June will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. Over the course of those ten years, I’ve published a total of 13 books, and the 14th is due out at the end of May. Consequently, I’ve learned a few things over the course of that decade. Many of them are things that I wish that I knew ten years ago, but didn’t. In the hope that some of you might be able to benefit from my mistakes, or my learning curve, I’ve decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions by sharing some of those hard lessons in a series of posts that will follow. Each post will deal with a different lesson.
I know that there are a number of my readers who are published authors, including some who have been published more than once. I would like to invite you to pitch in, including guest posts, if any of you would like to volunteer to write a guest post for inclusion in the series.
So, with no further ado, here’s the first entry in the list, which will be presented in no particular order…..
Don’t Give Up Your Day Job. Like it or not, I’m a lawyer first and a historian second. There’s a reason for that. Unless you’re a college professor, the likelihood of your making much money as a consequence of your studies of the Civil War is quite small. Further, the odds of making much money from publishing a Civil War book are even smaller. Only a tiny handful of Civil War books ever hit it big, and unless your name is Doris Kearns Goodwin or James McPherson, you probably should not expect to make much money. Further, only a handful of Civil War publishers pay advances, and most don’t. Academic presses definitely don’t. The largest advance I’ve ever been paid was $4,000 for Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Generalship of Philip H. Sheridan, paid in two installments. One of those installments went to purchase a new laptop computer that I wrote a couple of books on.
Ted Savas recently had a post on his blog that indicated that a new imprint being launched by HarperCollins will not pay any advances at all to authors, so it doesn’t sound like advances will be much of an option at all moving forward. Your only means of making money will be from sales of your book, either royalties or copies that you sell yourself.
In order to illustrate my point, the most copies of any one of my titles I have ever sold is about 4500. Ted Savas told me last week that the average Civil War book sells about 1500 copies. Nobody ever got rich on selling 1500 copies of a book. The most money I have ever made in a single year on my historical work has been approximately $10,000. That includes an advance on a book, profits from my own book sales, royalties, and payment for leading tours. Clearly, nobody’s living large on that kind of money.
I got my royalty statement from the LSU Press a couple of weeks ago. LSU published my With Sheridan in the Last Campaign Against Lee in 2002. In 2007, they sold 4 copies of the book. My royalty check was for $5.15. Woo hoo!
It’s worth noting that I spend a lot of money each year on researching these books. I use the services of a professional researcher, and I buy a lot of books. I also firmly believe in seeing and learning the terrain, which also costs money. So, the net is much less.
Unless you manage to pen one of those very rare Civil War books that breaks through and reaches the New York Times bestseller list, don’t give up your day job, because you’re going to need it. That is, you’re going to need it if you’re one of those people who enjoys living indoors and eating.
UPDATE, MAY 1, 2008:
I got my royalty statement from Potomac Books today. Not surprisingly, there was no check in there. And it would take a CPA to figure out their accounting. I’m no CPA, and I don’t believe their numbers as far as I can throw the Washington Monument. However, it’s not worth the expenditure to pay for an audit of their books.
Potomac has published four of my books. Two of them have been fully remaindered and are out of print. In another one, they remaindered the hardcover out, although the softcover remains in print. The fourth has an edition still in print.
In employing the same sort of fuzzy math that Congress seems to use, the numbers of the deficits of what needs to be sold in order for me to make up the remaining balances of the advances and actually receive royalty payments are actually INCREASING, not getting smaller, even with the books that are out of print. It is now painfully clear that the advances that I was paid are all that I will ever be paid by this publisher.
Their marketing has always been abysmal–I have complained about it numerous times–and I haven’t agreed with their business decisions about remaindering my work, particularly with Glory Enough for All: Sheridan’s Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. I cannot imagine ever doing business with them again.Scridb filter