly-successful authors written, prior to their first big break-out success (assuming they weren’t first-time authors who wrote bestsellers, like J K Rowling).
I really want an answer. I mean, this affects how I plan my life. So I did some research. And guess what? The average number of books that authors write before cracking the ‘success code' is…. wait for it…. seven. Yes, seven books. Wow.
Since it’s taken me seven years to write three books, I guess by the time I reach Freedom 55, I’ll be a successful author. For one year, anyway. Ah well. Hopefully the Universe has a speedier version of becoming a successful author in mind for me.
And if you’re thinking of becoming an author, good luck. It’s very satisfying in many ways, just not (always) financially.