The Millionaire Next Door

Not Talented? Not Gifted? So Represent Those Who Are

In his acknowledgements, James D. Hornfischer, author of the excellent, New York Times’ best selling book, Neptune’s Inferno, wrote:

. . . three years of research and two of writing . . . .

Imagine spending five years of your life producing one book!  Even if you worked only 20 hours per week for, say, 50 weeks a year, that’s 5,000 hours total.  By the way, if you like military history, you will likely find the book to be outstanding.

The odds of hitting the topseller list are very small.  So why do so many authors spend thousands of hours writing?  If they do it for “the money” most will be disappointed!  Write if you love to write and because you have a passion for your selected topic.

I’m constantly reminded of the misconceptions that so many people have about the cost benefits of being an author.  Most people who try their hand at writing never make a profit for their efforts.  Never!  I wrote about this in The Millionaire Mind.  Over the years nearly all of those aspiring authors who have contacted me:

“have what I call the manufacturer’s (artist’s, writer’s) mentality. . . believe that the lion’s share of the profits go to the creators (authors), manufacturers, and developers.”  In reality. . . 

The agents are the ones who gain the largest rate of return on their so-called investments.  Consider this example.  It may take an author 3,000 hours to research and write a book that eventually becomes a best-seller.  His literary agent normally earns 15 percent of his royalties.  The agent may invest as little as 100 hours marketing the manuscript.  The publisher sells 1,000,000 copies, and the author gets 15 percent of the $20 retail price or $3 million.  The agent earns $450,000 or 15 percent of $3 million.  This leaves $2,550,000 for the author.

Now normalize these numbers.  The author earned $2,550,000 divided by 3,000 hours, or $850 per hour.  The agent’s hourly wage, however, is $450,000 divided by 100 hours invested, or $4,500 per hour!  If the agent had allocated 3,000 hours, the expected return would be $13.5 million, or more than five times what the author received for his 3,000 hours of work.  And the agent doesn’t have to go on tour or do book signings. [Plus he can represent a corral of authors over the span of his career].

My own estimates are that about one-tenth of 1 percent [of books] get close to the 1,000,000 [sold] mark!  There are thousands of authors who have spent thousands upon thousands of hours researching and writing books and never sold more than 10,000 copies.  None of them earned more than $10,000.  And many of these authors were brilliant in their respective fields.

Given these facts, why do so many people want to be authors, developers, or even manufacturers?  Certainly, there are some issues of status involved, but in reality, most people don’t know the odds of making even a single dollar of profit in such endeavors.  Even worse, they don’t initially appreciate the extraordinary amount of dollars at risk and the other resources required.

When I finished writing The Millionaire Next Door, I sent the manuscript to a top literary agent.  He told me, “Your book will never get out of its first printing.”  Given this response I decided to become my own agent.  By the way, the book went to thirty plus printings of the hard back alone. 


2 thoughts on “Not Talented? Not Gifted? So Represent Those Who Are”

  1. Dr. Stanley,

    This so true. As I mentor aspiring writers, I always give them the facts of the publishing world (i.e. that more than 90 percent of all published books never sell out their first print run of 5,000). And that a bestseller is measured in thousands, not even tens of thousands.

    I think you are a good model of how to do it right (at least in the nonfiction realm). Your books are not your primary product. They actually serve more as brochures for your speaking, teaching and consulting services (which I would expect are at a premium since you are the go-to for millionaire lifestyle research).

    The same is true for professionals like my friend, David Meerman Scott. He’s a true bestselling author, but he uses his books to drive keynote speaking gigs around the world.

    Years ago, Doc Searls coined what’s called the “because effect”. The idea is that writers/bloggers shouldn’t expect to make money from their writing. They should expect to make money because of their writing.

    Thanks for all you do.

  2. I am a firm believer in representing those who have more than I do. In my case, I’m a real estate agent. Many clients invest their capital, sometimes life savings, when buying or selling a property. My business allows me to profit from someone else’s investment of money and time. The best part is that I can represent many clients at a time and profit from all of them in the same way. Representing others is the way to go!

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