The world has 2,189 billionaires, accounting for a combined wealth of $10.2 trillion. Their collective wealth has increased during the pandemic. Those numbers may be mind-boggling, but it is also outrageous, frustrating, and depressing to those dedicated to making a living through the written word. It begs the question: Why are writers paid so poorly? Have authors become de-valued?
Some of those billionaires have written books, but almost none of them have made the majority of their money from writing books. Why is that?
Well, we know the economics for writers can be rough. How many books would one have to write to be successful, financially? How many copies of each would need to be sold to make them wealthy? What would an author need to net, per copy sold, just to make it to solid middle class?
We know authors have many challenges. They compete to get published, marketed, and sold. The economics are harsh. Royalties from a publisher may not yield more than a buck per printed book sold, or a few dollars on an e-book sale. One would have to sell almost a hundred-thousand copies every single year just to land comfortably into middle-class – and that does not include costs to a literary agent, publicist, lawyer, accountant, travel, ads, writers conferences, etc. A tiny fraction of authors sell more than 25,000 copies of a book in its lifetime, let alone in a year. No one confuses authors with millionaires or billionaires.
But I want to know why – why does society not value what writers do and offer? We love books but we don’t take care of our creative talent.
Years ago, teachers were underpaid. So were police and emergency workers. Some still are. Now it is writers. In the golden age of publishing and social media, it seems like wordsmiths are worth less than ever before.
1. Content competition: Too many things compete with books, including free stuff online, buffet-style movie-music-TV packages, sports, games, etc.
2. Book competition: The market is saturated with books. Well over 4,000 new titles are cranked out every single day. That is crazy and cannibalistic!
3. Pricing deflation: Book pricing has not risen as much as it should in relation to other products, services, or forms of entertainment. How many books sell at 99 cents online? Books, to be valued, need to not be practically given away for peanuts.
4. Society values: Though people still treasure books and hold writers in esteem, they don’t show it with their wallets. They spend lavishly on tech and other items, leaving books as an afterthought.
5. Author insecurity: Writers hurt themselves, too. They would give their books away just to get to hear someone say they liked their book. I don’t see Apple giving out ipads or professional sports teams doling out free ducats. Authors need to stop the freebie craze and act with a more confident persona.
6. Books need to be marketed: Too many authors hope and pray for sales. Or they try a few small things to drum up sales and stop at the first sign of failure. Marketing books is a full-time job and requires time, conviction, resources, persistence, and luck – but it must be done by all authors. It is not to be dismissed.
The other point to be made is that writers are too honest and hard-working to make millions and billions. Too many uber-wealthy people are that way due to inheritance, illegal activities, unethical actions, luck, or because they got other people to work hard for them at low wages. I am not railing on capitalism – everyone deserves an opportunity to make money – but it is worth noting that so many writers struggle to make money because they lack a money-centric focus. They are substance-oriented. They put words, ideas, and experiences ahead of adding zeroes to their bank accounts.
So, I guess the way writers can make lots of money is to pursue other interests and leave behind their soul.
It should not come down to such a choice, but sadly it does.
Read, Read, Read!!
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Brian Feinblum, the founder of BookMarketingBuzzBlog, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are the product of his genius. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo.