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  • Karen Frost

Royalties Aren't the Only Measures of Success

Today my quarterly royalty check arrived from Ylva. For anyone who has ever wondered, "How much do authors make?" the answer is that when it comes to me, as of January 2023 it's approximately $66. For three months. For four books. Or $5.5 per book per month. Yes, I make a Starbucks grande chair tea latte per book per month. I really am Scrooge McDucking my way through life based on my book royalties.

The way the book world works, books quickly fall out of sight and out of mind. A month, two months, and it's all over. Achieving any kind of organic persistence is hard. And for authors, we're often on to our next book, working out new plot lines and characters. It's hard to do marketing and promotion for a book that came out years ago when there's pressure to start hyping the next thing. All these factors combine to make it hard for books to be remembered a year or more after their publication.

The royalties for the "Destiny and Darkness" series show a very clear pattern: the series never found an avid audience. It didn't make any "best of" lists or spark cheerleaders. It's a series that will quietly sink between the waters, still extent but hidden under the waves. Commercially, it was a dud. BUT--and this is important--just because it's no "Locked Tomb" series doesn't mean it's a bad series. It's not. It's a solid series that has good characters and an interesting arc.

When writers find themselves in the position of having a book or books underperform, it's easy to feel a little sad. No one wants to be unpopular. But that's the publishing industry. The vast majority of books will underperform. Almost all of them won't break even, or if they do, it will be just over the line. As I've always said, sometimes being a writer is about filling a global library. It's about creating content that maybe no one else is creating, or at least, not in that exact way. It's about telling stories, even if only two or three or ten people ever read that story.

I watch content creators make underperforming content all the time. They film a web series that gets only 100 views, for example, or make a short film that gets a few thousand views. And then I see content that gets eight million views. The dynamic there is the same as for books. And as is the case for books, while everyone wants to be in the latter category and not the former, there is no shame in the effort. It's better to have tried, and to have put content into the world, than to have never tried at all.

What I'm saying here, ultimately, is that a latte can be more than a latte. It can represent contribution and commitment. And also, it can just mean that a book wasn't published by the Big Five, with major marketing budgets behind it and ad campaigns. What separates the "Locked Tomb" series from other independently produced lesbian YA fantasy series? Literally thousands of dollars of marketing money. Something to keep in mind when we start wondering why one book succeeds and another fails. :)

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