Not the Road to Riches

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We are excited to announce that the digital form of our book is now available on Kindle. Search for “Maddi Davidson” on amazon.com to find and purchase our near masterpiece. Now that the baby is walking – at least digitally – it’s a good time to reflect on how we got here. (No, not the birds and bees part of “got here”- the writing stuff!) We began to write a book together for enjoyment – principally because we have the same twisted sense of humor. Also because both of us have had “you cannot make this stuff up” experiences with information technology – the kind that makes for good comedy and more than a little tragedy. Along the way, as happens with many authors, we wondered if, per chance, we might become rich through our writing. Just how much do authors make, anyway? For the answer, we turned to the Internet, fount of all wisdom and plenty of foolishness. Here is what we learned.

Typically, authors earn between 6% and 8% on paperbacks and 10% on hardbacks. (Does anyone buy hardbacks anymore, besides libraries, that is?) Assuming we sold 100,000 copies – note that fewer than 500 titles do that each year – we’d make less than $40,000 each, before taxes. Thump! That sound you just heard (or read) was the hard blow of reality. Unless we become bestselling authors, writing will not fund our retirements, second homes, new cars, or even a used bike that we’d share. (Hey, I should get more than fifty percent; my writing is twice as good as yours.) (It is not. But this factoid does mean I may need a different retirement strategy, like finding a rich old coot who doesn’t believe in pre-nups.)

We would expect that many authors, faced with the poor return, abandon their writing efforts in favor of starting a maid service (“gross grout out!”) or being a pet concierge to the rich and famous (“we wow Chihuahuas!”). Clearly, a better financial decision. But a nagging question remains: if authors earn less than 10% on their work, where is all that money going? We’ve seen the demise of big chain bookstores (B. Dalton, Borders) so they can’t be the ones raking in the dough. Maybe there is a heretofore-undiscovered black hole that not only planets and asteroids but also writers’ profits vanish into.

Barring a new discovery by Stephen Hawking, we decided that it must be the publishers who suck all the profits into their maws. Yes, that makes sense, and would explain the trend towards self-publishing, where authors get to keep a larger portion of their sales. Obviously, publishing houses are greedy conglomerates. Let’s just cut them out of the equation and make big bucks! (We’d start Occupy Publishing Houses but we are too busy getting the book out to be bothered camping in a major city. Besides, we can always vent our scribal spleens in other ways, like having a publisher get offed in a future murder mystery. Hehehe.)

So off we went into the self-publishing route. Okay, there were other reasons we chose self-publishing such as unappreciative agents who didn’t buy our argument that “Harry Potter was so last year – Emma Jones is the new thing.” (One of us is exceptionally good at supplying extreme hubris when called for.) The time to publish was, perhaps, the major factor in our decision. The traditional publishing route involves finding an agent who will represent your work, sell it to a publisher, negotiate the contract and manage your business relationships. Finding an agent involves endless query letters, waiting for rejections or expressions of interest, submissions of materials and waiting for more rejections. (It’s worse than dating, as one of us knows from a truly and unpleasantly alarming years’ of experience waiting by the phone for the call that never comes, sniff.) We queried about a dozen agents and although we got some interest in our work, there were no takers. To find an agent could take another forty or fifty queries. Even after securing an agent, we’d have to hope the agent was successful in getting the interest of a publisher. And even if all that worked, we wouldn’t be published for another TWO YEARS! That’s how far out publishers schedule releases. So to heck with all that, we’d do it ourselves.

Three months and uncountable hours later, we now have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of trying to publish a quality product. And that greediness we attributed to publishers? Forget that. Okay, not all of it. They might still be greedy, but the effort to bring a book to market is considerable. We won’t bore you with ALL the details, which bear numerous unpleasant parallels to visiting a proctologist, but here are a few.

Editing. Should be easy, right? Just go with the software spelling and grammar check. It has everything you need, except … Hawaiian words. Emma and her boyfriend, Keoni, use Hawaiian phrases, complete with kahakōs (macrons) and ‘okinas (glottal stops). These all show up as errors during spell check. Slanguage also is missing: “ohmyGod,” “eew,” “icky” and “multislacking” to name a few. Grammar checks light up the document with green lines at dialog patterns where speakers are not using complete sentences. Yup. Really, truly. Whatever. And then there are extraneous words that creep in whilst one is cutting, moving and pasting sections that, for some a reason, don’t the show up. It’s not just a Microsoft Word problem; even our professional editing service didn’t catch some of those.

Formatting. At least one of us didn’t care about Times New Roman, Myriad Pro, Garamond, Arial and so forth, before we decided to publish. Now, we both do. And we’re cognizant of the differences between a 5X8 book versus 5.25X8.25 (does my text look fat in this format? Tell me the truth!). Planning a wedding involves fewer decisions and less attention to detail than formatting a printed book. Font type and size for headers, chapter titles and manuscript take far too much effort. Let’s not forget leading – the space between lines. Do we want 10 on 12, 10 or 13, or 10.5 on 13? (I don’t look a day over 10 on 12.) What about the cover? What fonts do we use? How big is the author’s name versus book title? (Why isn’t my name in bigger font than my sister’s?) What kind of artwork will attract readers? We can make all these choices after some research, but we’re not done yet. Widows, orphans and justification are next.

Using left and right justification can create lines with few words and large white spaces. This can be dealt with by a line-by-line review of the text, increasing or decreasing spacing between letters and the judicious use of hyphens to break words. Ah, but how to do that? Look up tortilla using several online dictionaries. The syllables provided are not the same. Some will give you tor-ti-lla and some tor-til-la (does it matter whether it’s corn or flour?). It’s not because “tortilla” is a Spanish word. Try ac-count-ant, or is it ac-coun-tant? Any while you are struggling with where to put the hyphen, remember to manage widows (a paragraph-ending line that starts a new page) and orphans (a paragraph-starting line that ends a page). Now you know why we hired a professional to do this for us. Still, we had to go through several proofs.

In short, just getting the manuscript in shape to publish is a monumental task and we have a new-found respect for publishers. As a side note, we are no longer going to be quite so smug when we encounter misspelled words or other mistakes in published books.

Writing – even really good writing – will not make many people rich. Bookstores and publishing houses struggle to be profitable and the earnings of most literary agents and writers are modest, indeed. We know that writing books, by and large, will not make us rich, though we have had rich experiences in creating the characters, crafting the story, and bringing the manuscript to publication. We’ve learned more than we expected and are wiser for it. Most especially, we’ve had rich laughs as we write together, because you have to enjoy your own writing or why bother? “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

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