So how much do you earn?

I mentioned in my last entry that I would be talking a little more about how it isn’t easy making a living as a writer. This ties in quite well with a question I was asked today during the short school tour I’m doing this week: so how much so you earn?

Kids (and adults) have this general view that published authors can immediately give up their day jobs and rest on their laurels. This is all well and good if you’re J.K. Rowling but the truth is, most authors don’t have bestsellers to their name and can’t afford to live off book sales alone. Some have day jobs, others work as journalists and many rely on income from readings, event appearances and tours.

When I first entered the wonderful world of publishing, I was very na├»ve and actually pretty clueless about the numbers that govern the definition of a successful book. I remember being told that the UK average of copies sold per book was around 4,000 – I thought it was more than triple that.

More illuminating was Sathnam Sanghera’s recent column in The Times. The column outlines some surprising figures: statistics from Nielsen Bookscan show that, of 200,000 books on sale last year, 190,000 titles sold fewer than 3,500 copies. More shocking is that of 85,933 new books, as many as 58,325 sold an average of just 18 copies. 18 copies!! Am I the only one that finds this unbelievable? It suddenly makes me feel very good about my own book sales, which thankfully run into four figures, not two.

These numbers are great for self-validation. After all, other than book sales, there is no real or objective way to quantify how good a writer is. So I guess the honest answer to the question posed at the top is, not a lot but I’m damn happy regardless.


The Second Coming

Right. I have decided that my next big aim in life is to finish editing my second book. Having loosely finished writing it in January 2007 (yes, 2007 – a whole year ago!), I kind of let it lay there. This was mainly due to my job at Asian Woman Magazine which, as I outlined in my previous post, took over my life, leaving little room for much else. Having said that, I must admit that procrastination definitely played a part in the delay. You see, every writer I know loves writing but hates editing. I know exactly what needs to be done – in fact, I have useful little notes written in blue all over my manuscript telling me exactly what needs to be changed – but you know, after having written 82,000 words, the last thing you want to do is change them. But I know it has to be done so I’ve vowed to get on with it… starting tomorrow.

Anyway, the title of this post isn’t a reference to the fact that it’s Easter but a reminder to myself of how I must treat my second book. You see, I have been told time and time again that I should have pushed the first book more. I was slapped on the wrist for giving away free electronic copies of the book and for refusing to do photoshoots for promotion purposes. There was no mass mailshot to everyone in my address book persuading them to buy Life, Love and Assimilation; I refused to add randoms to my Facebook account just to publicise my book to them; there was never a big picture of the cover on my profile telling people to buy it; and I didn’t even really plug it to full potential on the various shows that I appeared on. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Life, Love and Assimilation was very raw, unpolished and in some ways, never really intended for mass public consumption or perhaps it was my English sensibilities that prevented me from being pushy – either way, I was told by all quarters that I should have pushed it more, with more than one person talking about a re-release.

I will not be re-releasing Life, Love and Assimilation as I believe in moving forward but with the second book, I will try to be a little pushier. As much as I hate to admit it, I think my attitude towards promotion is a little naive. I have this romantic view that art should be free (which I still believe) but I guess writers do need to eat, and without a full time job and a steady income, I guess I need to sharpen up. After all, it’s not easy making a living as a writer – more on that in my next entry.

For now, I just wanted to publicise the fact that I plan to finish my second book in the coming few months. This way, if I don’t, all my readers can point and laugh at my public failure. And anyone who knows me to any degree will know how much I hate to fail.