Monday, January 31, 2005

And the Writing Goes On

Besides all the news of the day (Social Security 'reform', the elections in Iraq, SpongeBob being 'outted') this author has kept her nose to the keyboard. Not an easy position, by the way. But it's what I do.

For those of you not familiar with the writing process, it consists of a lot of work. You dream up a story, put it on paper, realize it sucks, rewrite it, realize it sucks and rewrite it again. Some author's books spring to life with minimal fuss. Most have to bleed on the keyboard. At present, I'm rewriting/editing a paranormal romance that features a Wiccan (witch) and a Irish Catholic P.I. They find common ground investigating the murder of a little six-year-old boy. The paranormal part? The witch does Light work -- escorting the souls of the dead into the next life. So I'm balancing paranormal elements with a romance wrapped in a mystery. Yipes. And trying to keep the size of the book within the publisher's guidelines.

You heard right, this one is being sent to NY for consideration. Will they publish it? Don't know. It's a crapshoot. If the editor finds it worth her time, then I'll make the leap from self-pubbed to NY-pubbed. And make the transition from self-pubbed hassles to NY-style hassles. The publishing industry today is pretty much rooted in the 20th century. Where technological innovation has raged through other industries, publishing lags behind. In many ways, it's as arcane as the airline industry.

Here's how it works -- the publisher pays the author an advance against sales but retains a certain percentage for unsold (remaindered) books. The key number for the author is 'sell through.' What percentage of books actually sold. The publisher will print "X" number of books (let's say 20K) and the bookstore reps will place their orders. What books don't sell are returned to the publisher for credit. Mass market paperbacks have their covers ripped off and the actual book is pulped as it's a waste of money to ship them back to the publisher. Trade paperbacks (the bigger ones) and hardcovers are returned. It's up to the publisher to 'guess' how many books will sell and eat the remainders. Not a good use of resources.

Now what about that sell-through thing I mentioned? If an author's sell-through is low, their next book will not have as many printed, despite the fact it might be a better book. Of course, less books, lower sales. It's a downward spiral. Add into that mix bad weather during the debut week, national catastrophes, botched print runs, etc. and the author eats all of that. Bottom line -- the sales have to be good. And getting bookstores to order MORE than they did the previous time is a hassle even though they have the option to return the books.

And lest you think author advances are generous, only the big names get the big bucks. Depending on the publishing house/imprint, the advance can be as low as $1000. Average for some of the romances is $5000-10,000. Hey, you're thinking, that sounds good. How hard can it be to pen a romance? For today's readers, a lot harder than you might think.

Depending on the size, it can take nine months or more to turn out a finished book. For me, it's close to a year. I'm getting faster, but there is a LOT of hours involved. Would I be better working at McD's? Dollar-wise I would. Especially after you cut a check to your agent (if you have one) for 15% of the advance.

I write books because the voices in my head drive me to the keyboard. They want to tell their story. It's an obsession. But on the order of things I could be doing, this one's relatively harmless.