Royalty Time Again: Do What you Love

For many writers it’s royalty time again, and for most that can be an interesting experience. A good deal of the writers I know all work full time and are busy raising families and they do their writing in their spare time, which is the way it’s always been done. I ran two businesses for years, seven days a week, and wrote in my spare time, thrilled to get any work writing LGBT fiction I could get at the time. Most of that work was done with anthologies because the call for gay novels was rare. I submitted by snail mail and wrote all these stories in hard copy. And those anthologies paid a flat fee that never amounted to much, also industry standard. But I did it for two reasons: I loved doing and couldn’t imagine not doing it, and I wanted to build publishing credits.

I’ve also never been too grand to turn anything down, not even to this day. I have found lately that learning to say no is important because there isn’t enough time to do everything I’d like to do. So now when I do turn something down, or I don’t go after a call for submissions, it’s not because I’m too grand. It’s because I haven’t figured out a way to add another eight hours to a twenty four hour day. And I still feel guilty about it. The main reason why I hate to say no to anything is because I remember a time when there were very limited opportunities for all writers, and that wasn’t too long ago. The advent of digital publishing has changed this in more than one way.

I have seen a great deal of douchebaggery over the years with writers when it comes to dumb promotion, aggressive behavior, and more things than I can name in one post. I’ve been in situations with writers where the shit was so deep I was glad I’d worn boots that day. But the one thing I can honestly say I have never seen is a writer who bragged and boasted about his or her royalties. Those who have great sales and are lucky enough to see nice royalty checks do it with grace, and those who don’t…most…simply take it all with that proverbial grain of salt and move on to their next writing project without complaining.

One thing almost all writers know is that to brag or boast about royalties would be just plain dumb. I’ve seen writers thank readers in a general sense for supporting them and buying their books, but never any writer who outright bragged about getting great royalties. It would be downright mean to do this. Because those who aren’t thrilled with their royalties are only going to feel worse when they see a writer bragging about royalties. As I said, I have seen a lot of douchebaggery, but never this brand. And I hope I never do.

And that’s because royalty time for most writers can be a huge let down. You worked and slaved for months to write a novel, you spent hours learning how to use social media so you could promote the novel as best you could, and you literally worked yourself into nervous exhaustion worrying about whether or not you did the right things…or how the book will be reviewed. Most of the time it’s your social life that suffers the most. No one can do everything, and you sacrifice the one thing that could actually relieve your stress, which is your social life. And then you get that royalty check and wonder if it was all worth it.

I don’t have the answer to that. It’s an individual answer to a question we all ask ourselves at one point or another, and a question we all have to answer at one point or another. The fact remains that there are only going to be a few authors who reach the pinnacle of E. L. James with “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I wish I could tell you we’re all going to get there, but we aren’t. I’ve always been more focused on being a writer than an author. In other words, I’m not in it for the money. I don’t think of myself as an author who writes gay romance or gay fiction. I think of myself as a writer who can write anything, on any topic, if an editor asks me. For me it was never about just getting the novel out, pulling in royalty checks, and working fans at book signing events. And it’s been this perspective that kept me going for twenty years, and will keep me going for another twenty. When I was asked to be part of the book “Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey,” I didn’t really have the time to do it and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. However, I made the time and I’m glad I did because it’s not something I’m asked to do often. I also connected with another great publisher I hope to work with again in the future.

And what about fairness? “That book sucked and it’s selling more than mine,” is something I’ve heard before. And in most cases, it’s the truth. A lot of really bad books sell well and no one has been able to figure that out yet. I have one short story out that did better than others, I never expected it to, and I can’t even figure that out myself. There’s no clear cut answer to the fairness factor either. In fact, there are no clear cut answers to anything in publishing and no one should expect anything. If you don’t believe me, ask any seasoned literary agent or editor and they’ll most likely tell you the same thing.

Last month I posted something on social media about an ad I saw where someone was looking for a ghost writer to write a romance novel. I don’t remember offhand where I saw this so I can’t give you links, but the ad stated that someone was willing to pay a ghost writer $450.00 as a one time flat fee to write the romance novel…and give up all copyrights to it. My first thought was how awful. But then I remembered all the fiction (too much to count) I’ve written with reputable publishers for flat fees that were far, FAR less than $450.00 and the ad started to look a little better to me. Then I posted about it on social media and other prolific authors who have been published many times by some good publishers, and who have agents, mentioned they don’t even make that kind of money in royalties with their books each quarter sometimes.

It puts things into perspective, and it all comes down to one thing, and this is something I’ve also seen in the last twenty years. If you love what you do, and you genuinely love to write, the money doesn’t matter and neither do the royalty checks. Even if you try to stop writing, you’ll wind up doing it again because you can’t help yourself. And those who don’t really love it and are only around for the royalty check, will disappear never to be heard from again eventually. I have seen that, too, many times. I’ve seen writers jump into the landscape full throttle, with aggressive promotion and in-your-face attitudes, who wind up crashing and burning right after they get their first royalty check. But more than that, and this is a big test, I’ve seen writers who made a lot of money with their first royalty checks and were severely let down when they found out that doesn’t last forever. It really doesn’t last forever. Working as a writer, unless you’re as lucky as people like E. L. James or James Paterson, is a series of ups and downs that last a lifetime. Even J. K. Rowling suffered huge slams with “The Casual Vacancy.” And only those who really love what they do are going to stick it out for the long haul.   

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