Actually, It Is About Money

It is well-documented, Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject, as recorded in Scripture. He knew it was part of everyone’s life and used it often to teach a myriad of lessons.

Still, money can be a polarizing topic.

One of my favorite sports books is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. It is the story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s professional baseball team who dramatically altered the landscape of running a team, involving reliance on data and money-based decisions rather than intuition and personal contact. To maintain his complete objectivity, Beane rarely watches his team play. Instead he relies on data, wins and losses.

The cold hard facts of data and money are an ever-present element in book publishing as well, traditional or self-published, broader or Christian markets.

We would all like to think there is something more to the publishing process, especially in the Christian market where there’s something important and meaningful at stake. And there is of course.

But “moneybook” is always just beneath the surface.

Every publisher must pay attention to money. Even non-profit ministry publishers need to pay attention to it. Companies specializing in self-publishing need to make a profit or they are out of business, along with their authors.

Amazon, a key financial piece of every traditional publisher and a substantial majority of sales for the self-published author is a publicly traded company under tremendous pressure to improve their financials on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. This, from a company employing over one-third of a million people, with 2016 revenues of over $135 billion and a market cap close to a half-trillion US dollars. But in the mind of Amazon and their stockholders, the company is not nearly big enough.

Like it or not, every author consistently makes life and work decisions involving an element of money. An author who “doesn’t care about the money” usually has another means of earning a living, but at some point, money enters into the equation, even for them.

Writing anything is never devoid of expense. The simplest computer with text software costs something. A cheap computer, which crashes and loses your work, could end up being very expensive. Your time is worth something. Computers need electricity, printers need ink and paper, even old manual typewriters needed ribbon…and Whiteout.

Agents consider monetary issues when deciding who to represent. Agents are paid when an author gets paid. This is why we evaluate books based on their money making potential.

To be honest, an author attempting to exhibit virtuous traits by telling an agent, “I don’t care if I make a dime on this,” will get a response from an agent along the lines of, “Well, I wish you would!”

Many agent-rejections are simply versions of, “I don’t believe I can sell and make money on this.”

But just as a non-profit needs to get over the hesitancy of asking for financial support, every church should be transparent to their members regarding their finances, and every small local store needs to make money to survive, every Christian author should recognize the recipe of their literary work is a combination of inspiration and perspiration, plus literary and fiduciary ingredients.

Writing something for others to purchase and read always contains a significant element of emotion, either positive or negative. Once you balance these emotions with the practical financial aspect, the path forward will be less emotionally treacherous, infused with an element of realism.


17 Responses to Actually, It Is About Money

  1. Avatar
    Christine Malkemes July 25, 2017 at 4:36 am #

    Thanks for that reminder. If what we write is of value then someone will pay for it. It’s not so much about the money, but the value.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray July 25, 2017 at 6:00 am #

      I am not so sure this is true, Christine. Well, perhaps it is, but the cart is just too far down the road. For them to pay for it, they must first know that it exists. If they do know that it exists, AND if they assign value to it, value that justifies a capital outlay, and value to them personally (meaning they WANT it), then yes, they might pay for it. Otherwise, they will not.

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    John de Sousa July 25, 2017 at 4:49 am #

    So true! Money touches everything in life. I am able to write this response because I paid my phone bill this month. It’s not money which is the root of all evil, but rather “the love of money”. Sound stewardship of money is a godly principle.

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    Rebekah Dorris July 25, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    Great post. I find I’m most productive when I have to be. When my husband says, “Your writing/designing needs to make x this month,” it’s the most powerful motivation he could give me. Which means I should get off here and go write! 🙂

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    Kristi Woods July 25, 2017 at 6:05 am #

    Funny you should mention finances. Last weekend I updated my financial books. The outcome? Black. It makes sense that agents and publishing houses bristle at red as well, working hard to be in the black. Dan, are there certain evident characteristics authors exhibit or means of marketing they embrace that help with the salability of their proposal? Maybe this is too broad a question, but I’m attempting to better understand marketing/making a profit in the Christian publishing industry. Thanks!

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow July 25, 2017 at 6:32 am #

      It is a broad question, but other than the obvious factor of being extremely well written, a proposal which garners attention is almost always the outgrowth of a life.

      You don’t write a book to be become known for something. You write a book because you are known for something.

      The book is never the first thing.

      When agents or publishers see a well-written proposal from a person where the book is the culmination of something, it stands out.

      • Avatar
        Kristi Woods July 25, 2017 at 8:02 am #

        The words are seeping in. Thank you for the response.

