Thursday, April 19, 2012

Money, Money, Money, Money! - Susan Malone

Welcome to guest blogger, Susan Malone, who is addressing our April theme. Can you guess what it is? (smile)

A necessary evil, money.  For most artists, we hate to even think about it.  And as a measure of success, well, the money often doesn’t match up with critical acclaim. 

That part hasn’t changed in this business. What constitutes a Best Seller often doesn’t correlate to “well written.” We all know that. Especially in this day and age of the e-book revolution, what sells well is often something quite different from a great book. Not always of course. But the devil is in the marketing now more than it ever has been. And we, as writers, of course, have to watch that dreaded bottom line. 

We all wear two distinct hats in this industry: the Writer and the Marketer. And most writers really hate that other hat. But without it, not only do we not pay our light bills, but our books languish in obscurity as well. All writers (at least on some level) want to find audiences for their babies. 

As publishing has been turned on its head over the last decade, the mid-list author has virtually disappeared. And with it, advances from traditional publishing houses. Not entirely of course.  Contracts with advances do still exist. But you hear about the big ones because they are of the one-in-a-million variety. Yep, happens. As do auctions. Just not very often, and with huge disparity between best-selling authors and everybody else. For most folks being traditionally published, that $5,000 average advance has gone with the wind. 

The good news about this revolution, however, is that social media has opened a huge door for authors to promote themselves, and many are gaining greatly because of it.  Now rather than going through the traditional gatekeepers, you can put out a book, fashion a savvy marketing plan, and make money, where in past decades that book might have never seen the light of day. And a new mid-list is sort of creating itself, online via e-books. 

As a mid-list author, I’ve had four books traditionally published. All earned-out the advance, and all made some money in later royalties.  The keyword here is “some.”  But the funny thing is, one of those, Five Keys to Understanding Men, which did fairly well when published, has gotten a kick in the butt of late.  The publisher re-issued it last year, along with an e-book version. To my delighted surprise, I’ve been receiving fairly fat royalty checks for over a year now. What fun! And on a book that had been out of print for years

I’m liking this revolution more and more all the time. 

But all of that is the side story. Yes, we have to make some dollars doing this or we might just lose whatever is left of our minds.  But for the artist in us, that’s not why we do what we do.  We do it because we grow somewhat insane if we don’t.  It’s as Rilke asked that young man in Letters to a Young Poet, “This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? . . .  then build your life in accordance with this necessity . . . “ 

And we do.  We fashion our lives so that creativity blossoms, no matter the financial constraints. 

Or, to turn a popular song around a touch:  "You gotta write, like you don’t need the money . . . " 


Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

Posted by Maryann Miller, who thinks we actually have three hats, writer, editor and marketer. She likes wearing the first two, the third, not so much.
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  1. We used to say, it's all about the writing. It still is about the writing, but the writing is not THE thing. Marketing has been added in. Those writers who can adjust and learn to self-market (along with writing well) will be the success stories.
    Great post - and congrats on your success.

  2. Yeah, now it's about the writing and the promotion from both author and publisher - mostly authors now.

  3. Thanks for sharing with us today, Susan. You made some good points, and I liked that you emphasized the writing. That tied in nicely with what Terry Odell said in her post about the need to be writing. If I had a choice between being better at writing than at marketing, I would pick writing every time. I have seen so many so-so books get a lot of attention because the author was a whiz at promoting. Quality of product should come first, no matter what you are selling, but a lot of people consider that an antiquated business principle.

  4. Yep---I need to get into the groove of money, money, money. Good post.

  5. Helen and Maryann, y'all just hit the old nail on the proverbial head. The writing still is the thing, but now only a part of the equation. SO many books are just tossed out there now, the writer spending all her time, money, effort on promotion, as Maryann said.
    What we're also starting to see happen though, is that author's next book doesn't sell so well, nor the next (not always, but in general). Building a reading audience is still our goal, and once you've turned off readers with a bad book, well, you pretty much have to start over on the next.
    Quality is still everything for the long haul!

  6. I'm going to admit that I do like money, don't consider it at all evil!, and love getting paid for writing, editing, and promotion. I loved getting paid in all my other careers, too, whether working Steak Night at the military cafeteria when I was in high school, to being a public accountant to running my own art galleries where I displayed my work. When I stop loving the work in each of those jobs, I quit to do something else, and in some cases moved to jobs that made more money. Money is always part of the equation for me. Maybe my attitude about money helps me do just what I want to do in my life?

  7. It's always been about the marketing ... just ask the guy who invented Pet Rocks ... and I understand that I gotta do it ... but I really, really suck at it ... what a revoltin' development.

  8. I love that your "old" book has received new life! That's great.

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  10. Money is great! What bothers me are those who try to make artists feel guilty for wanting what everyone else wants more of. Someone who works in an office or on a construction site is encouraged to get as much money from his boss as he can. An artist? Better not even mention this taboo topic :D

    So I'm happy to see how things are going, how open things are getting. There's more honesty in writing nowadays than there has been in the past, if for no other reason than it's more accessible to authors who may not have had an opportunity a decade or two ago. Money is becoming less of a dirty word these days.

    And yet marketing is still not very much fun...

  11. Great point, J.R. I do think artists have a "guilt" gene about money. It's something we all struggle with! And I think it's a bit as Dani said--we do love to get paid for what we do.
    It's the "asking" for it--which is pretty much what marketing is all about--where we get tripped up. And as Christopher said, yep, it's always been about the marketing. That has just exploded these days!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.