If you read Robert A. Heinlein’s biography, you find a certain amount of self-promotion there, and he’s not the first writer to try to drum up publicity in order to push a book or even to have pronounced ideas backed by experience about how their work should be marketed. Thomas Disch mentions Isaac Asimov being noted for “beating the drum of his own reputation” in On SF. And it has always been true that on the publisher’s side of things, the economics of the advance play a major part; books with big advances get big publicity budgets, and vice versa. This makes sense; if you invest a great deal in something, you are more willing to spend a little extra to help it succeed.
Over the course of the last century, unfortunately, those advances have not grown with inflation, particularly for smaller writers. The SFWA minimum pro rate is currently six cents [per word], while if we adjusted it to what its original rate would be in buying power today, it would be three or four times that. It has become more and more difficult for writers to make a living at writing[.]
Cat Rambo on promotion.
The rest of this post talks about book promotion, and the increasing onus on authors to maintain online brand, e.g. on Twitter, and how there’s significant bias (race, gender, class, ability, neurotype)1 associated with that.
I’m reminded of my recent read of Dean Koontz’s Midnight, specifically the written-much-later (circa early 2000s) author’s afterword in the edition I had, where Koontz talks about Midnight being his first big commercial success. I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but he has a section where he’s downplaying the publicity given to the book by the publisher talking about how it was “only” a few full-page print ads in one or two mainstream print publications. And it’s like… yeesh. You know how many authors would kill for that level of investment nowadays? Spoiler alert: pretty much all of them.
For the record, that “6¢ a word” rate is for short stories. For novels, the minimum “pro rate” advance is $2,500, which works out at more like 3¢ a word, assuming a novel of around 80k. And if you’re thinking, “Yeah. But that’s a minimum. Surely authors are getting more than $2.5k for their books?” then, boy, do I have some exciting news for you!
- Or day job, for that matter. Given that most authors nowadays have day jobs due to writing not paying them a living wage, there are a non-zero number of professions where a notable public persona is a great way to never work again. [↩]