A Deadly Cliche
Pub date: March 2011
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
Author web sites: www.elleryadamsmysteries.com and
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 2011 — 15
Number of author names I’ve used or will use — 4 (Ellery Adams, J. B. Stanley, Jennifer Stanley, and I’m ½ of Lucy Arlington)
Average page count per book — 300
Average word count per book — 87,000
Number of publishers I’ve written for — 3
Average number of series I’m writing at once – 3
Average advance received from publisher — $6,000 per book
Average amount paid for large print or foreign rights — $500 or $1000
Average amount of advance spent on promotion — 25% of advance
Average money my publishers give me for promotion — 0
Average time it takes me to write a completed draft — 6 months
Average positive emails I receive per week from readers — 6
Average negative emails I receive per week — 1 (These are usually to point out a typo or to complain about a character’s conduct)
Number of personal copies I receive of each title — 50
Time it took me to sign with an agent — 5 months
Time it took my agent (Jessica Faust) 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 per day — 5
My writing income based on my 2010 tax return — $18,000
Days 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 — 7
Number of canceled series — 2 (the Molly Appleby collectible series and the Hope Street Church series)
Number of new series debuting in 2012 – 2 (The Charmed Pie Shoppe mysteries by Ellery Adams and The Novel Idea Literary Agency series by Lucy Arlington)
Series I’m planning to continue as ebooks only — 2
Current income from my sole ebook title (uploaded in March) — $250
Times I’d trade this life for another — Every time one of my books is released and fails to make the NYT list. And then I get over myself and go right back to work.
Did I miss anything? Not strip things down enough? Go ahead and ask me a question. I’ll tell you anything and you’ll get the bare bones truth.
Ellery Adams is the national bestselling author of the Books by the Bay mysteries. Her most recent title, A Deadly Cliche, was released in March. Her next book, The Last Word, comes out in December. For more info, visit www.elleryadamsmysteries.com.
I'm really surprised that there is no money given to promote your books from the publisher, so it sounds like you just have to do that yourself. Maybe that's the way its done in the book business?. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.
Thanks for sharing this! I'm going to show it to everyone who sees dollar signs every time I tell them I'm a writer.
Thank you for sharing. I wish more authors were so open.
My question, with regards to a series, if one fails to earn out the advance on book #3, for instance, does one get a shot at #4, or is the series dropped at that point?
Thanks, and good luck with new series!
Thank you so much for this information! It's wonderful to get a real sense of this side of things (or be able to share a real sense of this side of things with people who *don't* get it).
Thanks for sharing. I too am surprised that the publisher doesn't give any money for promotion.
By the way I love all your books by all your various selves. And I'm looking forward to the new ones.
Thanks for sharing.
What series are you planning to continue as e-books?
Congrats on the 2 new series coming in 2012 and I can't wait to read them.
I really appreciate your "baring all" its interesting to get a look at some real numbers. I think it could make aspiring writers take a step back and take a good look as to why they really might be writing.
Why did you write under multiple pseudonyms? Was it to avoid any preconceived notions people may have developed from your previous books?
How many books had you written before you signed with your first agent? When did you write your first book?
How many agents did you query in those 5 months?
Is Jessica Faust your first agent or you most recent?
Just out of curiosity, when does your writing flow better? Morning or night?
Do you work a pt/ft job in addition to being an author?
Lots of questions I know, sorry, I'm just really curious and wanted to seize this opportuntiy. :o)
Yep, as any writer can tell you, we don't do it for the money :)
I'll have to check out your series. I'm a cozy writer too (albeit, unpublished) and I love reading what I write. I was looking for a cozy for the holiday weekend and I think I'll start with A Killer Plot. Thanks!
So good (and sobering?!) to see the reality.
These facts & figures need to make the rounds to aspiring writers everywhere who, like I did for too many years, think one publication is the road to financial success.
On a side note, you are incredibly prolific! Makes me feel like a slacker ;-)
I just have one question: Are all of your 15 books currently in print?
Thank you for such a fascinating inside look!
Regarding promotion. As I understand it, publishers put their efforts into getting our books on the shelves and ARCs into the hands of reviewers. After that, you're on your own until you start making the New York TImes list or sell over 50,000 copies per print run. With a solid track record, they'll start coughing up funds to pay for a book tour, postcards, etc.
It's the age-old vicious cycle. How can I sell out without the publisher promoting me? Answer. You write the best book you can and work your tail off promoting it.
