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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Invisible Authors Can Make More Money

Writers Digest publisher Jane Friedman recently tweeted an eye-catching stat from Book Expo America, or BEA. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article, 7 percent of traditionally-published books generate 87 percent of book sales, and 93 percent of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies.

For a midlist author like me, that’s pretty scary. But here’s the thing—despite sales projections, marketing plans, big-name endorsements, a kick-butt social media presence, thousands of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and oh yeah, a compelling book, you simply don’t know how many copies of a book you’ll sell. That’s why as an author, you should assume the advance (the money you’re paid upfront to write the book) is the only money you’re going to see for the book.

The vast majority of books (more than 80 percent) fail to “earn out,” or pay royalties. But you still want your book to sell, right? You want royalties. You want big sales. Let's admit it, you want a bestseller. So you spend months both before and after it’s published securing blurbs, getting reviews, writing articles, blogging, speaking, printing up postcards, visiting bookstores, you name it…all to help sell your book. And it may pay off—or it may not.

Because there's an essential conundrum every book author faces:

1. To sell your book, you must commit substantial time to marketing it.

2. The time you spend marketing will not make you money (unless you eventually earn out and receive royalties), forcing you to either work more to make up the difference in lost time and income or take a cut in what you're making (which most of us freelancers can't afford to do) … or both.

That's why I started ghostwriting and collaborating on books as opposed to only writing my own. As a ghostwriter or coauthor, when the book is done, I'm done. I’m not “stuck” spending my limited, precious time promoting the book and going broke in the meantime--that's my client or coauthor's responsibility.

And ghostwriting can be lucrative, even while the average advances given by traditional publishers stagnate and fall. Here’s what I've made on some recent ghosting and coauthoring projects:

$20,000 for a 60,000-word book for a nonprofit organization.

$15,000 for a 40,000-word book for a book packager (the author already had 14,000 words written).

$12,000 for a 55,000-word book; while this was a “ghost” project, I actually worked more as a developmental editor as much of the book was already written but needed expanding, editing, and rewriting for voice and flow.

$25,000 for an 80,000-word manuscript for an expert who had a contract with a major publisher; my client wrote one-third of the manuscript while I wrote the rest of it and edited her section for voice and consistency.

These numbers aren't huge advances, true. But I'm being paid for the writing of the book, not its promotion, and that more than makes it worthwhile.

What about you? Are you ghosting, or considering it? What do you want to know about this niche?

In future posts, I’ll report more on the lucrative field of ghostwriting, how to break in, and how to determine whether it’s right for you. In the meantime, for an insider’s look at ghosting, check out, an excellent blog hosted by two smart, successful ghostwriters.