Saturday, October 6, 2007

Busted Again

A recent post on The Rejecter about low advances inspired me to say a little something about this topic. It's a real irony that I don't like casinos and I don't play the lottery, but I work in publishing. Publishing is gambling in so many ways it's absurd. And the greatest irony is that at least with casinos, the house always wins—I mean, at least there someone always wins. Not so in publishing. So here we go:

Advance money is not money you are owed.

The publisher gambles a whole bunch of money on you in order to print, bind, edit, design, warehouse, ship, publicize, market, and sell your book. That all by itself is many thousands of dollars offered up to the great craps table of publishing.

And then they gamble more money on you to pay you an advance—specifically, the money your royalty for the book might earn if the book sells as well as the publisher hopes it will.

So I'm a tad impatient with people who feel a certain level of advance is just what they're due. A certain level of royalty is what you are due, and you should fight damned hard for it. And this is not to say I short anyone in the way of advances; I use the equation I shared with you all a while back, and since that equation is pretty standard, I can speak of "shorting" an author, in spite of the fact that, as I say, this is not your money, at least not yet.

Some authors work for years on something and get paid $2,000 for it. Other authors whip something out in 2 hours and get paid $30,000 for it. You know this already, and you don't need me to tell you why, but just in case: it's not about your time and effort.

So please do us all the favor of coming to the negotiating table without arrogance. We will pay you, but you're not going to make it easier by thinking of it as money for your hard work. It isn't, any more than the profits publishers make is money for our hard work. It is all—your advance, your royalty, the publisher's own profits—money for results.

Nobody gets paid for kissing the dice unless it's a lucky toss.

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well said, even if I say so myself. Hey, say you?

anon2 said...

I understand what you are saying here and it makes practical sense. However, consider: how many other professions are there where you work for years on something with no hope of ever being paid, and then if you do finally sell your work, you are paid less than the guy in the mailroom makes in one year.

Also consider that you the editor are being paid a regular salary while all of this "gambling" is going on. Isn't the publisher taking a gamble on you as well? Taking a chance that you will find good manuscripts, that you will edit them well and that the finished books will sell? But you aren't being paid by the acquisition, are you?

Editorial Anonymous said...

I knew someone would bring up the fact that editors (and the other people at a publisher) are salaried where authors and illustrators are not.

The difference between artists and other people is that even they don't know how good something is going to be until it comes out of them.
The publisher I work for has a sense of what I'll do with the rope before they give it to me. And the work I do is not blown by winds as fickle as inspiration and writer's block. I come to the office, work 9 or 10 hours, and have something to show for it every time-- something that makes a difference to the business. Which is another kind of money for results.

Not that I don't appreciate how hard and brave it is to be an artist. I think of the authors and illustrators I work with and wonder if they're nuts to be in the business, and thank heaven they're doing it anyway.

Anonymous said...

anon2:

Other fields like this: music and fine arts.

Actually, the music business and the fine art world make publishing even look kind of tame in comparison, even though we are all sort of one step removed from the people hanging out at OTB.

anon2 said...

And the work I do is not blown by winds as fickle as inspiration and writer's block. I come to the office, work 9 or 10 hours, and have something to show for it every time-- something that makes a difference to the business.

Do you imagine that all writers only write when inspiration moves them? That many of them don't put in eight, ten, twelve hour or more days working through writer's block and often without any inspiration at all beyond putting one word after the other? That they spend the bulk of their time swanning about on the sofa, waiting for the muse to visit?

And to anonymous: Come on. Give me an example outside the arts.

Anonymous said...

Come on?

This IS the arts. That is my point.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I know you work hard. I know you work long hours sometimes. My point is that the result of all that work is sometimes enormous and sometimes... nothing. That's the way it is with all artists.

Publishers can't pay people for work that achieves nothing. Are you saying that artists should be paid a salary in case they produce something worthwhile? Or... ? What solution would you propose?

Anonymous said...

