One New York Times Bestseller Per Year Will Barely Keep You Above The Poverty Line

Paranormal romance author Lynn Viehl bared all last week — she posted her complete royalty statement from her publisher, for her New York Times bestselling book Twilight Fall. And the details might make you reconsider a career as a novelist.

Twilight Fall was a top 20 bestseller on the New York Times mass market paperback list — so, not the main fiction bestseller list, but still impressive. According to Penguin Group, the publisher, the book has sales of 89,142 copies, minus returns of 27,479, for total sales of 61,663 copies. (As far as I know, the books are counted as sold until the bookstore chooses to send them back — but I could be wrong about that.) The publisher is holding back reserves against royalties for another 7,350 copies to be returned.

In any case, the bottom line is that Viehl got a $50,000 advance for Twilight Fall, and she's unlikely to earn it out for up to a year — which means no royalty payments. After taxes, expenses, and her agent's cut, she gets to keep about half that advance. As she notes:

My income per book always reminds me of how tough it is to make at living at this gig, especially for writers who only produce one book per year. If I did the same, and my one book performed as well as TF, and my family of four were solely dependent on my income, my net would be only around $2500.00 over the income level considered to be the US poverty threshold (based on 2008 figures.) Yep, we'd almost qualify for foodstamps.

It's pretty great of Viehl to share her royalty statement with the world — apparently the last time she did that, she got some flak online, and here's hoping that doesn't happen this time. The only caveat I'd toss in there is that most of us don't reckon our incomes on an after-tax basis — if we did, I suspect we'd all be horribly depressed. So if you leave taxes out of her estimation of her income, she's probably making closer to $35K or $40K per book, rather than $25K. [Straight Goods]