I was recently at a…well, let’s call it a networking event…for writers and science fiction fans. I ended up seeing a man there that I knew from other events, a writer in perhaps his late fifties. Now, I probably hadn’t seen this fellow, who I’ll refer to as Bob for the sake of anonymity, in probably six months. When we’d last talked, he’d mentioned that he had a novel that was in the process of being published by a small press.
“Hi Bob,” I said, walking up to him. “Nice to see you again. It’s been ages.”
We exchanged some pleasantries, and then I asked, “Hey, how’s that book coming along? Has it been published yet?”
“No,” Bob said. “It’s still in process. It’s a small press, you know, and the owner, well, they guy had some health issues.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that. I hope he’s doing OK.”
“Yeah, he’s on the mend, but he’s way behind,” Bob said. He took a sip of his drink. “He’s hired some staff to help him get caught up.”
“Do they have a publication date for you yet?”
“No, but they’re working on it. The guy offered me my rights back if I wanted them, but I told him no.” Bob shrugged. “I can wait. I mean, he produces really nice looking books.”
I was a bit incredulous. His publisher is at least six months late on publication, and he’s acting like this is no big deal. Casually, I probed further. “So, he can’t tell you when it’s coming out?”
“No, but I’m not worried. I’m not losing any money. Besides, I only get paid when copies get sold.”
So now he’d basically told me that he didn’t get an advance for the novel. I’m not too worried about that because, frankly, advances are more of a “big trad publisher” thing than a “small press” thing.
But he’s apparently never heard of “opportunity cost.” If you have a story that’s done, and it’s not out there where folks can potentially spend money on it, then the time that passes erases any money that you could have been earning if only it had been available. In business, time really is money.
Let’s say that his novel had the potential to earn a $1000 a year (assuming some reasonable marketing). Bob was clueless that he’d just lost perhaps $500 of potential earnings.
Even worse, if the small press owner was unable to get the book out on time because of illness, what were the odds that he’d be able to market it effectively? That’s a business consideration, as well, and one that almost certainly would warrant terminating the contract.
This is basic business stuff and Bob was totally clueless about it all. He was so focused on getting his book published, that he didn’t think about opportunity cost, marketing or even income. In my humble opinion, this cluelessness towards the business aspects of a writing career is why writers like Bob have been taken advantage of so badly by publishers, agents and other folks over the years. And it’s why so many otherwise talented writers are unable to make a living at writing.
It’s great to be creative. It’s great to be a writer. But if you really want to have a career, take the time to learn the business side of the writing life. Please, pretty please.