Rather than saying writers who might desperately need money to actually pay their living expenses are arrogant for asking for decent advances, one might rail against the system that doesn't pay artists for their work and time, but only for commercial success. You could say it's a writer's choice, and they could go get a real job if they don't like it, but maybe it's worth trying to nudge change, increase writers' royalties, push for more public support of the arts...

ae said...

We illustrators are not nuts. We LOVE what we do. These nuts are reserved for the squirrels. As I've said I've reserved a flask of arsenic for them. And a cat and a bat.

For one above anon:

fine artists only have to please one buyer or corporate head. I have many, many fine artist friends most with great talent; but they do it for love and a little extra cash. They keep at it because it is in them. I could have gone in that direction but that is not where my heart is. I love illustration.

illustrators for publication have to please a GROUP of buyers, and make changes where/when they are needed. It is not just about them (the illustrators),it is about the buyer(s).

musicians' audiences, however are much more varied, and royalties and rights are vastly complicated. I know, I live(d) with them.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I didn't say it's arrogant to ask; I said it's arrogant to demand. No matter how much you need this money, it's still a gift.
I do understand that life is hard for artists. But publishing is not a high-profit industry. I'm offering my authors and illustrators the royalties that the P&L will bear.

And every job that pays a salary is based on quantifiable, steadily created results that benefit the employer paying that salary. I'm willing to be convinced that the system is wrong, but what system of repayment would you suggest that you feel is fairer?

Deirdre Mundy said...

My husband's coworker's son is an artist who managed to get on salary with the Pritzker family in Chicago (HUGE patrons of the arts) as their personal woodcarver.

So clearly the key is to find a very wealthy family who wants to be a patron of children's books.......

Anonymous said...

Definitely, arrogance is never a good thing, but otherwise, I'm kind of with anon2 on this one. The industry would be more fair if, for instance, editors were paid a royalty on the profits of the books they acquired and worked on. That seems to me the same kind of "money for results" hurdle authors are subject to. (Editors could get an advance, too.) It's not just the salary, it's also the paid vacation, paid holidays, sick leave, and other elements of earning a living. Of course, it's not hard to imagine the industry folding under that stipulation, because few editors would do it. I know many are very dedicated to their jobs, but I doubt they'd take "day jobs" and do the book work in their spare time. But writers don't have any choice. (Of course, the writers' reward is all that glory and fame most of us bask in, ha ha :-)

Books are nothing like fine art. I've yet to meet any kind of fine artist who had to take feedback on the work to change this color, make this line straighter, and adjust the shape of the canvas or sculpture. (Commercial artists, different story, but they are paid VERY well; I know several.) Books ARE like the music industry, though; the parallels there are striking.

But I know that's just the way it is. I can live with it. I'd just feel better if advances were not referred to as "a gift." It's not a gift. It's the purchase cost of the rights. And it's not unreasonable to pay "in advance," given that it often takes at least 18 months to publish the book, and almost all of that period is out of the author's control. "Timely" books get rushed out in a couple of months, so obviously it can be done. And even royalties after the fact (when any are earned, that is) can be paid six+ months after they're earned, so that's the balancing factor to the advance. Any other industry would require interest to be paid on those amounts.

Natalie said...

Sheesh. I'm declaring today my own official "I so love my agent" day. And speaking of agents, I'd be interested in knowing what sorts of reasons agents give when they negotiate higher advances for their authors. I know they don't say "This author really works hard and deserves a higher advance." So what do they say, then?

carrot said...

I agree that arrogance is always bad, but I'm also uncomfortable with calling the purchase money of my intellectual property a "gift." A writer is selling the right for someone else to publish that book, and compensation is reasonable. Some of the success of that book depends on the efforts of the author, but it seems the publisher's efforts have far more to do with it. Otherwise, self-published books would show up far more often on the bestseller lists. In the barest, baldest sense, writers also make a gamble when they choose to sell rights to X publisher.

While there's certainly a lot of chance involved on both sides of the fence, let's not forget what's at the heart of this transaction: the payment of money to purchase a good.

Lexi said...

I've written two unpublished novels. I work as a designer jeweller, so know all about lack of regular payment and security.

