A reader wrote to me with a series of questions on the writing life, the publishing universe, and everything. Here are some of the things I told her:
Q: What is a book worth, how is it valued? How are authors paid?
What IS a book worth; what is a writer worth; how do you put a price on something this subjective?
What’s an actual physical BOOK worth? Is your $24.95 for a hardcover first edition actually in the ballpark of how much a book is worth?
Percentages can vary from publisher to publisher, from book to book – but a slice of that $24.95 pie goes to pay the printers, the editors, the copy editors, the artists and designers, the publicists and the publicity for the book (advertising and such), the booksellers. And yes, the author… who gets, for a hardcover book, between 7% and 10% of that cover price per book sold. The writer doesn’t get paid even that much when books get sold below a certain discount, or remaindered.
Let’s say it takes you a year to write a book, and you get a $20,000 advance for it. That works out to roughly $417 a week. Assuming you work the average week (and writers don’t, let me tell you that much, we’re often at it 24/7 when we’re in the throes of things, we don’t get sick days or vacation days or paid leave – the days we don’t work we don’t get paid for, period – but let’s just assume…) let’s say that you’re doing a 40-hour week and take the weekends off, like the rest of the working stiffs. That means, if you do the math, that the writer is making just under $10.50 an hour.
This is ten bucks that’s being paid for every hour that the writer spends creating a work of fiction, building a world, figuring out a character’s motivation, solving mysteries that stump a Sherlock Holmes (they have to – until Arthur Conan Doyle solves the mystery Holmes can’t…)
Many people make more busking in subway stations.
And yet, here we all are. Dreaming. Content to be paid just enough for that to make us dream some more.
What’s a book worth? What’s an author’s time and mind and spirit and imagination worth?
Well, writers are paid in more than money. The sharing of the dream… is beyond price.
So next time you finish a book that transported you to a brand new place you could never have imagined, or made you homesick for a place you’ve never been… think about paying the other half of the price of a book. Write to the author and tell them how much you loved that book.
THAT’s how much a book is worth.