It’s Not About the Money

Awhile back I received a query from a gentleman who told me a drawn-out tale of his personal tragedy, culminating in the fact that if he didn’t come up with a very large sum of money very soon, he was going to be imprisoned. The point of his query, if I got the gist correctly, was that he wanted me to represent the book (which would be his tale of woe), sell it to a publisher quickly, and get him an advance in the tens of thousands of dollars so that he could pay his debt and avoid prison.


First, I’m happy to report that I did manage to avoid feeling guilty about my possible culpability in sending this guy to jail. But other than that… I think I need to make a couple of things clear.

(1) The odds of a first-time writer obtaining an advance in the tens-of-thousands are, uh, very low. It’s not impossible, of course, just unlikely.

(2) Publishing a book is a really bad way to attempt to bail yourself out of a financial jam (excuse the pun).

Now, I know on the surface, most of you know that. But I still hear it all the time. Someone’s afraid he might be laid off so he’s looking into “options” to make some extra cash. People want to quit their boring day job so they’re trying to sell a book. ACK!!! You can’t quit your job after selling one book! Or two, or even three, most likely.

And even if you’re just looking for a little extra moolah, well, you should know the wheels of publishing move v-e-r y s-l-o-w-l-y. From the time an agent agrees to represent your book until the time a check arrives at your mailbox from a publisher, it could be three months in the very best circumstances, to six months to a year or more. (Or never, but let’s not be pessimistic.)

Honestly, most people are in this business for love as much as for money (if not more), and believe it or not, that applies just as widely to people in general market publishing as in CBA.

So listen. If you’re about to go to jail and you’re desperate for funds, please call your mother or your ex-girlfriend or those people who advertise they’ll buy your house for cash. Leave me out of it.

P.S. Chip MacGregor has a couple of terrific posts about making the transition from part-time to full-time writing, a.k.a. quitting your day job. Click here and read the January 20 and 29 posts.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. R4C on April 7, 2008 at 4:14 PM

    >HMMM… prison? Three squares, a roof over your head, and lots of time to write. I think with good behavior you can even get online and blog. I think you did him a favor.

  4. Rachel H. Evans on April 5, 2008 at 8:07 PM

    >Rachelle, I forgot to tell you that I got into some trouble gambling in Las Vegas last week…You think you could get that proposal out to publishers sooner?


    What a funny post! I can’t imagine anyone getting into the writing business for the money! Having done freelance work for several years, I’m pretty pleased just to be making a decent living doing what I love.

    I think most professional writers have come to terms with the fact that, unless you are a celebrity (or featured on Oprah), chances of making a million on the first book are slim.

    Well, here’s to hoping my book’s the exception!

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Mark H. on April 4, 2008 at 11:09 AM

    >xdpaul: Well played, sir. Thanks for the laughs!

  6. Anonymous on April 4, 2008 at 9:42 AM

    >Two thoughts;
    First a quote from a Broadway musical. “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and now that I know which is which, I’d rather be rich.”

    Second: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So much for getting rich as a writer.

  7. Rachelle on April 4, 2008 at 9:17 AM

    >Okay, I am L-M-T-O !!!!!

    (For those of you unaware, that’s the CBA cleaned-up version of LMAO. Figure it out.)

    I’ve got to get off this blog. Heading out to writers conference now.

  8. XDPaul on April 4, 2008 at 9:14 AM

    >Well, I would question the literacy of anyone purporting to support the Cowboys, Iggles or Broncos, because it is quite obvious that, upon a casual reading of the book of Luke, Jesus endorses the Colts.

    I can’t imagine his triumphant entry to Jerusalem riding in the back of a Bronco. Or on the shoulders of a cowboy, for that matter.

    So if you people can’t even properly proof text one of the gospels, how qualified is anyone to talk about publishing?

    Speaking of publishing, though, I feel bad for the convict. You should have told him that there are a lot easier ways to make money…like robbing a bank.

  9. Rachelle on April 4, 2008 at 9:07 AM

    >Mark, if we eliminated Dallas fans, we’d have to eliminate Philadelphia fans, too. Because of course everyone knows that the BRONCOS ROCK.

    Ahem. Did we forget that this is a publishing blog?????

  10. Mark H. on April 4, 2008 at 9:05 AM

    >Aren’t Cowboys fans automatically disqualified from winning anything? I’m sure I read that in the rules somewhere…

  11. Timothy Fish on April 4, 2008 at 8:50 AM

    >Only 24 cents per hour? I’m making more like 75 cents per hour, though it keeps going down because I keep giving everyone my two cents.

  12. Kathryn Harris on April 4, 2008 at 8:18 AM

    >If you’re about to go to jail and you’re desperate for funds, please call your mother or your ex-girlfriend or those people who advertise they’ll buy your house for cash. Leave me out of it.

    And look at the bright side of going to prison — some interesting books have been written by penitentiary residents.

    Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. šŸ™‚

  13. Katy McKenna on April 4, 2008 at 8:07 AM

    >Mary DeMuth has said she thinks she makes something like 24 cents per hour. But how rich all of us are who read what she writes!

    Still, I can’t help picturing a little sign my grandparents had hanging in their kitchen when I was a child. “Rich or poor, it’s good to have money.” šŸ™‚

  14. Jessica on April 4, 2008 at 8:07 AM

    >Wow, I just got really freaked out and double checked the rules. We were allowed to choose ANY of the top six, right????
    Oh boy, I hope so! Not that I think I’ll win, but a critique from an agent is too awesome of an opportunity to pass up.
    And Congrats Richard! You’re line was so good!
    About the money thing, I had to break it to my husband gently the other day that writer’s do NOT make millions of dollars. He still thinks I’ll be a bestseller, though. Sweet man.

  15. Richard Mabry on April 4, 2008 at 7:10 AM

    >So I shouldn’t depend on a big advance to help me buy Cowboys season seat options? Guess I’ll have to wait for that money I sent to Nigeria to pay off.

    I can’t recall who said it, but at one Christian Writers’ Conference I heard this advice: “Want to make money? Don’t depend on your writing for it. You’ll make more as a greeter at Wal-Mart.” (No offense to the Wal-Mart greeters out there. I appreciate you).