What no-one has mentioned is what I see as the main advantage of a large advance; that you can be absolutely certain your book will be promoted, because the publisher needs to make that money back.

When I left college, I used to let galleries have my work on sale or return. I don't any more. If a customer is dithering, which necklace are the sales staff going to push - the one they've already paid for, or the s.o.r. one?

Fantasising about getting published, the way you do, I used to think a large advance would make me uneasy - supposing I let them down? Now I'd find their faith in my writing reassuring, knowing they'd work their socks off to make it succeed.

hoping, as always said...

I have to agree with Lexi on this one. It seems that the more a publisher is willing to pay, the more "push" they're going to give that book. A higher advance is a stronger vote of approval and a stronger incentive to work harder at ensuring the success of a certain title.

So while the publishing house does take a risk with any and every title they acquire, the writer has to depend in large part on that publisher to do a good job marketing that book and getting it out there.

That doesn't mean the author gets to sit back and rake in the money. It's the company, though, that has the resources to put into the marketing end. An author's resources just don't come close(especially if the advance is low).

Let's not even get into celebrity authors, because they may be the only ones who would have the money and people to push their books in a manner even close to what a publisher could do!

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking what we really need is to bring back the Medici. Now there were some folks willing to pay an artist on the chance that something great would result.

-mb

katie said...

EA, I'm curious where you get your data that publishing is a "low-profit" industry. I hear that from people in publishing a lot, so I looked at the financial statements for the parent corporations of the top 4 houses (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin). Looking only at the segment reporting for book publishing, not the entire consolidated annual report, the net profits are around 10% of gross revenues. This is completely in line with other media corporations (Disney, GE, News Corp).

I am a former auditor for Coopers and Lybrand so I'm pretty good at reading annual reports.

Maybe part of the solution is questioning the underlying assumption that publishers are barely scraping by financially.

ann said...

In my view, the advance is a loan against royalties. The higher the loan the more money the author has to promote the book. Let me say that again -- the more money the AUTHOR has to promote the book.

As EA pointed out the formula used to calculate expected performance and therefore the amount of the non-demanding loan against royalties is based on expected performance. That is expected performance with the standard promotion which is factored into every book. The publisher is not saying we gave this author a big advance, we better promote this book.

Most authors I know spend most or all of their advances on promoting their books. And, they've done well.

Important points to keep in mind:

An advance is a non-repayable loan against royalties.

Royalties = the payment and earnings you receive for your book.

The author is the one with most to gain by promoting the book. View your advance as promotional monies and your book has a good chance of earning you some real money.

Anonymous said...

I think a big point here is that most books themselves are unprofitable, not whether or not the publishers themselves are. Several thousand new kid's books come out per year folks. Most fail financially. Most. For each of those slots, hundreds of would-be authors get turned away. For publishers to give out bigger first advances to people with no sales track record, they'd have to take even fewer chances on new authors and make even safer bets. There would be way more pressure to only pick sure commercial successes.

Publishers take a chance on new authors, one way they can afford to do this is by limiting their potential loss. Its not like you don't get the money if the book sells, and subsequent advances go up when you build a track record.

An advance is not a gift, but it is also not some kind of artist's grant meant to keep the arts alive. It is an advance payment against unearned monies.

emay said...

I don't understand why so many authors are so in love with the idea of spending all their advance on self-promotion. EA herself recently described this practice as "nutty." Earlier, she wrote that most authors had little to gain from self-promotion. Yet here we are again, getting the pep talk on why we should spend what may very well be all the money we ever get from the book on trying to do the publisher's job.

Ann says, "The author is the one with most to gain by promoting the book." How can this be true? Let's say you earn 10% royalties on list. Who gets the other 90%? The publisher and retailer. Obviously, the author is not the one with the most to gain by promoting the book.

It's hard for me to understand what motivates authors to keep pushing each other to spend lots and lots of money and effort on self-promotion. Is it a desire to feel a sense of control in an industry where we are largely powerless?

ae said...

I agree with the two above me.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, this is depressing me . . . .

