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Why Hardcover Literary Fantasy Books Are So Profitable

Literary Fantasy is the nerdiest of all the fantasy subgenres. It is the subgenre for intellectuals who crave well written prose, complicated plots, metaphors, subversion of the plot, complex realistic characters, morally grey villains, etc.

And the good news is that these intellectual professionals who like to read this subgenre have money, so they don't mind paying $25 for a hardcover of the newest book by whomever.

However there is one important factor for Literary Fantasy that is often overlooked by writers.

It pays VERY WELL. Even for a first time author.

Let me elaborate.

The typical advance for a first time author in Literary Fantasy is about $15,000 to $20,000. It isn't a lot, but the amount is just to get the author to sign the contract. The real money comes afterwards.

For our purposes lets say an author publishes their book with HarperCollins and they give them a $15,000 advance.

That advance is effectively a debt that needs to be paid off via book sales.

The first 5000 books HarperCollins sells pays off the debt to the tune of 10% of the sale price of the book. The next 5000 books pays 12.5%, and the next 5000 books after that pay 15%.

So the $25 book pays off $2.50 for each sale. X 5000 = $12,500.

Within the first 5000 sales most of the debt has already been paid off. Only $2500 worth of debt remains.

The next 5000 sales pays 12.5% of the sale value. $3.125 per sale. Only 320 more sales and the debt has been fully paid off.

So 5320 sales and the debt has been paid off. Every sale after this results in the author receiving royalty cheques in the mail.

The remaining 4680 sales earning $3.125 per sale equals... $14,625.

$14,625 is a pretty nice royalty cheque.

The next 5000 sales pays 15% per sale. $3.75 X 5000 = $18,750.

Still keeping track?

For the first 15,000 books worth of sales here is the totals:

$15,000
$14,625
$18,750
=  $48,375.00

That is a pretty nice paycheque for the author for just 15,000 book sales.

So what about a different subgenre, one that doesn't usually sell as a hardcover?

Well, lets say you are publishing a generic mass market paperback.

You get your $15,000 advance, but you only get a 7% royalty credit per sale on a book that is selling for perhaps $10.

That 7% is about $0.70 per sale.

To pay off the $15,000 debt they need to sell $21,429 copies of their book before they see any extra royalties.

Now you might think, hey, aren't mass market paperbacks easier to sell because they are cheaper? Yes, they are, but hardcover books are eventually also released as trade paperbacks (which pay 7.5% royalty) and mass market paperbacks (which pay 7%). So the publisher releases the hardcover first, makes a bundle of money, and when the sale numbers start to decline they eventually release paperback versions to boost sales.

For authors it is a mathematical no brainer that you really want to publish hardcovers in order to get the extra profits, but to get those extra profits you really want to write in a subgenre that typically publishes the books as a hardcover first.

And Literary Fantasy is the most obvious choice if the author wants to make a large wad of cash.

There is only one problem. It is Literary Fantasy. It is basically the hardest subgenre for an author to write. The quality of the writing needs to be impeccable. Think George R. R. Martin level of quality.

Any fantasy author who wants to be taken seriously should seriously consider writing Literary Fantasy, both for the prestige and the money, but not every fantasy writer out there has a level of skill or the inclination to write that kind of book.

Many of us simply prefer to write other subgenres.

Speaking for myself I regularly read Literary Fantasy, but writing it is a daunting challenge. Writing a Literary Fantasy novel is on my To Do List, and I keep a file full of notes of ideas for such a book so that when I am ready to write and publish such a book I will have no shortage of ideas to make a complex and detailed book which will amaze readers and make them fall in love with the story.

But I am also just as likely to write a comedic fantasy, something akin to The Princess Bride.

So the real question then is... is it possible to mix subgenres? Comedic Literary Fantasy?

Oh wouldn't that be wonderful.

One part Princess Bride, one part parody of Game of Thrones, one part The Witcher...?

Who knows. I would love to read a book like that. Maybe other people would too.

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