First Time Author Realities

2014 FIGURES: Slightly terrifying. Only 12% of Amazon book sales are physical books.

I’VE GOT AN agent, signed a deal with a major publisher, got a 1970’s advance of £200,000 and you’ll see me at a book store soon and or in the Caribbean!


Beyond the very real dilemma of whether to self-pub or go the traditional route, there are numerous aspects to think of that could prove beneficial or not, depending on variables.


If you are a first time author, you are nothing in the book world unless you happen to be well-known already. Very occasionally a writer puts a book out achieves the dream of a huge advance, and they are, in essence, a freak.

Forget that. The likelihood of getting selected by an agent or publisher is as low as 1% of all queries they receive. So once you have a literary agent (not a prerequisite, but close to it), they shop your book to everyone – hopefully – because of the money you make in royalties, they will receive 15%. As with anything, a great agent is worth their weight in gold, and getting the best deal is entirely within their interests also.

You now have an agent. You have a publisher with a concrete interest in your book. Great! Hold on. The majority of authors receive an advance, which averages out at around $5000 (£3500) depending on genre. In the UK that is a sixth of the average yearly wage. Not quite champagne-cork producing figures. Advances of £10,000 are not uncommon but the kicker is that your book sales have to clear the 10k before making money off royalties. You may receive the advance in stages. For example: A third on signing the book deal, a third when it reaches bookshelves and a third at the end of the year. Of those who get published, only about 25% make profit for the publisher, 25% break even and 50% are a bust. Statistically not great, but consider Hollywood film studios that only make profit on around 25% of productions, with 75% making losses.

As a debut author you will most likely receive zero promotion. But then those who self-pub are in the same leaking, rocking, sickness inducing boat. Naturally you promote yourself through whatever networks you have at your disposal. The probability is your book will sink into some semblance of oblivion regardless of quality. If your advance is not cleared, then getting a deal for your next book will be far tougher. Conversely, if you are a success, even in relative terms, you are in a greater position to negotiate a second book deal and larger advance.

All things considered, with physical book sales taking hits resultant from the encroaching e-book market, it isn’t an easy choice to pursue physical publishing. 70-30% royalties versus 10% looks like a no brainer. That is where the author hopes the publishing house makes a difference and the book is more visible, online and off it. A publisher will edit and sort out a cover, an expense in itself if self-pubbing. There is a slightly more prestigious appeal to physical publishing for obvious reasons, but the pay off isn’t certain and sure as hell isn’t clear. Ultimately, if a publisher doesn’t pick you up self-pub is a hell of a plan B, a safety net only afforded to authors since around 2009.

So yeah, keep writing 🙂


lion around 2


  1. APA’s still exist but they tend to be either under the radar, or overcome by visions of grandeur…for example, there is a Science Fiction and Fantasy APA that accepts Horror writers, has a heckuva website, etc…. but has grown so large it looks like a fanfic site. I think the APA concept needs to be resuscitated with smaller groups of like-minded writers so they actually HELP one another, and writers can keep their noses to the grindstone. Unfortunately, despite the Internet, it can be hard to find like-minded writers interested in trusting each other to commit to the same levels of excellence they expect from themselves…in particular because most of us also…um, work.

  2. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be like buskers….stand around on street corners, read our stuff aloud and have the public toss money into our laptops? I mean it’s more direct than submitting a story, waiting three to six months for a response, and netting just enough for a tank of gas… Too bad I can’t help myself though… writing is a compulsion. Maybe an APA is the answer?

      1. Amateur Press Association… Like Lovecraft did along with others of his time. Closed membership, everybody is responsible for submitting so many pages per week or month for critique and eventual publication in a closed membership newsletter. It’s how some of his work survived being ignored by publishers…

  3. Tough job and we love it… From starting till the end, we scratch out head and sometimes wanna pull out our hair but nothing can substitute the joy that comes from writing… So yeah.. keep on writing 🙂

  4. Interesting graphic. There now seem to be quite a few publishers who offer a traditional contract but mainly publish ebook rather than print, a prime example being amazon’s own publishing imprints who have the massive advantage of the Kindle first offer for prime members and who only take books from an agent.

  5. You can always self-pub, but it’s not a guaranteed path to success. You need to build a name, and the best way is to write a series of books. The first one is just the first step, and while success is out there somewhere, nobody ever got anywhere in just one step.

  6. You have spoken a lot of truth in this post.

    I too, was this close to getting my first book published. Then something happen. The person who I won’t name names, got my writings, edit the whole entire poem that I had originally wanted to produce. She changed my whole vision of what I wanted to convey to all readers.
    She made me sign a contract, how much I needed to pay for a box set to complete the publication. I gave her $500 bucks. She never finished anything and bailed out last minute with a stupid excuse. Till’ this day she owes me monkey. This all happen back in 2006. I was very depressed at that time and sad that this person never got the job done.
    In 2009, I came back with a fury and motivation to write again…and I wrote a lot of poetry and I’m still writing. I learn through out the years how to become really good at editing my own work. And yes, I’ve gotten a lot better at editing than ever before. 🙂

    I guess I’ll just stick with me being Independent on my own.

    Excellent truth my friend. 🙂

      1. Yep, yep. I’ll be honest with you my friend. I don’t think I’ll ever get published. The reason…well….the reality is when I die that’s when all those big corporate publishing companies will sink their teeth in my work and start publishing them while I’m in my grave. Sad, but it happens to a lot of writers, musicians, etc..etc.

        The only thing I’ll come close to getting published is me publishing here on WordPress and making chapbooks which I’m currently working on my 3rd chapbook. That makes me happy knowing I’m writing for the sake of poetry, passion, and my love for creating. 🙂

  7. Harsh truth without sugarcoating anything about the publishing side of writing is something we all need to hear sometimes. And you’ve done it well here. Also, your first line is very deceiving :P! I was all ready to wish you congrats on getting an agent and enjoying the Caribbean!

      1. Eh, it’s the hard truth. It’s difficult to strike a balance between acknowledging this reality enough to keep grounded, and ignoring this reality enough to keep going. But I guess that’s life in a nutshell.

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