Writing doesn’t make you rich. And debut authors have absolutely no bargaining power
Writing doesn’t make you rich. Here’s why:
The royalty any author gets is dependent on his track record and marketability and often on the price of his book too. The higher you price a book, the more comfortable your publisher will be in paying you a higher royalty.
While royalties for paperbacks are generally in the 5 to 12.5 per cent range, for a first timer they are more likely to be in the 5 to 7.5 per cent range or Rs 15 for a book with a selling price of Rs 200. And debut authors have absolutely no bargaining power.
In India, if a book sells more than 10,000 copies, it’s a big deal. Less than 0.5 per cent of books published in a year sell that much. For first-timers, this percentage drops even lower. Now do the math. If a debut writer sells 10,000 copies, makes a mark and gets recognised: all he makes is royalty for 10,000 copies, which is Rs 1.5 lakh.
This is the only commercial gratification for an effort which sometimes takes more than a year.
There are a few exceptions, but there is a reason we call them exceptions. They are certainly not the norm. If a book by a first-timer does not even sell 3,000-4,000 copies, the publisher loses money.
So when it comes to dealing with debut authors, a publisher operates pretty much like a private equity (PE) firm. They take a chance on 100 manuscripts, hoping four or five of them will break even and one will go on to become a blockbuster. This one big hit will help them recover the money for the other 95. But while PE firms can scientifically evaluate what makes a successful launch, no one knows what book will sell and what won’t.
Apart from royalties, an author can also make money through movie rights, translation rights etc. But in the final analysis, the book has to sell for any of the others to kick in!
Ravi Subramanian is a banker and a writer. He has written commercial thrillers about banking and bankers. His novels The Incredible Banker (2011) and The Bankster (2012) won the Economist Crossword Book Award (Popular Vote). He keeps a day job, so he can write on the side.
From HT Brunch, April 19
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