Thursday, July 29, 2010

J.B. Bares It All!

I’ve received enough emails lately to make me realize that folks are fascinated by what constitutes a writer’s life. I decided to reveal the naked truth from my perspective using the uncompromising language of numbers.

Please keep in mind that these statistics are only a reflection of my work. Me, little ole mid-list cozy mystery author, but I hope they fill in some of the blanks.
Number of books I’ll have published by the end of 2010 — 13
Number of author names I’ve used — 3
Average page count per book — 290
Average word count per book — 87,000
Number of publishers I’ve written for — 3

Average number of series I have going at once - 2
Average advance received from publisher — $3000, $5000, or $7500 per book
Average amount paid for large print or foreign rights — $500 or $1000
Average amount of advance spent on promotion — 50-75% of advance
Average money my publishers give me for promotion — $0
Average time it takes me to write a completed draft — 5-6 months
Average positive emails I receive per week from readers — 6
Average negative emails I receive — 1 per blue moon and these are usually to point out a type-o or punctuation error
Number of personal copies I receive of each title — 30-50
Time it took me to sign with an agent — 5 months
Time it took my agent (Jessica Faust of Book Ends) to sell my first series — 2 months
Average number of conferences I attend per year — 3
Average number of library talks per year — 2
Average number of times I check my sales ranking on Amazon — a billion
My writing income based on my 2009 tax return — $21,000

Day per year I work — 360 (this is not an exaggeration. I consider promotion work and unless I am sick or am forced to be away from a computer, I find time every day to write, edit, promote, or research).
Age I knew I wanted to become a writer when I grew up — 7
Number of cancelled series — 1 (the Molly Appleby collectible series)
Number of proposals I’m working on — 2 (may be combined into 1)
Times I’d trade this life for another — 0. There are bad days, trust me. But I knew what I wanted to do when I was seven and by golly, I’m doing it and loving it.
Did I miss anything? Not strip things down enough? Go ahead and ask me a question. I’ll tell you anything.


Aimee said...

WOW! That list certainly makes you wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to be a writer ... and then you remember all about the love of writing and books.

Thanks for doing what you do. Please know that I, along with millions of others, appreciate it.

~ Babs ~ said...

I agree with Aimee wow! It makes us appreciate writers works even more.

Mare F said...

Oh, honey, you really must want to be an author. I know that I for one am very glad that you are, I love reading your work and I really appreciate the books I've enjoyed even more now that I know what they mean to you. I am somewhat appalled though at the paltry amount of 6 positive emails a week. That should be much higher.

Unknown said...

Perfect, J.B. -- and if readers want another look at an author's life, they can check out the Sisters In Crime blog post today: 5 Myths About Mystery Authors:

Sheila Connolly said...

I think you've nailed it. Obviously it's not about the money, except for a few lucky writers (and long may they subsidize our efforts with their megachecks). We do it for the love of writing--and because we can't not do it.

Ramona said...

Reality looks brutal on the cold, hard page, doesn't it?

Good sharing. I'm making a note to myself to send more positive emails when I like a book.

holdenj said...

Wow, some very interesting stats! Count me in as one satisfited reader of you and the other cozy chicks!

Laurissa said...

Thanks so much for sharing so much information about the life of a writer. I'm new to writing and your summary of the writer's life is great!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

That is--inspirational. You're amazing, JB. I might say--number 1! Thank you...and I'm off to write you a fan letter to boost those numbers for next time.

Carol said...

Thanks for sharing, JB! That is remarkable. And it is a reminder to those of us who really like a book that we should take time to let the author know!

Andrea C. said...

Cool Post - very interesting! Thanks for breaking it down JB! :)

Pauline Alldred said...

Thank you for sharing. Makes me aware again, it;s not about the money. Pauline

Publius said...

You're my hero, JB. :)

Susan Schreyer said...

JB, thank you so much for posting this information. I can't say I'm shocked, because I've seen similar figures before (yes, I'm a writer, too--yet unpublished :) ).

What has set me back on my heels a bit is that no one has mentioned how little you are compensated for the amount of work you put in. Heck, even if you didn't work as hard as you do, the amount is rivaled only by fast food workers.

You produce a commodity (sorry to put your work in that terms, but it works here)that earns your publisher money, yet they contribute nothing to promotion. I almost wept, even though (as I mentioned) I've been familiar with these general figures for some time. It's a sad commentary on that industry when it's typically impossible for the majority of "workers" to earn a living wage when they put so much time and effort in.

I know you love what you do, and many many people love your books.
We, as readers, are lucky for authors like you who have such devotion to your work.

Thanks, again, for the reality check.

Kaye George said...

Thanks for this frank and honest post! This gives me something to show to my husband when he says he'll retire when I'm published.

Leann Sweeney said...