I already feel pressure enough - and I'm not even published! I guess it is just a fantasy that I will ever be able to make a living doing what I love most. Anyone have a Kleenex? Arsenic?

Kimberly Lynn

ann said...

Good point emay...about publishers earning 90% to the author's 10.

What I meant, is that the publisher has calculated an advance for the book based on their estimated performance for the book, and whatever level of promotion they are planning to do. That, as EA has pointed out, is how they determine the amount of the advance, royalty percentages and the like.

True, if the book exceeds expectations, the publisher gains the most. However, because they are working on so many titles, the publisher isn't going to invest anything extra in the author's book to make it exceed expectations. What I meant to say was that the author is the one most invested in seeing that her book exceeds expectations. Because, authors are hungrier for their 10%.

Any author who doesn't want to spend money promoting her book shouldn't, of course. And, I didn't mean to lecture or tell anyone what he/she should do with her advance money. I was simply trying to say that the real money you get paid for your book is the amount you earn in royalties. And, if you write a great book, and someone, you or the publisher, promote is successfully, then your book will earn you, the author, good money.

What I'm trying to say is that the advance isn't the thing -- royalties is the thing. A woman who has earned the title of publicist of the year, suggested authors should negotiate with the publisher to take less of an advance and get more ARCs printed. Why? Because ARCs help promote and promotion helps sell and selling is where you make your money.

The advance is not what you make on your book, royalties are what you earn.

Anonymous said...

There is a kind of writing where you get paid a salary and benefits, not royalties. It's called "work for hire." And when you do it, the person who hired you owns the rights to your work. Upside: security. Downside: you usually don't get to write what you want.

Editorial Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Editorial Anonymous said...

Exactly, Ann.

Anonymous said...

An advance is NOT a gift. If it were a gift, publishers would not be giving it (editors might...editors are nice folks. But the business behind the editor is not in the habit of giving gifts.) An advance is a guarantee -- the publisher guarantee's the writer that x-amount will come to that writer in exchange for the product the publisher wants (the manuscript). The publisher bases the advance not on what the publisher HOPES to make (we all hope to make a bizillion dollars) but on what they expect to make based on past experience. They can be wrong since the book buying public is fickle as all get out, but if the publisher is wrong, the advance protects the writer (in this one situation) though it does make it less likely to sell a product to that publisher again.

But none of it is about giving gifts. It's about offering guarantees that letting THIS publisher have THIS manuscript will get you some money...it's a way of cutting down on the writer's gamble with the publisher since the writer has the least dosh to gamble with.

The writer has a product. The publisher either wants it or does not -- accepting a book is not a favor done the writer; it's a business deal. The advance is a tangible symbol of how much the publisher wants it (based on what the publisher expects to get out of it). The writer can then decide whether or not to make the deal.

An advance has nothing to do with paying a writer IN CASE she turns out a good product -- the publisher already knows whether the product is good. An advance is just about getting the product into your house based on how much you believe the product will do for you.

nw said...

EA, can you tell us what percentage of books earn out their advances and go on to net their author royalties?

Joni said...

"can you tell us what percentage of books earn out their advances and go on to net their author royalties?"

I'd like to know, too, EA! I understand that in the adult fiction world, it's something like 2 of 6 books earn out (one of those being a big hit, the other more or less breaking even) and four lose money.

But kids' books specifically might be different percentages? (Also seems like novels might have a higher rate of earning out than PBs just because they cost less to produce?)

hoping, as always said...

As someone mentioned above, authors may want to negotiate a smaller advance in exchange for the printing of more ARC's -- that sounds smart to me. I understand that an advance is just that, and that earning out and collecting royalties is a much better way to go in the long run (better for future ms. sales, etc.).

I, for one, would definitely take a smaller advance in exchange for a larger promotion package.

Anonymous said...

This is why publishing blogs start up and stop unexpectedly -- the huge depressing gap between writers and everyone else in the business.

A publisher's compensation referred to as a "gift" implies it was not earned, as if the publishing industry is patting you on the head and sending you on your way while they do the "real" work. Uh huh.

