The glamorous author’s life…

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a piece that opens the kimono on one of the sadder moments in many author’s lives, from The New York Times Book Review:

I assumed the humiliations had ended. They began even before my book was published, when network morning shows that regularly had me on now refused my pleas for some airtime to promote it. Once the book came out in 2012, it only got worse…

Less than a year after publication, my publisher, Hachette, told me they were mulching the tens of thousands of remaining copies of my book, “Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity,” and suggested I purchase copies while they still existed. I capitulated, sending a check to the very people who once paid me to write it…Perhaps the worst indignity is that Hachette sends me a statement each quarter listing my sales and charting my progress toward paying back my advance. Which is pointless unless Hachette pays royalties to authors’ great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren…

But after three years of suffering through my stupid quest to sell a book, I encountered an ignominy I didn’t even know existed. My 6-year-old son’s friend Livia came over for a play date, and her mom brought a copy of my book for me to sign… “Property of the Calgary Public Library.”


I’ve written two books published by major New York houses, and am delighted to have ticked the box on a life’s dream in so doing.

My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

But, oy, it’s not what people think!

Authors are rich!

Hah. Some, yes, earn very great sums from their work, self-published or commercially-published. Often it’s not the books you’d think, but might be 100s of 1000s of copies of a self-help book, not just John Grisham or J.K. Rowling.

Those making serious bank see their work optioned for film and/or television and made into a major motion picture.

You get to choose your title and cover — of course!

Hah, again. Yes, if you’re someone they feel is important enough to their bottom line and whose prior sales offer proven clout. For the rest of us? Your contract offers only “consultation”, not “approval.” Luckily, in both instances, I absolutely loved the covers designed so thoughtfully by my publishers. The first title was mine and the second, (thanks!) came from the publisher.

You’d think every author knows exactly what to call their own book, right? Wrong.

malled cover LOW

Books tours are amazing

Maybe for some. The Big Names are flown to multiple cities and even multiple countries, met in each place by someone assigned to be their chauffeur and chaperone. The rest of us? That’s where a huge network of well-placed and enthusiastic readers, bloggers, reviewers and media pals is essential. Most “tours” today are by Skype, email, blog “tours” or phone.

Writing books rewards the solitary genius


Today, the first question every would-be author needs to answer is: ‘What’s your platform? How many Twitter/Facebook/Instagram followers do you have?”

Until or unless you can prove a potential audience of thousands — minimally 10s of thousands, millions even better — you’re likely to hit a wall.

Writing books helps you make money for years to come

Again, wildly variable.

Write a textbook used by thousands of students? Maybe. Literary fiction? Maybe not. Today’s “advances” — money paid to the author upon a publisher’s acquisition of the right to publish a book — are now typically paid out over years. My final payment (not unusual now) on Malled came a full year after publication.

Very, very writers ever “earn out” — i.e. sell enough copies to actually earn money  beyond your advance. First, you have to repay your advance. That $25 hardcover price? You, the author, see only a small percentage applied from each book’s sale — meaning it can take years, decades or never to earn out and receive a royalty.

There’s also the visceral terror of turning in a full manuscript to be told it’s simply deemed “unpublishable” — and being asked for the advance back. I know someone it happened to, and have heard of others. Brrrrrr!

“Malled” needed a lot of revisions, so many I thought it might be impossible to achieve. Luckily, I had a smart/tough editor and we got it done. (Some readers, of course, savaged it anyway.) Tant pis, mes chers!



The one payment that makes me cry when it arrives, as it has for the past three years, is the royalty I get from the Canadian library system, basically a payment for library readership of my two books.

It’s deeply moving to me, and validating, to know my work is still finding readers years later.

Since a library book is bought once, (even multiple copies), it represents hundreds, if not thousands, of potentially lost sales and income.

Many nations offer this payment to registered authors — but of course not the United States.

Writing a book, especially of non-fiction, also establishes you as an expert; I was interviewed twice this past week, thanks to my books — by The Guardian (on retail) and The Christian Science Monitor, about women and gun use, thanks to Blown Away.

I really hope to write and sell a few more books. We’ll see.

12 thoughts on “The glamorous author’s life…

    1. I’ve left the marketing and distribution of these two with the publisher.

      I need to update Blown Away and re-publish on Amazon — but it’s a also a fair bit of work (unpaid) to do that updating as well, for an uncertain financial reward.

  1. Yeah, the life of a writer is not easy. I’ve published four books, and I’ve got three more at various stages of the editing process. The most I’ve made in a year off my work is a hundred dollars. Yeah, I still write, hoping that I’ll someday be able to write full-time, but for now I thank God every day that I have a good job that pays my bills. Otherwise, I might have defaulted on my loans already and have no money in the bank.

  2. Hi Caitlin – what you describe here is SO familiar to me – especially the heart-breaking experience of seeing a book pulped by a publisher, even before it’s earned back the advance…and then the endless run of “zeroes” in subsequent royalty statements, because the book never disappears from the accounting system… One of the issues we’ve had here in NZ, which has compounded it, has been the retrenchment by the major houses back to their Australian operations – particularly warehousing, which has had a dire practical effect on sales and availability. Books can be ordered but now have to make their way across the Tasman, and I’m told by bookshop owners that the delay is sufficient to deter customers. Add to that the imposition of ‘Australian’ sales targets, as opposed to NZ (a very different market even in nature of books sold – we focus on non-fic here) and it’s a recipe for low sales, swift pulping, and a lot of author angst!

    The issue with titles is another awkward one – for me especially. A few years back I was pushing out about a book a year for Penguin, whose marketing department here was very keen on a kind of ‘revelatory’ theme in their titling. As a result I had a series of titles and subtitles imposed which claimed my content was revealing ‘secret’ and ‘hidden’ history – which, of course, it wasn’t. I was duly lambasted for it by reviewers, mostly other authors with their own interests in the same field, who made great play of my apparent stupidity for claiming that my subject matter was somehow unknown – proof, if any were needed, of how worthless I was when writing in their territories (these same people, of course, knew very well that the publisher, not the author, selects the titles – go figure).

    I guess at the end of the day all we can do is press on with writing. I’ve been working since with some smaller presses, with whom I have an excellent relationship and who don’t have their international head office peering over their shoulders looking for profit targets – a much happier state of affairs for an author!

  3. it seems that as challenging as the actual research, planning and writing of a book, it’s what comes after that is much harder. amazing that anyone ever makes any money from them.

  4. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail

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