This is right on the money--pun intended. sigh.

Ellery Adams said...

I wanted to add something about reader emails. I was really talknig about an annual average - I have received close to 100 since A Killer Plot came out on June 1st (what a gift!)

But what I'd give to have each of those emails translate to a review! If you, the reader, have ever written an author a line of praise, we celebrate and cherish those personal connections, but on a professional level, we will survive longer in this business if you post that line for thousands of potential readers to see! That is power! That generates a buzz! That can make the difference between cancelation and an extended contract. If A Killer Plot had 100 reviews today, it would get the attention of my editor and lots and lots of other readers.

So please. Copy and paste those lines into a review. They mean the world to us and to future readers.

Okay, hopping down from soapbox now. :)

dollycas aka Lori said...

WOW What an education! I am so happy you are a writer along with all the others whose books I love. The happiness of reading a good book to a reader is priceless, I am really disappointed about how that translates into dollars for all of the writers here. Thank you all so much!! and thank you JB for the info! I will be sure to always post my review, send an email and do anything else I can to show my support for all you wonderful authors!!!!

keri said...

Susan captured my sentiments exactly. Although unpublished, I was aware of the $ figures (or lack therof). Still, seeing the numbers presented this way made me shake my head in sadness. (And JB, you've written over a dozen books!)

I'd like to add one thing for readers who may not know: a lot of published authors, in addition to writing full-time, must also work part-time or full-time in order to supplement their writing income. If I get published, I'll have to continue working, no doubt about it.

But yes, we do this all for love. (It's why I'm thrilled with the $100 I've made this year on short story sales, and why continue to write, despite being unpublished for too many years than I'd like to count.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for doing this! I wish all writers would do this--transparency is great.

Dru said...

Thanks so much for telling us how it is. I had a feeling it was like this.

You guys give me such pleasure when I begin and finish a book and I appreciate all that you do.

Patg said...

We have to love it, it sure doesn't seem to make many of us rich. When I saw my first royalty check after all my advertising expenditures, a bit of vertigo came on.
Oh well.

Grace Topping said...

I can't say that I am surprised by the small figures--just disappointed for everyone who puts so much effort into their work. I had a friend who wrote a long series of Regency Romances. She quit her job as a teacher to write full time. Sadly, she has since died. She said that she would have been much further ahead if she had stayed with the teaching and gotten a retirement. But, I still see her books in book stores and in libraries, which always brings a smile to my face. People are still enjoying her works, and that is what counts.

Vickie said...

Okay, a question or you have background music or noise on when you write and do you write in your jammies or do you dress in your daytime clothes as my daughter calles it.

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Ellery, thanks for sharing. Brave...true. And let me second your follow-up comment re: posting those reviews. Readers (fans) are powerful. They can make or break an author's sales. A posted review on Amazon, B&N, your favorite indie site or a personal blog garners attention. A note on FB is lovely, but a posted review powerful.

Write with passion!

Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

Annette said...

WOW, thanks for sharing these statistics with us. I know what it is like to work at a job I absolutely love, but make very little money. It is our choice.
You are one of my favorite authors. I promise to bug you and other favorite authors with more e-mails. I will try harder to post positive reviews on Amazon, B&N, etc. Just keep on writing. Readers don't always know what they can do to help authors, other than buy their books. Let us know other ways to lend support.

Annette said...

WOW, thanks for sharing these statistics with us. I know what it is like to work at a job I absolutely love, but make very little money. It is our choice.
You are one of my favorite authors. I promise to bug you and other favorite authors with more e-mails. I will try harder to post positive reviews on Amazon, B&N, etc. Just keep on writing. Readers don't always know what they can do to help authors, other than buy their books. Let us know other ways to lend support.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm curious if that figure for annual writing income is before or after the promotional expenses, because that 50-75% of the advance on promotion was sort of stunning to me. I knew how little advances were (I have a verbal agreement and a contract is being written) and I knew the promotion TIME involved, but I guess I thought promotion expenses could be largely written off... what I am trying to work out is, if it is written off OF $21K or written off TO $21K. (because a 10K incomes is SO not going to cut it).

I really thank you for sharing all these numbers--I'm a number geek and this is all just so concrete.

Ellery Adams said...

Answers to Vickie's questions:

I do write to background music. I have a Beethoven station on Pandora which I use for serious scenes. For lighter scenes, I listen to Bubblegum Oldies. I edit to all kinds of music, including the Jim Croce, Josh Groban, and Simon & Gurfunkel stations.

Attire: Not pjs, I'm afraid. I have to drive two kids to school/camp during the week and am usually in workout clothes. I must exercise, grocery shop, write, and do the laundry before picking them up again.

Ellery Adams said...