Thank you for this information. Like Scribbling Scarlett, I'd like to know how many agents you queried before finding Ms. Jessica. Also how many partials and fulls were requested, if you don't mind sharing. I've just started querying my first cozy (fingers crossed). I've downloaded one of your books which will go to the top of my TBR stack. Again, thanks for your openness and willingness to share. Best wishes.
Great question. And this is a scary answer, but I'm being honest here.
The publisher already knows by the time Book #2has out for a few weeks whether the series will be cancelled. With one of my series, the axe had fallen right after I'd turned book 3 in (makes closure difficult, plot-wise) and with the Hope Street series, I knew after the first book had been released. The published had a number they wanted me to reach and I didn't reach it, so (drawing line across throat).
Lesson: Keep coming up with new ideas and never quit. Yes, I was in a funk over those cancelled series, but now I've got three new ones. I will not stop writing!
Thanks so much for sharing this information. It sounds like all your income is your advances. Do you ever get additional money - would that be royalties - from sales of the book?
Very informative. I think it proves (to me anyway) that writers can't really be doing this for the money. There has to be more to it. There is for me.
This is fascinating, thank you for sharing with the rest of us! It's interesting to see hard numbers to get a feel for that part of life of some authors.
Although it's sobering, I knew this to be true (I have several author friends who are professors, teachers, or other day workers). And I'm okay with that. I write for the love of sharing a story. It's hard to explain that to a non-writer though.
Question - Do you have a job, other than writing, that helps pay the bills? Thank you so much for being candid with this information. It really helps us newbies.
Scribbling Scarlet with the lovely red hair:
I queried about 25 agents back in the day when most queries were sent by snail mail.
MOST of my rejections were form letters. I had a few notes written off to the side such as, "Liked your voice, but project isn't for me," etc.
Three agents requested a partial and two, including Jessica, wanted to see my completed manuscript. Jessica told me that it wasn't ready for publication, but if I made some major changes, she'd take a second look.
While awaiting Agent #2's response, I made the changes, feeling in my gut that they were necessary. I was so grateful to Jessica for her willingness to improve my work without my even being her client that when she offered representation, I jumped at the chance to sign with her.
The second agent was from a large and established firm in NYC and also offered representation, but I had already established a relationship with Jessica and trusted her with my career. I've never looked back.
I write best in the morning.
I write every day, 7 days a week, and I include research, editing, and promoting as writing.
My "other" job is being mom to two young kids and 4 insane cats.
Thanks, Booklady. You deserve a prize for simply knowing all my names!
Pen names aren't usually something authors want to have. When you write for more than one publishing house, you have to invent a new name as they don't play nice with one another.
Also, if one of your series really tanked, you need to come back to life with a new series and a new name. It's kind of wonderful if you think about it. How many jobs do you know of in which you can get fired and rehired by the same company a few months and a new series later? You're never done in this business unless you want to be done. That's why I'd love to help you get your foot in the door if I can.
They cancelled the Hope Street Church series? JERKS! I love Cooper. :(
I'm very excited about the new series though. Only a few more days until the debut of the first book in the Novel Idea Literary Agency series. Waiting is hard.
My first series, the Molly Appleby books, are no longer in print. I have uploaded the first as an ereader (earning me that whopping $250) and am editing the second to be uploaded in July.
If you read my J.B. Stanley query letter listed on the Book Ends blog home page, you'll see that it was far from stellar. I've grown a great deal after writing what is now 17 books (3 of those will release in 2012) and my early projects could use some tweaking, so it's kind of cool to bring those books back to life new and improved.
Nice, honest post. It's actually refreshing!!
How can you earn more money other than advances?
Royalties, yes, but also through the sale of large print or foreign rights. Those are lovely checks to receive because you don't have to do any work for them.
For some reason, the Japanese love my Supper Club series and have paid a few thousand dollars for the rights. For each title, I get 50% of that money. Now that's fun!
Darnit, no it's not just a couple days. I'm getting myself confused and disappointing myself at the same time.
Aimee, you crack me up. Nothing new from this gal until December, but The Last Word is the best thing I've ever written and I promise it'll be worth the wait.
Dru, I am going to continue the supper club series with a novella called Weapons & Weigh-Ins. If I could just clone myself, I could start writing it!
Woo Hoo! I can't wait to read The Last Word.
I didn't know you were 1/2 of Lucy, so I learned that today too. I am sorry that writing does not bring riches because it brings so much joy to others. I can't believe you get zero for promotion. How much promotion do publishers actually do for their writers?
