“Do you get paid by the hour?”

My chiropractor asked me that question the other day. We were talking about my second novel Loot and the writing process. Novelists are laughing right now because If you do the math - how long it takes to write a novel against average sales – most writers probably make 14 cents an hour.

I told her that publishers pay authors an advance, which is negotiated by the publisher and the writer’s agent. Then the author’s book has to earn enough money for the publisher to recoup the advance. After the advance is paid back, the author gets a (small) percent of book sales.

“That’s strange,” she said.

No kidding.

Her question represents the misperceptions people have about publishing. Even avid readers don’t know about the industry that produces their entertainment. And why would they? It’s a strange industry, and I still don’t understand it. Headlines tell us writers rake in huge advances, go on luxurious book tours, and do TV interviews with Stephen Colbert and Oprah.

I recently read some stats about book sales from Appletree Book Services:

  • The average book published by a major house sells 3,000 copies in its lifetime.
  • The average book published by all houses sells 500 copies in its lifetime.
  • The average self-published book sells 50 copies.

As an Appletree rep said, “Now, if we remember there are five major [publishing] houses, that’s a lot of duds for every Harry Potter.”

Here are the most unusual questions – and the answers – I’ve been asked about publishing and money:

What if you don’t sell many books?

The publisher has to eat the loss. (Thanks for the vote of confidence, though!)

How much did it cost you to publish your book?

Nothing. That’s self publishing. I’m going the traditional route because writing is my job, and I don’t pay my employer.

How much did you pay your editor?

See above.

How much will you make if your book becomes a movie?

A billion trillion dollars! Hah. The vast majority of books don’t become movies. I won’t punish myself by dreaming about that.

Why don’t you just sell your books yourself? If you get all the profits – instead of a portion – you’d make more money even if you sold less.

Because I don’t own a bookstore chain or even a single bookstore. Because I don’t have a distribution network for schools and libraries. Because I have a few hundred regular blog followers, and that’s a generous estimate, and the odds of those readers buying my book are … let’s say not great. Because I have a small family and they can’t buy 1,000 books each. Because I’m a writer and not a marketer or a salesperson. Bottom line: My personal distribution network is about 200 books.

How much do newspapers pay you to do interviews?

Nada. I’m a former journalist, and even I can’t shake nickels out of the pockets of reporters. (Journalism is in such dire straights, reporters don’t have nickels in their pockets.)

So there you have it.

If I get rich, you’ll be the first to know. After my chiropractor, that is.



A hoot for Loot

My second novel, Loot, went to my agent and editor today. Now comes the nail biting. What if they don’t like it?

It’s absurd to replace the stress of revising a novel with the stress of anticipating the feedback. It’s (not) fun to be me.

I’ve been planning a week off, but my brain is still firing ideas. I’m not sure if I’m truly ready to take notes for my third novel or if I’m simply procrastinating. My to-do list includes organizing closets, deep cleaning, filing tax receipts, and other awful activities.

What to do?

This cliffhanger shall continue tomorrow.


Drum roll …

Big, happy news! I have a final cover for Graham Cracker Plot. 

The amazing Mr. Schu did a cover reveal today on his blog. I’ll post the cover here tomorrow because it’s worth the extra click to visit Mr. Schu’s blog. He’s a go-to guy in the world of kid lit.

Artist Hugh D’Andrade captured Daisy’s spirit and the book’s humor. It’s bold and distinct and perfect! See more of his work here.

Today: work. Tonight: celebrate.


Reality check, Ms. Rowling



Author JK Rowling has confessed a deep secret. It’s rough for Ron fans, so hang tight. The secret: Ron and Hermione’s love story was a mistake. Hermione and Harry should have been together.

To that, JK, we say DUH.

We all had a Hermione in our high school. And she never ended up with our Ron. Her eyes never looked at Ron; they only rolled at his eternal goofiness. Hermione didn’t have time for Ron.

Our Ron would’ve dogged Hermione until he realized she was not kidding about this school stuff. Then he would’ve reunited with Lavender Brown, who’d secretly write “Lavender Weasley” on the inside of her notebook.

Eventually, our Hermione would suspect Harry wasn’t just lucky, but brilliant. She would’ve been amused, then threatened, then unable to resist the attraction. Off to prom they’d go.

In our high school, Harry wouldn’t have remembered Ginny’s name, even after he’d rescued her from Voldemort. (“Who was that girl? The one who talked to diaries?” “That was my sister, Harry. Ginny. My sister.”) Ginny is dull and vapid. She’s ordinary, like Ron, but without humor or mischief.

So Harry and Hermione it is. And it will always be.

Page-turning news

We’ve got literary fireworks in my writing home of south central Minnesota. I’m thrilled to share some of that news:

Nicole Helget’s novel Stillwater just landed on the shelves. It’s already getting stellar reviews and national media coverage. (Late notice, but she’ll be featured today on Kerri Miller’s show on Minnesota Public Radio. It’s at 11 a.m. and streamable.)

Kirstin Cronn-Mills, my critique partner, won the 2014 Stonewall Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature for Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. The Stonewall is released in the same sentence as the Newbery, so yes, it’s a helluva deal.

My other critique partner, Rachael Hanel, is nominated for a Minnesota Book Award for her memoir We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down.

And another Minnesota Book Award nominee: Tom Maltman for his novel Little Wolves.

There you have it: book titles for your spring reading.