And ideas like, "the work I do is not blown by winds as fickle as inspiration and writer's block," show a true lack of understanding of writers and writing in general. But I'll try to use that excuse when I have a deadline and see how it flies: "Sorry, mighty editor, the fickle winds of inspiration just aren't blowing by me today, maybe I'll get this back to you next month."

Maybe I'll stop reading publishing blogs, or at least stop commenting. I'm continually perplexed that in a business where people make their living off of writers that none of them seem to/want to understand them.

Anonymous said...

Related to "using" your advance for the good of the book ... do picture-book writers ever kick back some of the advance in order to score a bigger name illustrator? I'm sure that those things are ruled by budget as much as promotion, no?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Ok, when I called an advance a "gift" I meant that it is a gift until the book earns that money back. As another commenter has noted, it is a non-repayable loan. What do you call a non-repayable loan that is never paid back?
Publishing is a gamble. Authors and illustrators gamble with their time and effort, and publishers gamble with thousands of dollars of their money.
And when I mentioned authors' work being blown by the winds of inspiration, I meant before the acquisition process, not after we've agreed you have something worth publishing.
I meant to point out why publishers can't afford to put a writer on salary. That period before you write something we can publish is the "in case" part I mentioned.

ae said...

I am working on some new art samples now, and I am not thinking about any of this. I've got something neat going here and I am enjoying it. And if I think too much about the business aspect it throws me off. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Yes, technically, it's a bit like a loan, but I think it's much more of a guarantee since the author doesn't have to pay it back if it doesn't "earn out." It's a publisher's way of saying, "We want this so much that we're willing to step up and guarantee you make x-amount right now, even if the book doesn't do as well as we expect."

Since the publisher gets something tangible in exchange for the money (a manuscript for publication), it isn't even a "gift" until the book earns out. It's proof of the publisher's planned efforts to sell the book up to at least that amount of royalties.

Now, if the publisher didn't intend to sell the book to match the "advance" then it would be a gift.

Anonymous said...

"How many other professions are there where you work for years on something with no hope of ever being paid?"

Part of the problem with that question is that writers are craftsmen and therefore cannot be compared to most other professions. We produce a product and then we sell it for what the market will bear. That's pretty much how craftsmen work. They don't get paid until they produce a product that will sell in the market. If that takes years, it takes years. If it happens quickly, it happens quickly. But it's all about the product.

A publisher doesn't pay a writer for the work done. They pay for the right to use the product produced. And really, they don't even do that. They give you a little of what they make selling your product to the consumer -- but that's because they add a lot of value to it, and because they have the expertise to peddle it in the market, thus they get the deeper cut of the return.

Because peddling the product in the market does take so long and because a craftsman could starve to death waiting, the advance system pushes the publisher to make some form of guarantee ahead of peddling the product -- it's a system of acknowledging that if you let the folks making good product starve, it's bad for business. But, it's still not any kind of pay for labor, it's guarantee tied to a very specific product.

Anonymous said...

I am getting ready to sign a contract for a children's nf book with a small advance that will be used, per the publisher's unnegotiable demand, almost entirely to find and purchase photographs to illustrate the book. How depressing is that? Still, according to the publisher's statistics, books similar to mine do earn substantially after several years. My co-author and I are calling our upcoming year of basically no pay and a whole lot of work "an investment" in the future, but I can't help feel a bit downtrodden.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I hear you on the nonfiction stuff. Another writer told me that if I sold my nonfiction book that I should use the advance to pay for a trip to do more research. Cripes, I need the advance to pay for a trip to the grocery store.

Good luck with your project!

ann said...

To anonymous signing the contract for which the advance is going to be used to buy photographs for the book...what? Why would you sign such a contract? Except for headshots of your smiling self, you, the author I'm assuming, shouldn't be buying photographic art for the book. Unless, you are self-publishing...anyway, what I'm trying to say is I'm confused by what you wrote, and I wouldn't sign a contract that had me using advance moneys to pay for cover art or interior art. The Rejector just had a blog on her post about what horrible artists most authors are.

bebe said...

