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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XLV The Income of Book Writers

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XLV The Income of Book Writers

THE publishers of America, including the publishers of text-books, schoolbooks, but not of paper-covered novels, issue every year about ten thousand books, including new editions.

There are published annually, between book covers, about a thousand works of fiction or novels, retailing at from one to two dollars, most of the novels being listed at a dollar and a quarter, or at a dollar and a half, quite a number at a dollar, and a few at two dollars or more. Several hundred text-books or schoolbooks are published annually.

The sale of the average novel or work of fiction, in book form, is very much less than what is popularly supposed. I think that the majority of books of fiction have a sale rather under than over two thousand. When a book reaches the ten thousand mark it is considered a remarkable success. A very few books have had a sale of half a million, and a very much smaller number have enjoyed a circulation of from three quarters of a million to a million.

The first-class book publisher has submitted to him from a thousand to two thousand manuscripts a year, and he accepts from ten to possibly twenty-five per cent of them. As there are a small number of book publishers, and as the prolificness of the would-be book writer is as speedy as the activity of the incubator, for he collectively writes several thousand manuscripts a year, it is evident that one may not hope to receive a very large return, if his books are published, not more than a hundred dollars, or a few hundred dollars, for each manuscript.

Accurate statistics are impossible, because, although each book publisher may decline as many as two thousand manuscripts a year, practically all rejected manuscripts are submitted to other publishers, and a part of them accepted in time, but probably eighty-five per cent of them are never published.

The text-book or schoolbook publisher usually pays a royalty, based upon the list or retail price of the book, of from six to ten per cent.

Several hundred thousand copies of a single text-book have been sold, but it is probable that the average text-book does not enjoy a sale of more than a few thousand copies, and many are complete failures. Text-books have, however, one advantage over works of fiction, for the sale of them is likely to increase after five or more years have elapsed, while from fifty to ninety per cent of the sale of novels occurs within a year of publication.

Although many novels or works of fiction continue to be sold by the publishers to the public at list price, the average book publisher will unload the book, so to speak, as soon as he finds that the flush of the sale has passed. He sells the novel to department and other stores at a heavy discount, and these stores retail it at a price often lower than the regular wholesale price of the book.

The public does not have to pay list price for more than a comparatively few novels, after they have been on the market more than a year or two, and this condition may or may not effect the royalty paid to the author.

This subject is treated further in the chapter headed, "The Income of Magazine and Newspaper Story or Fiction Writers," and in other chap-ters.