Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number One

We’ve reached the point in the cycle where the Rules for Authors return to the beginning.

I repost the Rules instead of pointing to the prior iteration because the Rules are in a constant state of flux, just like the entertainment industry itself.

So, here we go again!

Number One

Money Flows TO The Author

While most of the Rules for Authors are not in any particular order of importance, this is number one for a reason: It is THE most important Rule and actually summarizes many of the other Rules into one easy to understand concept.

So, what does it mean?

Simply stated, the author should always be paid for their work and should never pay in order to create their work. See Rules Two, Three, and Four in particular.

As stated in Rule Number Four, if an author pays a “publisher” for editing, cover art, or anything else, you don’t have a publisher at all…you have a printer.

Think about it…

If you need some business cards, you go to a printer. They will, if you desire, create the artwork, layout, and other technical details for you, and then they will print, cut, and package your cards and ship them to you. You pay the printer for these services, and the printer deserves to be paid for these services. The only place they make any money is by providing those services to you.

A publisher makes their money by selling books. Editing (from acquisitions, to line, to content, and every other stage) is simply getting that product ready for market. The cover art is just marketing. These things are a normal part of the costs of doing business—just like the electric bill—for the publisher.

In other words, these costs are NOT the direct responsibility of the author.

Yes, I know…

The higher the costs of the publisher, the less they can afford to pay the author in terms of royalties, but this is another problem most writers have in their thought processes…an editor (or artist) working for a publisher can process more books for less money than can an independent contractor.

They also do a better job.

If you hire an editor to work on your book, they have a vested interest in saying everything is perfect. Why? Because you are paying them. The more you like them and the more they stroke your ego, the more likely you are to bring them more work in the future.

The publisher’s editors get paid no matter if you like them or not. They keep their job by editing books into something that will sell for the publisher, so they don’t care about your feelings.

And never lose sight of the fact that this is a business. We are all—authors, publishers, editors, artists, etc.—here to make money.

Oh, don’t give me that crap that you write for the joy of writing or that you want to change the world.

You’re going to starve to death with that attitude. Get over it.

Finally, changes in the industry have created a flood of “self published” works. In these cases, the author and the publisher may be the same person. That doesn’t change anything…when you are writing, you wear your author’s hat. When you are publishing, you put on the publisher’s hat. There are a ton of reasons to keep the roles separate, mostly financial…but a few will protect your sanity.

Remember that writing is a lot like sex…

At first you do it for a few close friends.

Then you do it because it’s fun.

But if you’re any good at all, you end up doing it for money.

Keep Loving!


  1. “Remember that writing is a lot like sex…
    At first you do it for a few close friends.
    Then you do it because it’s fun.
    But if you’re any good at all, you end up doing it for money.”

    LOL! I’ve been writing and being published for over 10 years. When is the money part supposed to start? Or does that mean I’m just no good at it? My reviewers think otherwise. Who is right?

    1. You’ll find in this business, like in all of the rest of the entertainment industry, how good or bad you are at it has ZERO connection to income.

      Look around…how many authors, actors, singers, etc. do you see that are absolutely horrid and yet they make 7 or 8 figure incomes?

      To paraphrase Yogurt from Spaceballs, “It’s all about merchandising!”

      Studies have shown time and time again that there appears to be a more or less hard limit to the income of a self-pubbed writer doing ebooks only. That number hovers around $100K or so. In reality, authors considered to be the top performers in this arena are somewhat lower…I would guess around $60K, give or take a little. The sad part is that something just north of 97% of the writers in this model make less than $10K, and that’s BEFORE expenses.

      But don’t get the idea that the big-house print side is all that much better. As a rule of thumb, I think it’s safe to multiply the figures above by 5 or 6 and that will fit a huge number of real cases.

      All of this comes down to the simple fact that there is very little money in writing books. Sure, it’s fun and all the rest, but it’s damned near impossible to make a living, especially a good one.

      That’s where the merchandising comes into play…

      Keep writing books/stories, but branch out. Work with your representative to explore screen/television scripts. If you’re in the right genre, look into things like cosplay. If you and your rep start thinking about this idea, you’ll come up with a ton of ways to move material and ways to place manuscripts.

      As an aside, don’t confuse the terms/professions of “Representative” and “Agent”…they are VERY different creatures.

      Anyway, there is one HUGE downside for most writers…

      Authors tend to be control freaks. When you, as an example, place a story with a production company to make a movie, you have no control. The producer, director, and actors (and many others) assume that creative control. The author is out of the loop. Sure, there will come a time in your career when you can basically say, “…I retain creative control or you can take your money and leave…” but that will be after many projects. If you throw a hissy fit before you have the respect to make such a demand, you’ll be labeled as hard to work with and you’re pretty well done.

      You have to learn to give up that control. Look at it this way…you know how to write a story. You know how to get it across to a reader. The producer, director, and actors know how to visually present a story so the viewer gets it. In other words, you do what YOU’RE good at and let the production people do what THEY’RE good at.

      Just to bring the point home, I know one author (he works under 3 or 4 very well known pen names) who turned down a $10M contract to make a book into a movie because he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) give up that control. He left all that money on the table despite the fact that he was making about $100K a year at the time. Why? Because he wanted to be able to tell the producer, director, and actors how to do their job even though his only experience in motion pictures was going to see a few at the local theater.

      With all of that said, there are, as we all know, a lot of writers out there who need to consider a new career option. In short, they aren’t that good and have probably reached their maximum income potential.

      And again as we all know, there a lot excellent writers out there who are exactly where they need to be in order to, for lack of a better term, make it big.

      All they need do is decide to make it happen.

      Keep Loving!

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