Musings on Book Piracy and Author Income #amwriting #amreading #fiction #books #novel #mustread

Last time I talked about my thoughts on the value of a novel from the perspective of its entertainment value. I suppose the fact that people do love to read means books and their authors are worth trying to scam and for unscrupulous actors to copy and sell for themselves. Should we be flattered??? I think not!

There’s an old saying among authors, money flows to the author not from the author. This is particularly true of those published by traditional publishing houses. Not so much for hybrid or indie published authors. However, all authors who write for publication do so for one of several reasons: to share their vision or viewpoint, establish their credentials, or to try to earn a living. They do not write so that others can copy, in whole or in part, and then publish their knock-off edition to unsuspecting readers.

Believe me, there are many piracy sites out there, most not even based in America so they are difficult or impossible to prosecute under U.S. Copyright Laws. Most authors I know feel like we’re playing whack-a-mole chasing down pirated copies. I ignore them now because most of the time if they’re offering a free version of my book, or at a low price, they don’t actually have the book but they’ll be happy to take the would-be reader’s credit card details. I don’t think they’re hurting my sales since I don’t believe they actually have the content they’re phishing with. I urge readers to buy their books from known retailers instead of shady websites with their own agendas.

Contrary to what many readers seem to believe, most authors are not millionaires living the high life. In fact, the vast majority of published authors do not make a living from their book sales. Just check out this summary by the International Authors Forum of the Authors Guild 2019 income survey and the full AG report here. The fact that the “median incomes have fallen to a historic low of US$6,080 in 2017, down 42% from 2009” should widen some eyes, I think. Put that next to this rather unnerving tidbit: “50% of full-time authors earn less than the federal poverty level of $12,488 (figure of 2019). Other data shows that 80% of all authors earn less than what most people would consider a living wage.” And those numbers are not getting better as the years pass. Trust me on that.

The romanticized view of a published author is that of someone living the good life, jet-setting about and doing book signings with lines of fans out the door. Or of the dashingly handsome author turned expert investigator because he writes murder mysteries, like Castle. (When does he find time to write the next best-seller?) Most authors I know live far more humbly and write nearly every day at home. In their comfy clothes. With a beverage of choice nearby, often a cup of hot tea.

In truth, I am a full-time author and I do not earn a living wage from sales of my books. I do have avid fans, which I’m forever grateful for! But it would take selling thousands if not hundreds of thousands of books to say I make my living from book sales. When you figure how much I earn per book—ranging from $0.30 to $1.75—and assume $13,000 to be above the poverty level, you get an idea of just how many books I’d have to sell. At the 30 pennies low end, my calculator says that would take 43,333 books; the high end, 7,429. But the average book only sells somewhere around 500 copies in its lifetime, so there’s that.

Of course, the best-sellers are outliers on this point. The celebrity authors like Stephen King, James Patterson (and his stable of co-authors), Nora Roberts, David Baldacci, Elizabeth Susan Philips, and the like, have huge followings that they started cultivating decades ago. King has been in the industry for 50 years, according to his recent testimony at the trial on the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Of course they sell more books mainly because they have more fans. I’m building my fan base one reader at a time, so perhaps one day I’ll have a list-making, international best-seller, too. #FingersCrossed

One other thing to consider when pondering how much authors make. I publish my own books under my own imprint, so I have to pay professionals to create the covers, editors to review my text, and formatters to prepare the book files properly (I’m still learning this aspect but I’m not there yet). All that is money flowing away from me, not to me. So the amount I earn from sales has to fill in that deficit from my bank account, too.

Thank goodness my husband totally supports my efforts in every way possible! He really and truly is one of my biggest fans. I have more stories to tell yet, so I best get busy.

Thanks for reading!


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3 thoughts on “Musings on Book Piracy and Author Income #amwriting #amreading #fiction #books #novel #mustread

  1. Hello Ms. Bolte.

    We’ve not met I think, but this post came past me as the WordPress algorithm felt it was similar to something else I’d just read – and I’m so glad it did.

    I too am a writer, but I’ve not pursued getting published for many of the reasons you outline here. I’m at retirement age but would love to have a hobby career as a story teller but this market, creating and selling stories via any medium I’ve found already has way too many writers for the number of readers out there so good old basic supply and demand laws apply; forcing down the value of most stories of any kind or genre to where even accomplished writers make the kind of money you detailed.

    For me, I’d love to make a few dollars on my work, but I’m more interested in having readers who don’t know me personally and are thus more likely to tell me the truth of whether they liked or hated a piece, learned something or found my story trite, emotionally moving or amateurish or boring. I’d love to just be recognized as a good writer who is worth reading.

    To this end, I’ve stood up a story blog, where I create, curate and share my work for free – and thus make the overall market worse – I know – but I’m such a small part of it that I think my impact is too small to detect – let alone measure.

    I sense you too write to be read and are willing to put up with the hassle and cost of “publishing”.
    To keep me motivated, I’m hoping for a WordPress view count of 10,000 this year which would be a slight improvement on last year, but I only create and share my stories. I don’t have any of the overhead that you deal with.

    Do you discuss this in any of your other posts? I’d love to know more about what drives you, keeps you going, keeps you improving your skills because you seem to be where I would like to be someday. Other bloggers tell me that my work is good enough to publish – but I’m unconvinced so far.

    Because you are likely wondering what this guy writes, I offer you my About link so you can review what I do and, okay, I’ll leave a second link to a story I’m proud of so you can sample my work.

    A 10 min. story:

    But what I really hope is that someday soon, we’ll be able to call each other ‘friends’.
    All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gary, thanks for your thoughts and questions. I’ve been writing all of my life in one fashion or another so I suppose you could say I don’t know how to live without writing. It’s just part of who I am. I’m always striving to improve because otherwise I’d be bored! Your questions may be the prompt I need for next Monday’s blog, too, so thanks for that. You might look into finding a local writers group near you where you can meet and share your work to get feedback on it from other writers. And I’d be pleased to consider you one of my online writer friends. Thanks for reading my musings!

      Liked by 1 person

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