Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What’s An Author Worth?

I was about to write about how ridiculously high sports salaries are, especially for baseball. Then I saw the top four earners in hip-hop this year, and realized there are a lot of overpaid people out there. P Diddy and Jay Z made a combined 93 million dollars over the past 12 months. Dr Dre made 40 million bucks. Nicki Minaj took in $29 million. What’s going on here?

We operate under a value judgment -- we believe sports, music, and acting stars are all worth multiples of what most people could earn in a lifetime. Teachers, nurses, police, and pilots will make in a year what athletes make in a week. Sometimes in a day. Sometimes in a matter of hours. We know the world’s distorted, but the distortion has grown beyond recognition.

Authors, mat not begrudge of others, under a capitalist society, to earn all the millions they can make legally, but they must wonder why they’ve been left behind.

Norman Rockwell paintings are auctioned for tens of millions of dollars. Brad Pitt gets 20+ million per movie. Models get millions to walk around half-naked. Wall Street brokers make millions without risking a cent of their money. So many people seem to be cashing in -- except authors.

Authors fight to make enough money to sustain them. How can they pursue their craft if they have to constantly worry about paying bills?

Then again, what’s really fair? How much more should a great singer make vs. a great doctor, a great athlete, a great ambulance driver, or a great anything? How do we rank one profession or person against the other?

One thing that’s very rare in the world is a long-term contract. This seems to only exist in sports and inevitably we see overpaid players get hurt, underperform or lose out to age by the end of their lengthy deals.

We seem to pay those who entertain us, but not necessarily those who educate us. Writers do both -- they can entertain, they can inform us. But they often don’t get paid well. Only a handful are best-selling authors who make real coin, sometimes only because a book got turned into a movie.

You can’t write a book looking to get rich, but you shouldn’t expect to be poor for spending your time writing books.

No one is handing out huge piles of money to authors. For writers to be successful financially, they will need to make money through their efforts on marketing and publicity. Writing a great book is the first qualifier, but in itself guarantees little. If one writes a great book and no one knows about it, it’s as if the book was never written.

But it takes money, time, effort, and luck to convert a savvy promotional campaign into profitability for the author. Sometimes what one spends to marker a book is not recouped in sales. Other times, it is returned many times over with significant gains.

Investing in publicity makes sense for a number of reasons -- to improve sales, increase your brand, share a positive message, and give you a chance to influence others. But it doesn’t make sense to spend money on PR if you lack distribution, have a mediocre book, don’t have a comprehensive plan to market the book, or if it’s the kind of book that people really don’t want or need compared to the competition.

An author has a chance at making money when a book is turned into a movie, when one book leads to a multi-book deal, when the book could open doors to other products, and when the book enhances your brand and you can cash in with paid speeches, consulting, or other services.

Most authors, in order to make money, will need to write many books, and hope to clear a profit from each one. The more often the process is repeated, the better chance they’ll make some money.

Further, when your book goes hand in hand with your career path, it can help provide a boost with unintended consequences. People view you differently-- positively -- when they hear you have a book out and see you covered by news media they value or recognize.

Still, no matter an author’s formula for success, fewer authors really "make it", compared to some other industries. And when an author breaks through, it seems his jackpot is dwarfed by the riches elite stars in movies, music, sports, and TV make.

It’s up to each author to define his or her worth in the marketplace but little is connected to the quality of the books written. It comes down to other factors, many of which are in an author’s control, that will dictate just how much money one can make from putting words together in a unique arrangement.

I think every author is rich for writing -- and the world is also rich for their works. Now if only the royalty check would correspond with that belief!


Here is my 2014 Book Marketing & Publicity Toolkit: Based on 20+ years in publishing --

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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