Professional or Not? Legitimately Published or Not?

Update: I have made updated commentary to this post as of July 2011. Updates are in RED.

A conversation between me and a friend:

Friend: “Steph, I just got a publishing contract with XX publishing company and I got a $4000 advance!”

Steph: “Awesome! That’s so cool.”

Friend: “I have edits due by this date and covers will be out this date. It’s so stressful. Lucky you don’t have this sort of thing.”

Steph: ::raises eyebrows::: “How so?”

Friend: “Well, you’re not professionally or legitimately published so you don’t have things like real deadlines and all that.”

Steph: “What do you mean?”

Friend: “I don’t mean anything bad by it. It’s just that I have a publishing contract with XX and you are independent and small press. There’s a big difference.”

Steph: “And I also make more than $4000 a year writing.”

Trust me – the conversation went downhill from there.

I think I’m finally tired of the debate as to whether or not you’re a professional writer based on HOW or WHERE you’ve been published.

Here’s the deal — if you’ve been PAID (a reasonable amount at least) – you’re technically a professional writer.

I get so tired of the cliques in the writing community. Some don’t believe you’re a “real” writer unless you’ve published with one of the big six. Others will consider you professionally published only if you’ve been published with a big publisher or an *approved* small press.

Dictating who is “legitimately published” or not is merely another way to divide the haves from the have-nots. My question is – are you making money?

That’s great – maybe you did get a publishing contract with one of the big publishers.  Maybe you got a $4000 advance. You know what an advance is, right? That’s money they give you in advance. That also means that if your contract reads that you make $1 a copy sold, you have to sell at least 4000 copies of your work before you make anything else on that book. If you’re only putting out one book a year on a $4000 advance each time, you’re only making $4000 a year writing (unless you sell more than your prerequisite 4000). Even if you sell 10,000 copies, that’s only 10,000 bucks folks! So keep your day job, okay?

Not to mention most first timer contracts only give the writer between 8-10%, 10% of which is often shared with an agent. So what’s that on a $7.99 book? About $.72 cents a book, so it would take selling 5556 books to pay back that advance.

I make between $6000 – $12,000 a year from my books (both small press and indie stuff). Update: The previous figures, and all figures after this, were from the first 9 months of my 2010 writing income.  So does that make me LESS a professional author than the author who sold a novel to a major publisher for $4000?

So I don’t sell 4000 books a year. I sell between 1000-2000 (but I get a higher royalty on my indie stuff because there’s no middle man). Not to mention my sales and income have been going up year by year. Also remember that all of my books have been published in the last 5 years.

So I don’t have space on a bookstore bookshelf, but my readers know where to find me and they send their friends, too. Trust me – you can write numerous books, but if they suck, no one is going to buy them no matter which publisher published them.

I have an audience and fans believe it or not. I may not have droves of them, but I do have them. I’m thankful for each and every one, too.

So how is it, exactly, that I’m not “legitimately published” or “professionally published” again?  Just curious.

This kind of reminds me of the debate how so many people used to scoff at e-book authors and say, “Oh, so you don’t write *real* books then?” and “Oh, so you’re not *really* published?”  Tell that to some of the popular e-book authors who are bringing in $20-30K a year writing e-books.  Some even bring in $50K+ a year!

If you write books that real readers are buying and enjoying and you’re making enough money to where your tax accountant is writing off stuff to offset your writing income — you’re friggin’ professional and clearly *legitimately published* regardless what the cliques say. And by cliques I do mean to include certain writing organizations that have strict membership requirements based on where you’ve been published. Hate to say it but there’s an “old boys club” mentality about that.  I’m not a fan.

You can read more current posts on this topic in Traditional vs. Indie.

About Steph

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at

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