Thanks for the education and sharing this!!
Thank you so much for sharing this!
As an aspiring, yet unpublished, writer, your honest answers are invaluable.
I wish you every continued success!
Ellery/Jen - You rock, and are an inspiration to us all! Keep on writing!
Thank you, thank you for sharing this invaluable information! I've always wondered about the raw numbers, and despite asking, I've never met anybody until now who's been willing to lay them out, plain and simple. I hope this post goes viral and boosts your sales!
Best interview I've ever seen. Best of luck with the new series.
Thanks for all the love, folks. And please keep the questions coming. There's nothing off-limits here. I'm a former New Yorker and can take it. :)
I should also one of the highlight's of a writer's life is the community of readers and writers I've discovered. You're already one of its members because you follow this blog, but don't be shy to ask established writers for advice. Most of us are pretty humble and although we're also too busy to read manuscripts, we will do what we can to see your book make it to the shelves.
Thanks for sharing the info.
Thank you so much for this awesome post! Your openness is so refreshing and so helpful. Thanks again for baring it all. I love your spirited energy! :)
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate your time and value your experience. :o)
Wishing you the best!
Ellery, thank you for your honest information. So few authors reveal that much. As a small press author, I do have to tell you that you simply *MUST* get more of your books out in e-book formats. You would be shocked at how much income you could make when you have a body of work for happy readers to follow. With your series work, I would think you'd be ripe for a lot of backlist sales.
Good luck with all your writing. Sounds like you work hard, and you deserve tons of success!
Lori L. Lake
Hey, I want to get in this too.
Number of books accepted by a publisher as of June, 2011 - 1
Average advance paid by publisher -$500.
Number of years since book was accepted by publisher - ugh - 40 freakin’ years
Number of books actually published - 0
Number of times I kicked myself in the ass for not realizing at the time how wonderful the opportunity was, which was given to me through no effort of my own - 1,000,001.
Number of times I cried myself to sleep and wished and prayed for a do-over - 1
Without my stupidity I would not have my family and be where I am today, which is exactly where I should be...writing everyday, learning, dreaming, working hard and loving what I do.
Regrets - 0
Effort - countless
What a fantastic post! So few authors, agents, or publishers are willing to talk real numbers. I think this close-mouthed attitude has created a lot of misunderstanding among aspiring writers and non-writers alike. Especially since what most people hear about are those six-figure deals that make news headlines.
In my (fairly extensive) attempts at research, I heard that a $5000 advance is tiny unless you're talking about a small press, and that $20,000 to $25,000 is a quite nice advance. Presumably this reference was either wrong or talking about a very well-established author. Without even general guidelines, it's so difficult for aspiring writers to know what to expect.
I would love to see a post from BookEnds that gives general advance ranges for different kinds of books (with, of course, a disclaimer that every book and every sale is different).
Ellery, I have a few more questions to add to the pile.
Did your first book meet, exceed, or fall short of your expectations when it came to money?
Where or on what, generally speaking, do you spend that 25% you set aside for promotion?
Lastly, beyond the advance, how much do you make from royalties on an average novel in a year?
Thanks for the great post!
Very interesting information; thanks for sharing. I do love your books I've read so far, and look forward to getting to all the others, which are on my shelves,just waiting! Keep up the good work!
Wry Writer, I enjoyed your post, thanks! I can tell you definitely have a clear voice. :)
I was so dazzled by the realization that I was to be published that I dreamed of checks for thousands of dollars, movie deals, and that being a successful writer would suddenly make me a size 8. Sadly, none of those things happened and I was unprepared from a promotional standpoint. I told family and friends my release date and sat back and waited for hordes of people to buy my book.
Mistake. I was naive about promotion and since then, do a hell of a lot more legwork up to six months prior to a release. I've tried several things, including a flash radio campaign, Facebook ads, Author Buzz, and ads in conference programs. The thing about promotion is you're never really sure what works. You'll get a bump in sales for a few hours or days after radio or TV gigs, but are they worth the money?
These days, I focus more on the free stuff. Blog tours, social media like Facebook and Twitter, and supplement with Facebook ads and conference program ads. Oh, and bookmarks, Lots of bookmarks. I also tried a Kindle giveaway for my last release. All of that adds up to my current promotion budget, but as you might guess, time becomes the most valuable commodity. I never have enough either.
