Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where's the End of the Writing Rainbow?

By Chester Campbell

Christine Duncan wrote a blog on Make Mine Mystery last week about her dream job—writing. The only drawback, she said, is that it pays little money. That’s certainly true for most of us. We all have acquaintances among the lucky few who manage to live off their writing income. Most of the ones I know in this category make it off of non-fiction rather than novels.

Actually, I’d be happy to dwell among the group who “make a little money” off their fictional efforts. I seem to be mired in the ranks of those who spend more on their writing than they make. When you subtract all I spend on travel to signings and conferences, the cost of mailing books to reviewers and contest winners, maintaining a website and sending newsletters, organizational dues, and other promotional expenses, my income is wiped out.

I’ve always heard that you start making money on your fifth book. Well, it’s been out about three months. I’m doing better, and if things keep going well I just might make it this year. It would be nice if I didn’t have to spend so much of my retirement income on my writing habit.

Marilyn Meredith is a great believer in the outside-the-box method of selling books, meaning outside the walls of a bookstore. I’m beginning to subscribe to her theory. I’m trying to line up as many street fairs, libraries, craft fairs, book festivals and the like as possible. I’m a little handicapped with a weak, gravelly voice that doesn’t do too well for speaking engagements, but I try to make up for it with a wife who does a great pre-selling job before people get to me.

Of course, I still do all the promotional stuff I can, giving out bookmarks and promo folders, updating my website, blogging all over the place, trying to post daily on Facebook and Twitter, creating book movie trailers. Lately I’ve tried to curtail my online time so I can work on my sixth book, another Greg McKenzie mystery. Fans I encounter at church and elsewhere are forever asking, “When will the next book be out?”

Surely number six will put me well in the black. I can’t quit my day job—retirement—but it sure would be nice to enjoy a little extra income for my efforts. What do you think? Is that a reasonable expectation?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It's easy to spend promotional dollars, isn't it? At least we can write it off on our taxes to some degree.

I've done a little bit of selling at craft fairs, etc, and it does seem to go well (not if we shop for crafts there, though! And sometimes it's hard to resist.)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Ben Small said...

The Tucson Festival of Books is a good one, with huge crowds. I've also had good experiences with small bookstores in little towns that for one reason or another, get lots of foot traffic. I meet people well. I think the future for many writers is to keep their expenses minimal and do smart things, like focus on libraries and the internet. Most of my friends are getting their books from libraries, these days, so that's where I want to make a splash. The times, they are a changin', and I want to be where they're going.

Ben Small said...

I also like the idea of these book machines, where you drop in your few bucks and a book is printed in minutes. I've seen the crowds at Circle K's DVD rental machines, where you get a rental for the cheap, and I think these things have a future beyond bookstores. Malls, coffee shops, these things could go everywhere.

But we have to encourage people to read.

Jean Henry Mead said...

The Internet is a great place to promote your books if you're willing to spend the time to blog, tweet and post at Facebook. I stopped traveling the state when the price of gasoline got so high that it was prohibitive. (Towns are few and far between in Wyoming.) I've sold more books at craft fairs the day after Thanksgiving than at any other signings, but I'd still rather promote my books online in my pajamas. :)

Chester Campbell said...

I'm not much of a shopper, Elizabeth, so the craft fairs don't tempt me. But you're right, those promo dollars are easy to dole out.

I like your idea on the book machines, Ben. The more the merrier. And libraries are good. I need to encourage readers to request books at their library.

You're doing a great job on the internet, Jean. I constantly see your posts all over the place.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Sadly, it's not the quality that matters, it's name recognition. For those fortunate enough to have achieved it off of formula books, their readers will always buy their sequels. As for the rest of us? We'll just keep plugging away, waiting for that "big break". The bright side is we can always write, whether it pays out or not.

Anonymous said...

Your blog about the Tucson Festival made it seem like the place to be. I'm going to try for next year's.

I have never sold a book in a bookstore. Gets a zero on my scale. My favorite and most profitable place to sell books is libraries.

But even that is chump change. I've decided there's not much of a market for cozies like mine, unless you can really get out to conferences and on panels.

Pat Browning

Chester Campbell said...

Pat, conferences and panels will get your name out, but you won't sell many books there. The only ones who sell many at conferences are authors with big names. That said, I've heard of a few small conferences with more readers than writers where you can sell a decent number.

Ben Small said...

Pat, the Tucson Festival of Books was a huge success, and many writers found they hadn't brought enough books as they didn't anticipate the crowds that came.

Let me know next year if you want to come. I may be able to help you with arrangements.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the offer. If things work out, I'll take you up on it.