  5. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray July 25, 2017 at 6:06 am #

    It is a two-tine fork. One tine is the pragmatic tine that strives for financial solvency to keep the writing afloat. It is the tine that wants to sell a million books so I can make a living at this. It is Rebakah’s husband saying, “Your writing needs to make $.” The other tine is the service/ministerial tine that strives to accomplish some kingdom purpose with my writing. It wants to teach, to encourage, uplift, and exhort. If we can accomplish both of those, we have a winner. If not, I remain in the wannabe bucket.

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    Deb Haggerty July 25, 2017 at 7:06 am #

    Well-written, pertinent article! And the reason houses like Elk Lake and Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas are not the first choice for agents–agents get paid when you get paid. If they can sell to a publisher that pays advances, they get their money up front. If they sell to us, they, like you, have to wait for royalties to come in to get their share. The same logic applies to authors. If you get an advance, you get paid up front. If you decide on the larger percentage of royalties we pay, you have to hope you can sell a lot of books.

  7. Avatar
    Joey Rudder July 25, 2017 at 7:24 am #

    Thank you, Dan. I needed this post.

  8. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 25, 2017 at 7:30 am #

    If you think money’s a bit ‘unclean’, and that it can’t buy faith, hope and love, go to your local animal shelter and pay the adoption fee for a dog whose time is running out.

  9. Avatar
    Carol Ashby July 25, 2017 at 8:38 am #

    Money is only unclean when used for unclean purposes or when it becomes an idol. I have a good retirement, so we can give away all the royalties after taxes and social security, and almost nothing is more fun than wondering how God will use the money the novels are bringing in. Wondering how the stories touch the readers is even more fun.

  10. Avatar
    Thomas Allbaugh July 25, 2017 at 8:49 am #

    I think I once read John Steinbeck as saying that the book publishing industry was like betting on horses (not exact but a paraphrase, so no quotes). Certainly making money is important to any business, and to paraphrase Paul, the worker is worthy of his/her hire. But with Steinbeck’s suggestion in mind, my question is this: if predicting sales is really that arbitrary, exactly how do publishers and agents decide what is going to sell? What is the equation or the algorithm they use to foretell big bucks or bust? If it is just hunches they go by or intuition, I respect that. Like any work worth doing, it must take a combination of formula and art. But it would be interesting to study this, perhaps find out who does it best. Thank you for raising this issue.

  11. Avatar
    Karen Saari July 25, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    Of course a publisher must make money. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there to publish my book! We all must make money in order to survive. It’s when it becomes the center of our focus that it becomes a problem. As with everything. If He is not the center of our focus, then there will always be a problem whether it’s money or children or a new car or a trim figure or new shoes!

    Keep Jesus on the throne (center) of our lives and all will be as it should be.

  12. Avatar
    L K Simonds July 25, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Thank you, Dan. You hear this a lot, but your post was timely for me. I hope to one day get a good contract, even a great contract. The money would be nice. What it represents, though, is even nicer – being read. In today’s market, it’s easy to be published, but being read is another thing altogether. For me, it’s the primary goal, the prize, and writing in a way that’s engaging and accessible to a wide audience has become my priority.

  13. Avatar
    Edna Davidsen July 31, 2017 at 2:34 am #

    Hi Dan

    Loved your blog post Actually, It Is About Money. It’s a relevant topic for me, and actually for anyone because as you say, Jesus knew it was part of everyone’s life.
    The story of Billy Beane sounds interesting although I’m not familiar with it yet.

    I appreciate that you mentioned that money can be a polarizing topic. It is rarely discussed also among Christians, your example from the publishing industry is legitimate.

    You write: “We would all like to think there is something more to the publishing process, especially in the Christian market where there’s something important and meaningful at stake. And there is of course.”

    It reminded me of something I’ve thought about lately.

    Some Christian authors sell their books at a (permanent) price next to nothing. It’s difficult for me to understand this habit because as you also say without no profit whatever activity we’re engaged in must stop.

    As I see it Christian authors need to be much more engages and educated about how to sell so they can generate profit.

    I’m glad to see a post from a Christian openly discussing this topic.

    My favourite part of your blog post was this paragraph:

    ” Writing anything is never devoid of expense. The simplest computer with text software costs something. A cheap computer, which crashes and loses your work, could end up being very expensive. Your time is worth something. Computers need electricity, printers need ink and paper, even old manual typewriters needed ribbon…and Whiteout.”

    I’m not perfect, but it’s obvious to me that many of my Christian blog colleges have not taken the money aspect into consideration while planning their website even if they are trying to make money on their site.

    Thanks a lot for sharing your opinion on this topic. I’ve given it a share on my social accounts.

    Kind regards,
    Edna Davidsen

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