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Tag: Small Press

Editor Earnings Part One

There is a certain rise in awareness of the difficulty in making a living writing, or in the publishing industry in general. Recently I began to take a survey of editors, letting them report what they are really earning, and later this week, I will tally the results. If you want to take the survey it is here.

The article with the results will be posted on a number of websites. In fact, there will be a number of articles discussing different aspects of the already fascinating results.

Why did I start this process? As many of you know, I have worked for a couple of different small presses as an editor and have also done private editing as well. Some of the work I did for small presses was based on royalties in addition to a small flat fee.

The Contracts were Voluntary

In that capacity I have edited almost 40 novels. Several more I edited privately for clients who were self-publishing or submitting to agents. I will be sharing my income statistics in detail and the results of the survey in conjunction with them, but those earnings are the result of contracts we signed willingly. We entered into royalty contracts knowing full well the risk that they would never pay out fully for the time and effort we invested in them.

Income Dependent on the Work of Others

I am publishing this survey for a variety of reasons. The primary one is that I no longer do edits for anyone on a royalty basis. The reason will become clear once I reveal the income findings. The second is to shed some light on a part of the publishing industry that does not get a lot of press, but gets a lot of criticism.

If you complain about the editing on a self-published book or one produced by a publisher, you have to look at not just the author, but the editor, publisher, and their editing process. One of the things you have to consider is how much they are paying an editor for their services and if that editor is a professional or not. The problems with royalty paid editors are many. Here are a few.

The Editor’s income is affected by author and publisher marketing, something they cannot control. While good editing contributes to better book sales, if the publisher and the author do not market the book effectively so it does not sell, not only does it not earn out for the publisher but the editor never really gets paid for the work that he or she did.

This certainly affects their motivation to spend extra time and effort on the next project. Since the editor is not being paid what he is worth, they have to turn to other sources for income. This means they have less concentrated time to spend on book editing, resulting in a drop in quality.

An editor who is a professional should be paid a living wage, and if the author is not selling, and the publisher cannot pay the editor because of that, they lose professionals in favor of hobbyists or less qualified candidates, resulting in poorer overall edits.

Many authors who publish with small presses are too lazy or ignorant to market effectively. Now before I get the hate mail, we all go through down marketing periods (I am in one right now, for a variety of reasons) and there are authors who are an exception to the rule.

Generally if they do not invest in their work, they don’t feel compelled to try to make that investment back.

The issue here is that not only does the publisher never make their investment back, but neither does the editor. No one is satisfied with what they are getting paid, and the author often then complains about the small royalties they receive, never thinking about what the publisher and editor have both invested in their work.

The editor has invested time and expertise. The publisher has purchased covers, paid editors (even if it is a small fee plus royalties), a cover designer, formatter, and simple overhead expenses. It is no wonder so many small presses go under. If they pay editors, cover designers, and authors fairly, there is nothing left for profit and growth if they are not losing money.

A cover designer gets a set fee. Some are more expensive than others. I know, because I have also self-published and purchased covers from them. But I would never pay the cover designer a small fee and then offer them a royalty, and it is unlikely they would take such a gamble.

Why then do we expect editors to do the same? Are their skills less valuable, their expertise not as hard-earned as that of the artist? No. This is a practice that needs to stop.

Professional editors do not work cheaply for long. Sometimes an editor will take a risk, and bet that better authors who promote their work more, a best seller, or even just a solid mid-lister with good sales will come along, and their efforts will pay off.

But they can only do so for a short period. Eventually the need for money to buy groceries and survive outweighs the desire to help others and a long-term gamble that is not paying off.

The results of the survey and my own income numbers will reveal that editors working for small presses are often not even making minimum wage, and that often books never even come close to earning out the time and effort the editor has invested.

Want to be a bigger part of this survey? Email me here with your numbers or numbers from your small press: anything you want to share. Editors are underpaid, and the unseen heroes of the industry. Them being taken advantage of has to stop.

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Don’t Bring Me Down

The news is depressing. There’s no doubt of that. Many of us have just stopped watching. Or at least limit how much news we digest.

