Take Bella Andre, for instance. She has been published by Hachette, Random House and Simon & Schuster but has long since left the traditional publishing world to go it alone. She told me earlier this year that she made over $1 million in 2011 and recently told TIME Magazine that she’s made $2.4 million this year.
That Time article (note: PDF) also notes that Amanda Hocking got her $2 million deal from St. Martins, and Fifty Shades of Grey got a seven-figure deal from Random House.
So that seems like six of one, a half-dozen of the other, right? I mean, if you hit it big, it doesn't really matter what route you take, right?
Well, not really. E.L. James may have gotten seven figures from Random House, but the success of her book has just allowed Random House to pay out a $5,000 bonus to its employees, which, as Warren Curtly points out, means that Random House got at least eight figures from E.L. James. It's the story of Stephanie Meyer all over again--$21 million sounds like a buttload of money, until you realize that it's only a small fraction of what her publisher made.
The important thing to remember about Bellevue's $2.4 million is that, unlike an advance, it is not a one-time payment. Bellevue isn't getting $2.4 million and then seeing nothing until her next contract is signed. She has developed a category of assets that pay her $2.4 million per year. (And that comes on top of the $1 million she got from Harlequin for her paper rights and any movie money that may come down the pike.)
Right now, Bellevue is busting her butt, working 70 hours a week to crank out and promote books, which is why her annual income went from $1 million to $2.4 million. But what if she couldn't? What if some major life roll hit her, and she wasn't able to dedicate the time and energy she gives to her career right now?
Chances are that her income would decrease, sure. But would it bottom out overnight? Probably not. Her current fans would presumably lose interest if she stopped putting out new titles, but at this point, even without huge promotional efforts, new readers would continue to discover her books, especially as more and more people buy tablet computers and start reading e-books.
I know people's synapses start to fry whenever large sums of money start getting mentioned, but there's a big difference between getting $2.4 million as a one-off hunk of money (invested relatively conservatively, that would give you an annual income of to $48,000-$72,000 per year) and getting $2.4 million or thereabouts as your annual income. A big difference. (How big? Making the same assumptions about investment return as I did earlier, you'd have to get a lump sum of roughly $100 million to pull in an annual income of $2.4 million.)
And, frankly, it just annoys me to see a publisher get 90+ percent of the pie. Screw that.