Archive for April, 2013


The Cruelest Month

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Voices of Pearl Harbor

The poet, T. S. Eliot, famously said: “April is the cruelest month . . . ” You think maybe he was referring to paying Income Taxes? No, but there are many things happening in April that can fall under the classification of “cruel.”

Of course, income taxes can be cruel, especially if you don’t use the quarterly estimated method of paying, which actually all self-employed people are supposed to use. When you spread out your tax payments over the year, it doesn’t feel quite so cruel when April 15 rolls around, but if you pay all at once, it can really sting.

Another cruel thing that happens in April is royalty statements from publishers. Most of the large companies pay royalties twice a year, in April and October (a few pay June and December). The cruel part comes when you get your statement and see the pitiful amount your books have earned. Unless you are a fairly successful author, the check can be very depressing. I recently received a royalty statement that had $O amount earned. I knew it was going to be low because all the books that company originally published are now out of print, but it was still a shock.

This brings me to a sensitive (dare I say taboo) fact that no author ever wants to discuss with the “non-authors” of the world: it is very difficult, if not downright impossible, to make a decent living as a children’s author. But what about all those famous people– Stephenie Meyer, J. K. Rowling, et cetera, et cetera? Aren’t they millionaires? Aren’t we always hearing about some unknown person who gets a $100,000 advance for his or her first novel? Well, frankly, the reason this makes the news is because it is so rare. If all authors got big advances like that, it would not be news. Unless you are pretty famous, a typical advance for a children’s book usually falls between $3,000 – $10,000. Many books barely, if at all, earn out that advance. And books are going out of print faster than ever. The last report I read, said that the average new picture book is only in print 18 months. [I’m referring to printed books, not e-published books, which is a whole ‘nother topic.]

Why are author incomes so low, you ask? Authors are paid royalties, a percentage of each book sold. For a hardback novel this is typically 10% of the list price [the rate goes up the more you sell]; 5% for a hardback picture book (because you have to split that 10% with the illustrator); 6% for a paperback novel; 3% for a paperback picture book (again because of the split with the artist). So, if a book sells for $15 in the bookstore, the author receives $1.50 for a hardback novel or .75 for a hardback picture book. But that is the top end — there are all kinds of clauses in the contract reducing the author’s cut if the books are sold at high discounts to the booksellers, which is always the case for the large companies like B&N. Then there are smaller publishers that pay on the “net” price, rather than the list price. This means you are paid a percentage based on the amount the publisher actually receives, not the price listed on the book. If the bookstore receives a 40% discount, that means the author receives .90 for a hardback novel and .45 for a hardback picture book. Believe me, you have to sell a bunch of books to add up to a decent income.

Of TX History School Visitcourse, there can be good years. An author may have a bestseller one year or gain fame because of some specific event or lucky coincidence. But to be cruelly factual, I once read that the average income for an American author is $3,000 per year. I’ll bump that up to $5,000, taking inflation into account. That is why so many authors have “day jobs.” Children’s authors have the unique privilege of speaking at schools, which helps with the income. In fact, many children’s authors make more money from school visits than they do from book royalties, thus many children’s authors are out there aggressively pounding the pavements leading to schools.

I’m expecting another royalty check this month. That plus five dollars will probably buy a pizza for the family. Well, there is one good thing about making a low income: at least you don’t have to pay high taxes.


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