Just to clear something up, because I don't see that anyone else has...

Neither the publisher, the retailer, nor the two combined make anywhere near 90% retail price on a book sold! Even if you're not discounting at all, in which case you're going to sell many fewer of those books, each of these parties' profits per book will be much closer to the author's, in exchange for the majority of the man hours and the whole of the initial monetary investment. If an author's priority is to make a larger percentage per book sold, then self-publishing is probably the way to go. But you've got to be willing to put up all the money and do the work of at least eight people.

Anonymous said...

At one of the writing workshops I attended a couple of years ago; the featured published author said it was the responsibility of the non-fiction writer to supply the artwork/photos, etc. Not sure why though. I will say that she also mentioned to keep this cost in mind when negotiating a contract.

Kimberly Lynn

Wendie O said...

To Anon who asked if authors ever kick back so that the publisher can hire a great illustrator ....

We usually don't have any input as to what illustrator is chosen or how much they are paid. However, it does happen that an author may be offered less than the illustrator and never know that the illustrator got more.

To Ann who could not believe that nonfiction authors would spend their advance for the required photographs needed for their book. It happens, Ann. In fact, it's quite common. There either is no photo allowance or one so small that it doesn't begin to cover the expense of searching for and paying for the illustrations.

ann said...

Thanks for the education...I didn't know that about non-fiction photos.

My father was a freelance travel writer and he took all his own photos. Now, I know why.

bebe said...

For picture books and other heavily illustrated formats, the illustrator usually gets a much bigger advance, and sometimes royalty. This is as it should be.

Even without trying to compare the amount of work that goes into creating 32 pages of illustrations and 32 pages of text, consider that whether the illustrator is taking photographs, licensing photographs, or painting, they have to spend a lot of money on (very high quality) materials long before the book is even published. This is not the case with authors. Even if they're working digitally, they need much more expensive software and a much more powerful machine than an author needs to write.

On the author side, this is why biographies cost so much more than novels of the same length. Same amount of butt-in-chair writing time, plus all that research time, plus research costs, mean serious biography authors get paid a good bit more.

Petrichor said...

Thank GOOODNESS, bebe: I was scrolling down frantically, thinking, "Why hasn't anyone cleared up the 10% / 90% myth?? Why? Why?!"
Let's just say it one more time, so it's clear: JUST BECAUSE YOUR ROYALTY IS 10%, THAT DOESN'T MEAN THE OTHER 90% IS PROFIT FOR THE PUBLISHER. Money from that other 90% goes to all sorts of things: printing the book, marketing the book, REprinting the book (hopefully), shipping the book...the publisher ends up with a profit per book approximately the size of your royalty.
And please remember that we do, in fact, want you to succeed. Otherwise we wouldn't have signed your book up in the first place.

nw said...

I haven't seen that biographies cost more than novels. Can you give an example?

Anonymous said...

"the publisher ends up with a profit per book approximately the size of your royalty."

Thank you. And if the book fails, we can earn back an even lower percentage--but you'll still have your advance. I believe that an advance (that is reasonable) is completely well-earned and is not a gift, per se, but small advances are cautious gambles, not the man trying to keep the artist down. I'd love to earn what I believe my work and time are worth, too, but...it's publishing.

emay said...

I would love to see some figures on celebrity advances--how often they earn out and by how much. I suspect that one bad guess on a celebrity book could pay for vastly increased advances for everybody else on the list.

Anonymous said...

[I think] from the retail price of the book:

Roughly, 10% goes to the author [or author5% illustrator 5% for PBs], 40% goes to the publisher and - if it is sold in a traditional bookstore for full price - 50% goes to the store. All three have different overheads and different costs.

Petrichor said...

But remember in that 10/40/50 split that the 10% which goes to the author is all profit (I know there's been some discussion here of using money earned from a book for self-promotion, but it's your money, you can do what you want with it), while the 40% to the publisher has to cover all those aforementioned costs.

Anonymous said...

