Thursday, April 21, 2011

Memphis Memories

There comes a time when virtual commiseration, applause, counsel and butt-kicking isn’t enough. And so my online critique group, the YAckers, meets in person about once a year.
We live in all parts of the country, and so we vary the meeting place. We try to go where the weather suits the clothes we wish we were wearing, with things to do and see when we can no longer squint at the screen and printed page. Ever since certain noisy people got scolded by hotel security in Wilkes-Barre, PA, we try to rent a house or B&B so we have a place to ourselves. We’ve been to Park City Utah, rural Pennsylvania, and San Antonio. And this year we chose Memphis, TN, where we rented the Lake House, a large house on a small lake in Cordova, TN.
At first, I was cool to the idea of Memphis. After a long winter and cold, rainy, snowy spring, I was ready for beach time. As far as I know, Memphis doesn’t have a beach. But as I read about the city, I was intrigued. There’s a lot of history there, much of it important to me. And music—the kind of throbbing rhythm and blues that gets your body moving in unanticipated ways. Finally, Memphis is warm and blooming in April, a cruel month where I come from.
More importantly, I was just beginning to realize that one of the characters in my current work in progress is FROM Memphis. Who knew?
It was a quick visit—a long weekend, really, and we had four novels to review. We knew we had to prioritize, to focus on good music, good food, and the celebration of a fallen hero.
We visited Graceland, because the Elvis Presley story is fascinating and that man could sing. We ate at the Rendezvous and Gus’s Fried Chicken. We had dinner stage-side at B.B. King’s Blues Club. Afterward, we walked down Beale Street, past narrow alleys spilling music into the street, past signs that said, “drinks to go.” I collected sights, sounds, and memories.
And, of course, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum.
The Civil Rights Museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated in the bloody year of 1968. King had come to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. The motel rooms have been restored to that period. A wreath marks the spot on the balcony of the motel where he fell, and you can see where somebody replaced the bloodstained concrete.
Displays follow the history of the movement to the present day—including the bus boycotts, the Freedom Riders, the sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counters, and the forced integration of Little Rock High School. And, everywhere, we heard that voice, and we heard those words that changed a nation.
And I thought—those people were braver than I will ever be—to persist amid the vitriol heaped onto their heads, to cross through the fire line of history so that those behind them would have a better life. 
Martin Luther King was a writer. That man could put words together like nobody else. It was as if he knew his days were numbered and he had to get it down. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Texas Librarians Rock--I Cannot Lie!

Had a fabulous and energizing day at the Texas Library Association annual meeting in Austin. First off was the Lone Star Authors Shine panel with fellow Lone Stars James Dashner, Greg Taylor, Jordan Sonnenblick, Melissa Kantor, and Helen Frost. 
 That’s one of the best parts of this job—rubbing shoulders with awesome authors!
At the Disney-Hyperion booth, The Gray Wolf Throne arcs were a hot commodity. I enjoyed meeting hundreds of Texas librarians and re-acquainting myself with many more.

And then on to the Texas Teens for Literacy events. TLA does a fantastic job of getting teens involved in the conference. You could pick them out from their eye-catching yellow tee shirts. Why didn’t they have events like that when I was a teen? 
First, I was on a panel with authors Melissa Kantor and Sophie Jordan.
Then it was on to the Teen Mingle room, where the teens made me feel like a total rock star.
Bravo, Texas! Now on to the Writers’ League of Texas YA A to Z conference.   

Friday, April 8, 2011

You Asked for It! New On-Sale Dates!

The Gray Wolf Throne 8/30/11
The Exiled Queen Paperback 8/1/11

All right, it’s not tomorrow, but it is about three weeks sooner! Mark your calendars now!  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How Authors Get Paid

At nearly every school visit, some bold student raises his hand and asks with a smirk, “How much money do you make?”
This makes teachers and librarians wish they could do the kind of magic that makes students disappear. It’s no problem. Really. I’m ready for ‘em.
No, I don’t share my annual income. The way I was raised, talking about money is akin to talking about sex. You feel like you’re either showing off or apologizing.
“What a great question!” I say brightly. “Let’s talk about how authors get paid.”
And so I discuss advances and royalties. Advances are up-front money authors get against projected future earnings when the book goes on sale. In the old days, it was supposed to keep food on the table until the book could be published, which can take a year.
Advances vary considerably, depending on whether or not you have an agent and what your past sales track record is. If you are a debut author, it will be higher if several publishers are interested in the book at one time (we call that an auction.) Which is awesome for authors.
 Advances are ostensibly based on how much the book is expected to generate in royalties in the first year. The publisher that gives huge advances on books that tank will not be in business very long.
Advances vary from nothing to the million dollar deals you hear about for best-selling authors. For most authors, it’s going to be in five figures, if they get one at all. Generally, the advance is paid in two or three installments—say half on signing and half when the book is done and edited and approved. Or one third on signing, one third on completion, and one third on publication.
The fun begins when I discuss royalties. Royalties are monies authors get for each book sold. I say to the students, “Let’s say you buy a hardcover book for $18. How much of that do you think the author gets?”
And they throw out guesses. $5? $8? $12?
Nope, I say. Typically, a YA author gets 10 to 121/2% of cover price. In other words,  $1.80 to $2 on an $18 book. 
Stunned silence.
Let’s talk about paperbacks. Say the paperback is $8.99, the author gets only 6-8% of that. So 54c  to 72c per book sold.
Ebooks? The royalty on ebooks is kind of fluid right now. Most publishers pay 25% of net. Many authors think it should be more.
An author who receives an advance doesn’t get any more money until the book “earns out.” Once those $1.80s add up to the advance, the author receives a royalty check on additional books sold. So if an author receives $15,000 as an advance, then she has to sell more than 8000 $18 books before earning out.
Even after that, publishers generally hold onto some of the royalties in case a book store returns some of the books they “bought.”
Royalties tend to be higher for “adult” books. But it’s still only a tiny percentage of the cover price of a book.  Or the publisher’s net, depending on the book contract.
Sometimes there’s a math whiz in the audience who asks, calculator in hand, “How many books have you sold?” But even without doing the math, it’s clear to everyone that an author has to sell a lot of books in order to make a living as a writer.  This is why many if not most authors have day jobs.
Me, I’ve been very fortunate. I HAVE sold a lot of books, and for the past three years I’ve able to write full time (it helps to be married to someone with insurance.)  And I absolutely love what I do. So I’m not complaining. Just trying to be straight with you here.
One girl came up to me after my last school visit, a look of shocked pity on her face.
“You mentioned that agents get 15% of what you make,” she said.
I nodded.
“So that means that you get even LESS than $1.80,” she said.