First there was an essay by mistborn on the subject of the hardcover vs. paperback book buying decision. Then this guy weighed in, and then mistborn came back with THIS post (linking back to this...
Clear on all that? Oh, good...
Anyhow, here's me sitting here watching this with both an author and a reader hat on, and yes, there's the "on one hand" attitude and the "on the other hand" attitude, and then the "on the gripping hand" attitude. I freely admit that my hardcover book buying is... limited by budgetary concerns. My hardcovers tend, by and large, to be by (a) authors I already read, love, and trust to provide me with a good reading experience; (b) books I want to read RIGHT NOW and don't want to wait for the paperback edition of which may be a year away; or (c) books by people I know personally, friends and fellow writers and colleagues, whose books I might buy as a collectible item knowing I have a good chance of getting them signed and stuff, and perhaps talk about them with their authors when time allows and we cross paths at a convention or something. Buying a new hardcover by a writer I have never heard of - well - I WILL hesitate. It's quite an investment, after all. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But I utterly understand, stand behind, and support mistborn's points at the same time, by way of paradox.
I just looked atone of my contracts. It stipulates royalties as follows:
1-5000 copies = 10%
5001- 10 000 copies = 12.5%
over 10 000 cpies = 15%
Hardcover price: $25.00
7.5% royalty across the board, however many copies sold.
Trade paperback price: $16.00
MASS MARKET PAPERBACK
1-150 000 copies:8%
over 150 000 copies: 19%
Which means that if you sell 10 000 hardcover copies - which is DAMNED good if you aren't a Known Name, as per my comments above - you can expect to net $28 125.
In trade paperback, you would have to sell nearly 24 000 copies to get the same amount of money out of it.
In mass market, that figure jumps to something in excess of 50 000 copies.
Those ten thousand hardcovers are suddenly looking VERY good, if you're at the receiving end of this equation. And do remember that out of that $28 125 you're paying 15% to your agent (and you HAD one, to get a decent advance; go back to Tobias Buckell's survey of industry advances if you don't believe me) which leaves you with close to $24 000. Out of that, you pay your taxes, including steep self-employment taxes with regards to things like Social Security and stuff like that, which takes out another chunk of change and starts leaving you with something rather closer to a "teen" number than anything over twenty. Divide THAT by other factors - such as the fact that you don't even GET most of this sort of money in a chunk but it comes in dribs and drabs as and when it does and you just have to deal with that, and by 12 months (most people get their salaries monthly), and things like insurance, electricity, gas, food, and, yes, BOOKS (we writers are worse than most when it comes to buying books, believe me when I tell you that) and it starts to look... somewhat precarious.
If you go to a restaurant and have a meal, you leave a tip for the person who served it to you - in America it isn't voluntary any more. But the author doesn't get tipped on books sold - what (s)he gets is governed by those royalty rates that have been signed into law by the contract. Many are damned lucky if they DO get middle-to-high five figures. A few luck out with six figure advances, but fewer still of those earn out on them. And in most industries outside of publishing, an income that fluctuates wildly and can be as low as $5 000 - $10 000 a year would probably be considered below the poverty level. That's why you're going to find those of us writing for a living but not making an entire living off writing wafting through convention dealers' rooms like wandering ghosts, counting copies of our work on dealers' tables, fretting when they have only one or two in stock (or none at all), looking at tables groaning under the weight of the "competition" and wondering where and when we last glimpsed our sanity.
And yet here we all are. Back at the computer. Weaving tales. Telling stories.
Hoping that there are others out there like us, who live by the dictum of "FIrst, I buy books; if I have money left over, I buy food". Hoping that there are a few out there who aren't like the fellow in the cartoon inspired by [Bad username: mistborn"]'s essay, who would be content to eat pasta and cheap sauce for a couple of days in order to buy a coveted book. We may spread our dreams at people's feet, we storytellers, but we survive on the mercy of those people, on the possibility of OUR particular dream being picked up and chosen.
I, for one, count myself as privilieged to have been given that chance - and I can conceive of no other kind of life, and I am pleased, and proud, and grateful, every time someone picks up one of my books. But for the folks who look at books and see ONLY an expensive entertainment luxury (as, apparently, the creators of that cartoon did) - do remember that the book didn't create itself, that somewhere in the great out there somebody who wrote it and dreamed it and loved it first is waiting to see if it will put some of that pasta and sauce on their OWN table. We who live to entertain salute you who are expecting entertainment - because you make our existence possible. We live in hope that what we provide is valuable, and useful, and good. We create new worlds and new possibilities.
We hope that, occasionally, you will continue to find it worth the price of a book.