How Much Do Novelists Make?
Jonathan Evison Opens His Wallet
$0 The amount that Jonathan Evison made for his first eight books—six novels, one memoir, and one story collection—which he says "were all unpublished, and will mercifully remain unpublished."
$4,500 The advance that Soft Skull Press gave Evison for his ninth book, and first published novel, All About Lulu. The money was "paid out in two payments, half on signing, and half on publication."
$300 Approximately how much Evison made a week at his day job as a landscaper. He worked 25 hours a week—"just enough to get by"—while writing and editing Lulu.
$0 Amount Soft Skull paid to send Evison on tour in support of Lulu. Instead, Evison managed his tour like a punk rock band, couch-surfing his way through a tour of nine western cities, bringing two friends along with him. "I paid for every meal, every beer, and the rare hotel, all out of pocket," Evison says, "for all of us."
$100 to $150 The amount of money Evison spent on beer and Jell-O shots, which he would bring to readings and share with the audience and bookstore staff. "The tour pretty much wiped out the advance," he admits.
$40,000The royalties Evison earned during the first three years of Lulu's sales. "I negotiated great royalty rates," he explains, "including foreign sales and the like." He still gets one or two small royalty checks a year. In 2012, they totaled about $3,000.
$15,000 Film rights for All About Lulu, earned over a three-year period. (The book has still not been successfully adapted to film.)
$75,000 The advance Evison received from Algonquin Books for his third published novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. It's the most he's made on a single book by far. How did he get there? Evison's advice for aspiring novelists: "Maintain low financial expectations. Don't necessarily go for the money right out of the gate." Big advances might be tempting, but more important is finding "a publisher that will really champion you and help you build an audience," and publishers like that are often not the same publishers that can write big paychecks up front. It could be years after your first book before you're able to make a living at it. "In short," Evison concludes, "don't quit your day job."
$10,000 The movie option for Fundamentals.