Not to split hairs, but all parties have costs and none is all profit. The author and/or illustrator does not have the same scale of cash outlay as the publisher, but time, research, travel, workspace, materials etc all represent expense, though not at the scale of the thousands that the publisher invests. We all have business expenses and overhead.

When things get really profitable for everyone involved is when costs are basically paid, but the book keeps selling. Wahoo!

krw3b said...

bebe, you said: "For picture books and other heavily illustrated formats, the illustrator usually gets a much bigger advance, and sometimes royalty. This is as it should be."

I have to take issue with just about that entire post. Are you implying that it is more work to illustrate a 32 page picture book than it is to write it? Or that it is merely more expensive?

First of all, my writing supplies aren't cheap. I must have a computer. I must have a printer. I must have an up-to-date word processor. I must have a thesaurus, dictionary, rhyming dictionary, and synonym dictionary. I must have an email account to facilitate critiques. And of course there's paper, ink, envelopes and stamps. All that just to write one picture book.

And I think you ought to go ahead and "compare the amount of work that goes into creating 32 pages of illustrations and 32 pages of text" because I argue that the amounts are equitable. To get plot, characterization, setting, story arc, theme, and entertaining language into fewer than 1000 words is not a feat achieved in an afternoon. It takes months.

I also write novels, and to imply that the only work-time needed to write a novel is the butt-in-chair time is ridiculous. Novelists invest an enormous amount of time (and significant cost) into research and other support work for fiction.

I don't know if you meant to take a swipe at writers, but it sure felt that way.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a published picture book author who does not illustrate, I have to say that I think it's a lot more work to illustrate a picture book than to write one. We're talking about something like 20 complete paintings here, often museum-quality. Even when I take "months" on a picture book, it's not like I'm working on the same story all day every day.

Anonymous said...

as a writer who likes to draw on the side, i'm going to go ahead and say that in most cases it's probably much more difficult and time consuming to illustrate a picture book that to write one.

Anonymous said...

I'm an author married to an illustrator, and I can tell you it takes many, many more hours to professionally illustrate a picture book than to write one.

As an author, I can also avail myself of a salaried editor who can help perfect my manuscript. Illustrators on the other hand have to deliver absolutely finished quality products or never get hired again. None but the most insane of art directors would take even partial credit: "It's a wonderful spread -- by the way I suggested she move those trees down, and put in a squirrel."

Anonymous said...

Btw Krw3b, good water color paper is $20 a SHEET. Sheesh, there's your freakin' rhyming dictionary right there -- if you just don't use the free one online. Up-to-date word processor? C'mon. 1990's search and replace is still just as good, my man.

If you are taking as many hours agonizing over your picture book as an artist would take to diligently illustrate it, as a fellow author I'm advising you to either pick up the pace or let it go because you probably had your best draft 300 hours ago.

bebe said...

krw3b, I was purposefully trying not to compare the actual work--I don't really think it's possible, it's so different. And either one could come from any combination of natural talent, a lifetime of learning, and a lack of either one of those things.

Others are willing to compare. For instance, you. Also, the three anonymous posters who came after you.

My point was that while both have expenses, even if you assume the work is the same (as you do), there's no way an author's basic expenses are as much as an illustrator's. There is simply no way. To you, my post seemed like a swipe to writers--yours seems like a swipe to illustrators. Me, I love both equally. I just know that you need less money to get a good author than you do to get a good illustrator, when it comes to picture books. And that's what it comes down to, really--not how much each creator "deserves"--but how much it will take to make the book happen.

(Unless, that is, we stopped using traditional illustrators and started using comic book artists instead--man, those guys work for peanuts! And no royalties. I don't know how they do it).

bebe said...

Oh, and biographies. These are the first two books I thought of:

Schulz and Peanuts, by David Michaelis. Published by Harper 2007, 672 pages. $34.95 for the jacketed hardcover.

Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon. Published by Penguin 2006, 1085 pages. $35.00 for the jacketed hardcover.