Ah! I was waiting for someone to answer that question. I'd have to dig out my tax return, but I did list over $4000 in write-offs. This includes promotional and mailing expenses, travel expenses, and office supplies. Last year was expensive because I also needed a new computer.

The irony: as you get more well known, you can ease off on promotional expenses and rely more on social networking, mailings, and reader loyalty. But first you need to get to the well known part!

Publius said...

Hart, I can't answer your question about JB's net/gross income, but I can verify that promotion is *expensive* in terms of dollars and time.

Promotion expenses for I Scream include: travel/lodging/registration to one conference, travel/lodging for three long-distance signings, postcards (design and printing), website design and maintenance, buttons (design and printing), postage for notes sent to bookstores across the country, money for various giveaways and gift baskets, postage to send promo materials to bookstores ... the list goes on and on. EASILY half my advance.

I also hired a publicist (mistake!!), and there went the rest of the advance. So, until royalty checks roll in, I'm netting about $0.

Linda said...

As an unpublished writer this is really good information to find out. Thank you so much. I knew advances were low, but wow...with the expense you put into the promotion, that was really an eye-opener.
I am curious about the royalty checks.....How often do you get them, and is their a certain percentage you get for each book, and does that percentage ever change?

Ellery Adams said...


Royalty checks come every six months (but hardly ever on time!) and they can be a source of joy or very depressing. A new book can net you a few thousand dollars in royalties but one that's been out for a few years or is only selling as an e-book will only get you a few hundred. The percentage varies per publisher and can be negotiated with each author's contract. I think it's better to negotiate that number than the advance.

Kaye Killgore said...

I too am glad you write, because I love to read (and have forever). I know too that only a handful of authors are bringing in the huge books. I salute you.

Linda said...

Hi again,
You mentioned that you have an average of 2 series going on at once....When you are working on your series, do you write one as you edit the other? I'm curious how you manage different projects at the same time?


Ellery Adams said...


I usually write three chapters per month in the book due first. I then save the last week for the book due later on. This way, when Book 1 has been turned in I can focus on book 2 and still deal with necessary interruptions like editing and promo.

Occasionally, if I'm finishing a book or have reached a pivotal scene, I plow ahead and then must make up that time on book 2 over the weekend,

Anonymous said...

Thank You for the article, JB and for all the comments further explaining the writing process for all of us.

I expect 2010 will be a better year for you as will the next etc. You all are very gifted authors. Now, I'm wondering what Kindle,Ebooks, Smashwords etc. will yield? That should be an interesting analysis.


Linda Leszczuk said...

As a writer, I can't decide if I'm discouraged or inspired but all this. Must be inspired, I'm going to go write now.

As a reader, I will definitely start posted reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble when I like a book. Never have before.

Hart Johnson said...

So that was a before then, eh? I think there is DEFINITELY a trick to the tax piece. I am in process of setting up a space in my house, as--the way I understand it, even a portion of mortgage can be deducted if you devote part of your house to the writing.

Ellery Adams said...


I could probably work harder at the write-offs. I look to Maggie for advice as she was a former CPA. :)

Clea Simon said...

I think a lot of folks NOT in the business will be surprised by this - esp. the amount spent on promotion. Good for you!!

Leslie said...

This is wonderful information. It's really, really kind of you to share this with us. And yes, I was surprised about the % of your advance that you had to spend -- but it's a good to get a baseline on these things. It's a business, after all.



Judy Christie said...

Thank you so much for this blog post. I'm a new novelist (The Green Series: Gone to Green, last year; Goodness Gracious Green, this week!!, and I always wonder how it comes together for fellow authors.
(The wonderful marketing company I hire to help me along the way forwarded this, btw.)
Your blog inspired me.
All the best with your work!
Judy Christie

Lindy said...

Well, yes, it's a tad discouraging for a writer wannabe like me, but it's helpful information. Yet, since I'm retired, making no money anyhow, and love to write, I'm going to keep working on my book. The only part I'm missing right now is the plot... oh, and the beginning, middle and end.

Wheels said...

Other than the advance are there other points where you get compensation? For instance when the book is completed and accepted for publication or possibly an amount for each book sold?

BTW I've never written you a fan letter but I absolutely love your books and I buy them as soon as they are published.

Linda said...

I'm curious JB, how do they decide how many copies of each of your books they will initially print?

Austin S. Camacho said...

JB - Wish I'd seen this sooner, but not being "cozy" guy I don't catch this blog every time. I just wanted to say how impressed I by you having the courage to share details that could look pretty discouraging to the untrained eye. Of course, the number you didn't mention, the number we writers often fixate on, is: the number of books in print X the number of readers who pass your great work on to friend and relatives = the number of minds you've pleased with your nicely turned plots and souls you have touched with your lovely prose.

SO glad you keep on doing what you do.