It isn’t a surprise. Nobody tunes into the news for the positive stories, despite what we say. Sure, a rare “Dog found” story makes the headlines, but only because the negative happened first: he was lost. We tuned in for a positive outcome of a previously negative situation. We would never tune in to “Dog behaves and stays home for 10 years without running away.” Why? Because normal is not news.

But when it comes to self-publishing, we tune into only one kind of story: the Sensational Success. Why don’t we hear about the mid-lister or the miserable failure? Because these are both considered the norm. To me, the fact that there are hundreds, even thousands of successful mid-listers who are making a living as writers seems like news to me.

It wasn’t always this way. With the big five in control, there were really only two stories: those who sold some books, but not enough to really ‘make it’, and kept working their day jobs, head hung low, keeping the dirty secret that they were authors, and hoped someday to make it. There they remained, until they gave up, or actually broke out, and the aforementioned Sensational Success.

But with the advent of self-pub, the very definition of author success has been reset, yet largely ignored by the mainstream media. The fact is this: more authors are making money self-publishing or publishing with small presses than traditionally published authors. Just as when the same trend broke the old model of the music industry, the news made its way quietly through the industry, but seldom popped up in the mainstream, except for the rare Sensational Success.

So don’t try to bring me down with the drivel stating people aren’t reading any more, the physical book is dead, and authorship is still a go nowhere career. It just isn’t true. I simply don’t believe it.

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The Hybrid Theory: A Case for Small Press

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but what pushed me to it this time was Hugh Howey’s excellent post about Brenna Aubrey who turned down a six-figure contract deal to self-publish, and found the gamble worked. Sure, her spectacular results are atypical, but I wanted to answer Hugh’s points about self-publishing with a caveat. I have (and will continue to) self-publish, but I also work with publishers. Not the traditional big houses, but small-digital press. Here’s why.

Investment. Brenna spend just over $1800 dollars on the production of the book. Hugh’s point is well taken.

This is a reasonable sum, and should be seen as both an inexpensive hobby, and a paltry start up cost for a small business.

I would add, however, that sometimes an author doesn’t have $1800 dollars (or even the $1000 I tell authors is near the minimum if they self-publish) to invest in just the production of the book. If you do not have at least this much money to invest, you should not self-publish. A small press may be the answer, in part because the shoulder these costs (editing, a cover, and formatting) for you, and since they do them in house, they likely cost them less than what an individual would pay.

Very few books make money. Most self-published books make less than $100. If you have $1800 dollars invested, that is a lousy return, and you have a moderately expensive hobby. However, if you work with a small press it is in their interest as well as yours to promote your work. Simply put, they at least want their money back, in other words your novel to earn what they paid to bring it to market. So although they do not market for you, they will do some things to promote your work, and you can send readers to their website or groups to find your work. For a debut author, this may be an answer.

Hugh’s second point is that pound for pound, self-publishing pays more. True. But this is also a part of a simple business premise. Pay now, or pay later. If you can invest both the time and money needed to self-publish, your return will be better long term. However, if you do not have the money to invest up front, you can pay later by giving up a portion of your royalties to a small press for a few years at least.

This leads to Hugh’s third fact: it is all about ownership. One of the big downsides to the big five is two issues: a non-compete clause (something you should never, ever sign) and the length of their contracts, often seemingly indefinite. My novel Stray Ally will be published by Tirgearr Publishing (a small, digital press) March 4th. The contract is relatively short (5 years) and if I am dissatisfied at the end of it, the rights revert back to me. Also, with a small press you will likely have more input into editing and cover design than you would with a larger house (if you want it).

The final fact presented is that a lot of luck is involved. This is true no matter what path you take. One thing I have observed about authors almost universally is the ones who invest time and money in their work and treat it like a business (it is) tend to be luckier. By using a small press, you can take what precious money you have and invest it in advertising and promotions. Use what works for others, and hire professionals if need be.

Small houses have already seen the light big houses have not. They don’t demand you sign non-compete clauses (I don’t sign one of those when I edit for small presses), pay higher royalties for ebook sales and keep prices lower, and have contracts limited to a number of years.

More writers should be as brave as Brenna. As Hugh has also stated, the Work is the Work, the Path is the Path. Self-publish, work with small presses, or do a little of both (like me). But get your work out there, and together lets change the publishing world.

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