I was around 8 years old when I first learned of the financial realities of writing. I was a voracious reader at the time—as I still am—and looked up from whatever book I was immersed in—most likely a Nancy Drew mystery, or a volume from the Bobbsey Twins or Hollister Family series—and announced to my mother, “When I grow up, I want to be a novelist.” My mother gave me a warm smile and responded, “That’s wonderful, Lisa, but you can’t earn a living writing books.”
Mom was right. Since I signed my contract for The Talking Drum, I’ve thought about that conversation many times. Unless you’re a bestselling author, or your book gets optioned and then produced as a major motion picture or a television series, it’s unlikely that your book will sustain you financially. A passion for writing, for expressing oneself, and the response from readers—not remuneration—are the rewards.
As a debut novelist being published by a small press, my earnings will likely be small but expenses on my part significant. I will get royalties—a small percentage from the sale of each copy of The Talking Drum. But to give my novel the best chance for maximum exposure, I have hired a publicist who is working closely with the marketing director at the publishing house.
Publicists typically charge many thousands of dollars. If I travel to conferences to promote the book, that will happen at my expense. The cost of supplies that I’ve purchased—a tablecloth for exhibits at book fairs, notebooks, pencils, copy machine paper, light kit for on-camera interviews—are all out of pocket.
But declaring publication of my book a business does help. By doing so expenses can be considered a tax write-off.
It’s important for writers—especially ones not under contract with a major publisher, those who will likely not get an advance against sales—to understand the financial realities of the publishing business and to investigate ways to get their book published and positioned to their satisfaction in the marketplace without having to empty their pockets.