A long-awaited novel from one of our greatest living authors has the same retail price as a biography more than 400 pages shorter. The biography will likely bear it--looks like it'll be a best-seller, based on buzz. The Pynchon probably didn't sell that well, based on the fact that it was available on Amazon for $7 for quite a while. Of course, another factor here is that the people, they like non-fiction. More than literary fiction, anyway. I imagine both advances were pretty huge, regardless.

krw3b said...

$20 a SHEET?? Are you serious? And what if you screw it up?

Man, I'm way too cheap to be an illustrator. Plus I can't draw a line.

Okay okay, I posted under a little heat and before naptime. I certainly did NOT want to take a swipe at illustrators. I am in awe of them. And jealous.

And I'll defer to those who know and posted that illustrating is more work.

I guess I misunderstood what you said, bebe, concerning the comparison. I just reacted as a struggling writer, yanno.

Anon 6:21, you cracked me up. Best draft 300 hours ago...Hahaha! True.

But $20 a sheet...that's just not funny.

TWENTY DOLLARS???

*faint*

Anonymous said...

Seriously $20, though admittedly it is a big sheet (times sixteen spreads!). And as far as screwing it up goes, that's why you pay such money: the paper is heavy enough that you can wet it repeatly to repair mistakes -- or make the girl's shirt green rather than red because the art director said so.

Anyway, krw3b, someone who can both admit a mistake and laugh at themselves sounds like they could actually be a good writer, so a sincere good luck to you. Just remember to thank your illustrator in a little email, which so many authors don't bother to do. ;-)

Anon 6:21 and 5:46

krw3b said...

Thanks, Anon.

Heck, two things I'm GREAT at are making mistakes and laughing at myself.

And any illustrator of my work will get a huge thank you and a sheet of $20 paper.

Anonymous said...

I am an illustrator and an author. I am also an alum of Parson's School of Design, and I worked in the entertainment industry for years in children's programming. First of all, you left out the $100 Windsor & Newton Series 7 paint brush I use and the $10 (at least) per tube of paint. The paper is another story. However, you also left out the very real fact that illustrators often work on computers now, and the software required for us to produce our work is unimaginably expensive. I can write with a pencil and type it at the library if I need to. Or type it out on my little laptop and print it on the new HP printer I just bought at Target for $38 on sale.

I completely appreciate the inspiration and thought and hard work that goes into writing a great story, however, having done both professionally, I can tell you that writing doesn't touch illustration in terms of sheer time and effort. We have to plan out each illustration, have our comps approved, transfer to boards or paper and start painting. I work in gouache and if I mess up, I'm doomed. There is no over-painting, I just have to start over. I believe a great deal of the problem is that artists in general are *willing* to work for nothing. I know VERY few attorneys who will work for nothing. If we all stood up and said "No", then companies would be forced to pay us what our time and efforts are worth. Believe it or not - the world will always *need* writers and artists! My husband works in Financial Services (talk about a nightmare) and their industry is also run completely on commissions. I never understand why these people give these HUGE corporations their time for free, and then when they can no longer survive with no pay, they have to quit, but the company has gained thousands of contacts and a book of business from this person's efforts and they will continue to profit from them for years to come. If everyone said "No, I don't work for free" they would be forced to pay a reasonable wage to these people otherwise they wouldn't have a business. Oh, and did I mention that when you work for them for nothing, they make you sign a contract forbidding you to work anywhere else - including bar tending, etc... to support yourself or your family. Makes what we do seem generous, doesn't it? I mean, at least we're *allowed* to wait tables at night to support our careers. One thing I never see are soldiers or military contractors working for "advances" or "commissions".

"You're not getting paid until we see some "MEASURABLE SUCCESS" on that war front!"

It's sad that we live in a society that values this over supporting the creators, the artists, the dreamers who strive to make the world a little better place.

I've always said that being a writer is actually WORSE than being an (visual) artist! I didn't think anyone was treated worse than painters, but alas, there is publishing! For that reason, when people ask what I do, I always say that I am an illustrator. I don't think I really want to be a writer. It's too painful. Well.... Thanks for letting me vent!