And there is a huge range when you're talking advances. I believe romance writers, depending on their publishers, can start much lower or much higher than we mid-list mystery authors. I'd tell you more if I could, but if you want to see real $, check out the deals section of Publisher's Weekly. They will be more specific about numbers.
Hi Carol! It's great to run into you on this, the most wonderful literary agency blog in existence. Hope you're doing well!
Ellen, Thanks for your informative and candide post. I wonder if you can put all your energy and talent for writing and focus on writing just one amazing very commercial book that will be very finnacially rewarding. A book that is outside of what you usually write with one goal in mind. In any case, best wishes to you and your family, and I'll read you blog and website.
Thanks for being so straightforward with your statistics. Your information is quite refreshing and helps tremendously to set realistic expectations about getting published.
I'm so glad you didn't stop writing when your two series were cancelled, but that had to be devastating after so much effort.
Do you keep track of how many of your queries are rejected? How do you carry on after that happens multiple times? It's hard to not take them personally, even knowing that most writers seem to run into it, especially until they become known.
This blog continues to help educate all of us writers, which is greatly appreciated.
It's hard to carry on after any rejection. It's tough when the book you worked so hard on goes out to the world and doesn't make a splash, but it's also hard when no one bites at your query letter.
I got bites from my first round of 25 letters. If you don't, I most gently suggest that your query letter's opening is not engaging enough or if it is, it loses steam or is unclear as it progresses. If you've crafted the best letter you possibly can, you should get a response, any response, from at least one agent out of 25.
If the responses are all rejections, go back, polish the letter, and send it to a new batch of 25 agents. I know those rejections can wear you down, but you'll get published by refusing to give up. For every 100 writers who throw in the towel, there's one like you who refuses to. In the end, you'll get there.
Thanks for sharing. Can I print this out? I want to show it to people who think that you get rich from "just sitting at a computer and writing" - honestly I've had that comment a few times.
Thanks for the incite. It's comforting to know authors are willing to share their knowledge. Thakns!
I've been reviewing books for almost 10 years now and I've talked to many authors regarding salaries, so I've known for some time that over all, authors generally only make 3 to 5 cents a word. If they can sell movie rights, the income increases.
My understanding from a number of romance writers is that they earn average advances of $5,000 for 90 to 10k words.
Archer Mayor went to my son's high school a year ago to talk about the realities of being a fiction writer. He's had a number of bestsellers and told them that despite that he only makes approximately $50,000 a year.
In light of John Locke's book on how he sold a million eBooks in five months ("And So Can You" is what we authors supply in our heads) this is a reminder of what we do. Considering a number of your titles are out of print, if you haven't done so, put them on the Nook and Kindle--very easy to do.
I realized my income from books particularly needs boosting this year because my accountant in March told me that it's hard for him to claim writing is my business when I'm spending more in business costs and promotion than I'm making. "After five years of doing that," he told me, "the IRS might look at it as a hobby."
You can learn how I did such a thing in this article on how to go bankrupt thanks to really good reviews: http://www.redroom.com/blog/christopher-meeks/how-to-go-bankrupt-thanks-to-really-great-reviews
If anything in all this, I've learned, "Don't spend more than you make." Luckily, I also teach, so that's helping.
Great post! :-) Every aspiring writer needs to read this!
Terrific post, Ellery, and brings home a few hard truths--one being an author is not the "get rich quick" scheme that so many folks assume.
But, like you, I can't imagine any career that would be more fulfilling. When you get up every morning excited about starting work, that's definitely something money can't buy.
Congratulations on finding such a terrific agent, btw. :-)
What a fascinating breakdown, Ellery. Like many others, I'm surprised and somewhat appalled at the amount of money you need to spend on promotion. It's nice to see that you have a positive outlook on writing despite some of the minor setbacks. Thanks for giving us a peak at your writing world.
Great post AND comments. I'm surprised at the amount of interest in money aspects because unless someone becomes a best selling author it doesn't seem like there's a ton of money to be made. The highlights for me are the writing itself, and, as you've mentioned, the wonderful relationships that are made. The online community of writers is awesome.
Fabulous, generous post. Thanks so much for being willing to "bare it all" for the good of the writing community. And, as someone else said, to show those family members and friends who really think published writers live on easy street.
Thank you so much for your generosity in posting this information. As a new author starting out (my first book is out in September), I'm trying to get a handle on what others in the industry are doing and what they are making. I really appreciate your willingness to put the numbers out there.
Has to be for the love of writing. It's financially unrewarding for the most part.
Side interest for me.
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