Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stanley and the anatomy of a bestseller

Last week, at a Miami hotel pool, I ran into Stanley from The Office. The actor (whose name isn't actually Stanley) waddled around the pool for a while and then plopped down to read a magazine. With his eyes half closed and that sour look on his face, he could have be sitting at his desk at Dunder Mifflin.

While we were staring at the popular actor across the pool, my friends and I started hypothesizing about how much money Stanley makes per episode. We threw out numbers like a million a pop, or $500K. Now, after doing some research on the Internet, I would bet it's closer to $30K. It just shows how, when we think about successful actors, our perceptions are skewed by the rarities we hear about in the news -- like the "Friends" actors each making a mil an episode.

When it comes to authors, our perceptions are even more skewed . We hear about the Stephen Kings and Stephanie Myers of the world making tens of millions of dollars on their books, and we assume that all authors are rich. In reality, most published authors -- if writing is their day job --are dirt poor. But what if you reach the top, the holy grail, the New York Times bestseller list? Surely it's time to roll out the private jet, right? Not exactly. In this fantastically revealing post, Lynn Viehl breaks down the financial reality of her NYT bestseller, Twilight Fall. She even shares her actual royalty statement. After expenses and commissions, she made about 25K profit on her book. She's a NYT bestselling author, and if this book were her only source of income, she'd be floating just above the poverty level.


  1. Drats! There goes my dream of flying on a private jet to your book signings.

  2. I suppose its all relative. 30K an episode sounds pretty successful to me. If I was Stanley from The Office, and i did roughly ONE episode a year, I would be better off than, lets say, Scott Crawford, who currently does the actual office job equivalent of 500 episodes a year for a lesser cashout.