This post is getting filed under ‘stuff I wanna say’. It’s not a rant. It’s just an observation and hopefully a little perspective for some of the writers who haven’t experienced the ‘yearly slump’ yet.
What’s the ‘yearly slump’?
Well, it’s the time of year when most authors see a downward turn in their sales. It generally starts in August and continues to decline until after christmas when people are receiving shiny new kindles and iPads, along with gift cards with which they buy lots and lots of books to read while they’re on holiday. Generally sales will be good until March. Then they’ll drop a little, even out until the end of July (just enough time to make new comers feel as though they have an ‘income’) then you’ll hit August and be right back at the beginning again.
The key to getting through it is to plan your year in advance and spend your money wisely. Authors make income via royalties. We don’t get a wage. Our income fluctuates with the market and if writing is your sole source of income it’s important to plan ahead and save every extra penny to keep you afloat when you do have ‘bad months’.
Wait, wait. Shouldn’t authors write for the love of it and not worry about the money?
In a perfect world, yeah they should. And the majority of us start writing because we sincerely love it – the stories are in our bones and must be written down so our characters don’t torture us with their cries for release (I’m not even going to address the writers who throw together books in the hope of making a quick buck here, because that’s their prerogative, and really, it’s none of my business.) But, when your books start selling well, and your readers ask for more, you find yourself in the midst of Bookworld, running a small business with its own costs and budgets. It’s a place where creativity is sometimes stifled with the mountains of paperwork you have to deal with, and the numbers you are forced to recognise. Sometimes, it sucks the fun out of it. Sometimes, it makes you feel so overwhelmed that you want to crawl into a little hole and give up.
That’s what we’re seeing now. We’re seeing writers who didn’t know the slump was coming hit their panic buttons. They’re talking about quitting, and since being an author is a lonely job, a lot of those authors are posting about this on Facebook. They’re posting about it because they’re worried. They have bills to pay. They have children to feed. They have a car that is barely running. They’re struggling and just need to say something.
I can understand that. It’s not something I would personally do. But different strokes for different folks, and who am I to judge? Who are any of us to judge?
Fact of the matter is, when you have a family to feed (or even just yourself) and bills to pay, money matters. It matters to all of us. Writing novels is demanding work. A book that takes readers hours to devour, takes an author months to develop, write and deliver. We can’t all be EL James or JK Rowling and have a few books that hit it out of the park – they are the exception, not the rule.
Many authors enter into this industry, and they have a hit, leave their job, and then suddenly, the numbers aren’t adding up anymore and they’re forced to go back to paid work to make ends meet. Others write for years, toiling away until they have enough titles to collectively make an income so they leave their jobs then. Others write in their spare time, work a day job and release when they can because writing is their passion – not their pay.
There is no right way to be a writer. It’s not a competition. Suffering with no money in the name of your art isn’t going to win you a medal. Voicing your financial fears because you’re struggling doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t make you a sell-out because you openly talked about the money – it just means that you’re struggling, and may have to plan better next time. Sure, you might need to get a job in the meantime, but if you love writing, you’re going to do it anyway, so you’ll find a way to pay your bills and produce more stories for readers.
You are not a failure
This is where numbers are actually an authors best friend. There is so much focus placed on hitting that ‘top 100’ that people forget what success in this industry really is. For the sake of ease, we’re going to focus on the Kindle store (since that’s where we’re all looking anyway) and we’re going to take a look at percentages. Ready?
There are almost 3.5 million books available on the kindle store. Using that number, that means that the top 10% of ALL available books are ranking within the top 350,000. Top 100,000 is less than 3%. Top 10,000 is less than 0.3%.
See where I’m going here?
Let’s break it down a little further just to get a little more perspective.
Top 1000 is 0.03%
Top 100 is 0.003%
Do you see how hard this industry is? Do you see how hard it is to actually sell enough books to make any sort of income?
YOU. ARE. A. SUCCESS. and just because you’re struggling right now and feel as though your career is over doesn’t mean it is. It just means we’ve hit the slump, and if you keep at it, things will change. BUT, you may have to get a job to supplement your writing for a while. And you’ll do it, because writing is in your blood, just like it’s in mine and countless other writers out there who will type in the middle of a hurricane if the story is strong enough in their mind.
How do I make it through the slump next time?
Personally, I map my expenses twelve months in advance. The biggest obstacle for the money that comes with a hit book is the understanding that the money isn’t your typical income. It’s best to look at all book income as a windfall. Plan your life and don’t expect large sums to keep coming. The majority of books have a lifespan, and while they’ll continue to earn in the future, most won’t always be making that initial launch money. Plan your releases, plan your expenses. Don’t go emptying your bank account on trips to Disneyland because you get excited and think the only way is up. Because it’s not, we work in the entertainment industry and what’s popular today, might not be popular tomorrow. So, unless one book has made you enough money to live off comfortably for the next ten years, you’re going to have to budget well and plan sensibly. It sounds boring, but that’s the best advice I have – save your pennies. That’s how you make it through.
OK. That’s it from me. Hopefully this isn’t too long winded, and has helped someone. I’m by no means an expert, and you can tell me to shut up if you like. But, I’ve been around long enough to gain a little experience, and make it through the slump myself. Good luck to everyone from here on out.
Write well. Read more.