Not a Penny More, Probably a Penny Less!
Richard Castle, a bestselling author, the protagonist on the hit series ‘Castle’ being aired on Star World, has a dream life. He is rich, famous and has glamorous women drooling all over him. Castle, as he is fondly called, is a full time author, an occasional consultant with the cops to help them catch cold blooded criminals. His life is what most first time authors would dream of replicating.
Reality though, is a little harsh! Far from quitting your job and becoming a full time author, the profession is far from lucrative, monetarily. The following article, although not exhaustive, looks at five key misconceptions aspiring and first time authors have about the industry.
Myth #1: You will become rich and famous after your first book
Your first book will release in June. Every store in India will be flooded with it. By October, it will be on the best seller list everywhere. You will get a seven figure royalty amount next March. Later that year, you will get an eight figure amount as your book will get adapted to a movie starring Ranbir Kapoor! How nice would that be, wouldn’t it?
A first time author gets no advance and a royalty of 7% – 10% of MRP of the book. Most books in the popular fiction are priced around Rs. 150. Even if your book is a best seller (over 10,000 copies), you stand to make Rs. 1.5 lakhs. This amount is over the entire life time of the book (18 – 36 months). This amount, earned over a period of 2 years, is far from leading a luxurious life. To put the number into perspective, this is what an average IIM graduate makes every month.
Very few books get adapted into movies; you can count such books on your finger-tips. Rarely does a first time author’s work get translated onto the silver screen.
Myth #2: You can leave your job and pursue a full-fledged writing career
Although Richard Castle leads a life like that, authors in India have their task cut out. As mentioned in the point above, writing is not a lucrative career monetarily. Each book takes 18-36 months from conception to completing its run in the market. The potential money to be earned is barely sustainable to make writing a full time career.
For first time authors, writing is a hobby that they should pursue to fulfill their creative desires. It is foolish to leave your primary job and focus only on writing. Even John Grisham spent close to a decade in his primary job before he decided to pursue a career in writing. Over a period of time, the profession, might (I repeat might) reward monetarily.
Myth #3: Writing is the tough part, publishing is the easy part
Nothing could be further away from the truth! For young aspirational authors, the ugly truth is that writing is the easiest part of the whole process. After that, the process of getting a publisher is often a harrowing one. From manuscripts getting repeatedly rejected to chasing literary agents to multiple delays, the process is far from smooth!
The good thing is that the struggle is common for everyone. Chetan Bhagat’s first book, Five Point Someone, was rejected by multiple publishers before Rupa agreed to publish it. However, once you have one book published, it is easier to locate a publisher for the second book.
Myth #4: The publisher will do all the marketing for the book
Publishers have limited resources and they focus their limited resources on more acclaimed authors. A first time author, in all likelihood, will receive zero marketing support from a publisher. He will be responsible to get all media reviews, tie up with various agencies for promotional events like book launches, visit various educational institutions to promote the book, run a social media campaign, etc. Needless to say, the publisher will rarely contribute a penny to the costs incurred in such activities.
For a first time author, distribution of books is often a key challenge. Newer publishers have little bargaining power with established retail book chains and hence they tend to focus their distribution muscle on their more acclaimed authors. First time authors have to accept that there books will not be available at all leading book stores. The only way it will be available if the author decides to enter into a promotional tie up with the book chain. On average, this involves an investment of at least Rs. 50,000 per book chain.
Myth #5: Self-publishing is for losers
For new authors, getting accepted by a publisher and having a publisher’s name attached to a piece of work is a proxy for success. However, an increasing theme that is catching on in the western markets is the concept of self-publishing. Young authors put up their works on forums like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Platform. Not only does the work get to reach a global audience of a million plus readers, the royalty terms on every download are extremely lenient at 70% of the book price. For instance, if your book is priced at $ 4.01 and your book gets downloaded 2,000 times at 70% royalty, you stand to gain close to 4 lakhs.
However, the most important aspect of unconventional channels like this is to establish a proof of concept of your work. Once your book has done sizeable numbers on a channel like this, it always makes sense to approach a renowned publisher. The publisher will also be more confident in backing your work! In fact, Amish Tripathi self-published his first book of the Shiva trilogy on his own before going to a traditional publisher.
In conclusion, writing is an extremely challenging profession; especially if you want to make a full-fledged career out of it. To expect immediate returns from it is a near impossible proposition. It is similar to making a career in cricket; for years a person has to toil away in the hot sun making his way through the school team, the city team, the state team and the zonal teams perfecting his art all along. All through this phase, there is little glamor, money and success attached to it. However, if you are really passionate about the game and love what you are doing, you will eventually get picked into the Indian team and the rest will be history!
About the author:
Sandeep Das, an MBA from IIM Bangalore, is the author of the bestseller ‘Yours Sarcastically’. ‘Yours Sarcastically’ has been featured on the Times of India, Hindu, CNN IBN, Business India and Asian Age. It is available on Flipkart and leading book stores.