Daydreaming of Murder by Michael Jecks
It is with great pleasure that I welcome one of my favourite authors, Michael Jecks, to the blog today. He has taken time to share his experiences of the practicalities of getting paid as an author. Thank you for your time today, Michael. Over to you.
I clearly remember the first time I met other authors. It was at a hotel in west London, the monthly meeting of the Crime Writers’ Association.
“How many books have you written?” was barked at me.
“Almost there, then,” she said and wandered off.
“Don’t worry,” I was told. “She always says no one’s a real author until they’ve written five novels. Anything less and they’re still dabbling.”
Now I’ve written over fifty, I still have the impression that I’m dabbling. I feel like a dilettante. The problem being, of course, that we authors don’t have “real” jobs - as others would consider it. What do we do? If you read the Sun, you’ll know perfectly well. The average author rises at about ten o’clock, performs breathing exercises (using a vape machine), then wanders into the kitchen in dressing gown and slippers to bash out three or four pages on a manual typewriter, before dressing and hurrying to a lunch with an editor to build up to a decent hangover on the morrow.
Publishers, bless ’em, are very supportive, generally. When I started out in the dim and distant past (1994), it was thrilling to meet my first editor, to see an office full of computers and eager young people with piles of books on their desks. Headline Book Publishing were then a forward, aggressive company with brilliant marketing, and I was to remain with them for the next fifteen years. Sadly I had to move after 2009 because sales were declining, as were my advances, and I went to another company.
However my time there was disappointing. After two years of unimpressive sales, I spent some time researching exactly what marketing was being conducted on my behalf, and learned that after two years and two book launches, the sum total of all marketing was one, solitary tweet. My books had not even been mentioned on their Facebook pages. I fired them.
It used to be the case that an author would receive an advance which was calculated to be roughly the total royalties which the author could expect from sales. Over time that has changed. Originally I was very glad to receive an advance of £3,000 for my first book, and happier still to be commissioned to write two more for £10,000. In those heady days of 1994, the average income of a worker was some £17,000.
But I didn’t get all that at once; advances aren’t paid as a lump sum. They tend to be staged payments, like a builder. My £3,000 broke down to: £1,000 for signing a contract; a second when the hardback was printed; and a third when the paperback was launched. So in the first year, I was paid a thousand. The next year in February I would receive a second, and the third payment would materialise in the November.
At the same time I was paid in fourths for the other two books: £875 each for signing contracts, £875 when my manuscript was accepted, and the last two payments when the hardback and paperback versions were published. So for signing contracts, I received some £2,750 (is that right?). That had to last me a year.
And of course many people will think that it’s good to get some money in - which it is. However, this isn’t a salary. “Advances” are interest-free loans. The author is advanced some money to tide them over until royalties come in, and the publishers will deduct advances before finally paying royalties to the author, sitting shivering in an unheated home.
Now life is very different. In those days I would receive 7.5% of the cover price for a paperback, or 10% of the hardback price.
Since the internet, that has reduced. Amazon demands much larger discounts, so the author is paid on “net receipts”. If the publisher has to give an 80% discount to Amazon, the author’s 7.5% is now based on 20% of the book’s price. What does that mean? In 1994, my books were priced at £5.99; now the same book is £8.99, so fifty percent more expensive. At the same time my income per sale has dropped from 42 pence per book to about 12 pence. This is why authors are leaving publishing in droves.
People often ask what I think of e-books. Well, I have to admit, I love them. There are no advances, but the royalties are far higher. I am now working with Canelo Books (my Last Templar Mystery series) and Severn House, as well as Sharpe Books, who publish some of my backlist.
Severn House have my current “Bloody Mary Tudor” series, which is based on an incompetent assassin, and which makes me laugh with almost every page I write. I’m currently finishing book eight in that series. I’ve also just begun a new, modern day series with Severn House, which is to be called the “Art of Murder” series. The first, “Portrait of a Murder” will be published in April, which is when I have to write the second in the series.
Next year I will have been writing books for thirty years. I used to have a sensible, real job, going to work every day and labouring in the computer industry. I have to admit, I miss the money, but that is all. Writing is better than work. It’s challenging, poorly paid, but how many jobs would pay me to sit and gaze out of a window for hours, daydreaming of murder?
Michael Jecks is the author of 50 novels. His work encompasses his highly acclaimed Templar series of historical thrillers, his humorous Bloody Mary Tudor series, the Art of Murder series, the Vintener trilogy, and a modern spy story, Act of Vengeance: ‘an instant classic British spy novel’ - Lee Child. His books are inspired by history and legends covering the moors where he lives, but his stories are grounded in real life and real people: what motivates them, and what makes them turn to violence.
Death Ship of Dartmouth (Headline, 2006) was short-listed for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, and he has been published by HarperCollins, Headline, Simon & Schuster, Canongate and Severn House.
The founder of Medieval Murderers, he has served on the committees of the Crime Writers’ Association, Historical Writers’ Association, and The Detection Club. He has taught writing at Swanwick, Evesham, and tutored for the Royal Literary Fund at Exeter University. His work has been celebrated by Visconti and Conway Stewart pens and in 2014 he was the International Guest of Honour at the Bloody Words festival in Toronto, and as Grand Master of the first parade in the New Orleans Mardi Gras!