The Good and the Bad of the Book Business

The book business has its good and not-so-good points. Only a few years down that path, and I’m already seeing a bunch of both.

First the good news: Few professional accomplishments can rival the feeling you have when a manuscript over which you’ve labored for months and even years finally goes to print. It’s the first step in a validation process that continues through book launch, promotional appearances and feedback in all its forms.

Potential projects seemingly come out of the woodwork after you’ve succeeded in having a couple of titles published. From suitors looking to have you ghostwrite their project to individuals who are eager to have their story told, it quickly becomes evident that success at any level breeds nothing if not the opportunity for more work.

I recently began a project in which I’ll be ghostwriting a book for a business consultant. It may not be as exciting as a true-crime book, but the fee-based payment schedule and bonus system based on sales milestones is a good fit – and relatively low-stress by my standards.

Now the not-so-good news: Not everyone is going to be pleased with your work, especially if it’s non-fiction like I do. There are real people and real feelings involved, and emotions can sometimes play a larger role than you would predict.

Some people assume that just because an author receives some media attention or does public appearances that it translates into big sales and big bucks. Well, no and no. Unless your book is one that sells tens of thousands of copies, you’ll never recover the time spent working on it from a royalty perspective. There are just too many hands in the pie (printers, publishers, attorneys, distributors, retailers, etc.)

By the time the author gets their portion, which comes many months down the road, it’s not uncommon for our take to amount to only about $1 per copy sold. Since many books – mine included – sell only a few thousand copies, you don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out the per-hour rate isn’t very good.

Do the positives outweigh the negatives? I’m not sure yet. Check back with me in a few years and I’ll have a better idea.

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