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Business of the Arts: Books That Make Bank

Writing means business for local authors

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Before becoming a New York Times bestselling author, Nancy Allen learned her way around a courtroom, having served as Missouri’s assistant attorney general and Greene County’s assistant prosecutor.

If she ever decked a defendant, the way Kate Stone punches out Max James in the first chapter of “Renegade,” it didn’t make the news. While matters of law are presented with meticulous accuracy in Allen’s fiction, the actions of characters are the product of pure “what if?”

“Payback,” Allen’s second title in her Anonymous Justice series of novels and a follow-up to “Renegade,” is due out in May. Meanwhile, the author is at work on her next project and writes six days a week.

Her current project is always in mind – the writing doesn’t stop just because she isn’t seated at her dining room table with a felt-tip pen and white legal pad. But Allen finds time more flexible for a writer than a prosecutor.

For Allen, who publishes through Hachette Book Group, one of the Big Five publishers in New York, the money is also appreciably better.

“I am far more financially successful as a novelist than I ever was in the legal profession,” she said.

She declined to disclose her revenue from writing or her readership numbers, but she noted it hasn’t hurt a bit to co-author two books with James Patterson. His titles have sold more than 425 million copies worldwide, according to Investor’s Business Daily.

“I’m a co-author with the most successful writer in the world,” Allen said. “And so, one thing that happens is that people read a book that we wrote together, and some of those people will go, ‘I like that. The co-author’s Nancy Allen. What else has she written?’”

Those readers seek out her solo books to buy. Allen said an e-book that might have originally been $2.99 is now $11.99 or $13.99, tinged as they are with the Patterson aura.

The trick, said Allen, is to keep the momentum going.

“If you want to make a living as a novelist, even once you have had vast good fortune, as I have, you have to continue to produce the content,” she said. “That’s your product, and so a publisher will expect a book a year.”

Allen published her first book, “The Code of the Hills,” in 2014. Her third Patterson collaboration, “The Number One Lawyer,” is slated for release in March 2024 and will make 10 books in 10 years.

For “The Code,” a mystery set in the Ozarks, Allen’s publisher told her if she hit 10,000 copies, that would be great.

“I’m still getting checks,” Allen said. “I know we sold 50,000 long ago, so that was a hit for that book that they did nothing to promote or market.”

If 50,000 copies is a blue-sky sales number for a Nancy Allen title, a Patterson collaboration is in the stratosphere.

“When I write a book with James Patterson, that’s 2 million copies,” she said.

For the kids
David Harrison has made a name for himself by writing children’s books. He released his first, “The Boy with a Drum,” in 1969, and it has sold over 2 million copies. His 90-plus titles also include education books for teachers.

A Drury University graduate, Harrison worked as a pharmacologist in Evansville, Indiana, and as editor of greeting cards for Hallmark in Kansas City before returning home to Springfield to take over his father’s business, Glenstone Block Co., in 1973. He ran the concrete block manufacturing company for 35 years before retiring, he said.

“The commonality throughout my life was writing,” he said. “I started that back when we were in Evansville, and I just never stopped.”

The freelancer life was not for Harrison, he said. Rather, he wanted regular, reliable income, so he worked full time until he sold the block company in 2008.

“I’ve written full time pretty much since then,” he said.

Harrison is not one to brag, though he could be – not many living people have an elementary school named after them, but he has Springfield Public Schools’ Harrison Elementary.

“Among my writer friends, that’s something that comes up all the time,” he said, adding in a singsong tone, “Nanner, nanner, I have a school.”

Though he declines to offer specific numbers, Harrison’s literary output does well.

“Over my lifetime, I’m certainly in the seven figures, total, but I’m always leery about giving an annual figure – it fluctuates so darn much,” he said.

Like Allen, Harrison still gets money from reprints. “The Book of Giant Stories,” which in 1972 won the Christopher Award for content that values the human spirit, sold 700,000 in hardback then went out of print, but it was translated into a dozen languages and eventually found a second publisher. Every year, he said, he gets one or two requests to reprint a story from the collection, each at $1,000 a pop.

“That’s money that comes from work I did 50 years ago,” he said.

Additionally, 30% of his income is from appearances – “dog-and-pony things,” Harrison calls them. He charges $2,000-$3,000, typically, but he said he doesn’t seek those out.

“Even though writing time per hour is probably nowhere near as lucrative, I’d really rather sit home and write,” he said.

Harrison, who is 85, said each new book contract is an occasion to celebrate. His most recent title is his memoir, “This Life: An Autobiography,” published in December.

“I’ve got one now that an editor has expressed interest in,” he said. “She hasn’t said yes yet, but I think she’s going to. If that happens, I’ll do a victory dance, or in my case a shuffle.”

The cozier, the better
Susan Keene lives in an orchard in Niangua, where she writes in a tiny blue cottage with her dachshunds by her side.

Keene writes cozy mysteries, a subgenre in which a handful of suspects are known to the reader. Often, cozies have off-page murders solved by quirky, amateur sleuths. Keene’s detectives are a restaurateur in her Arizona Summers series and a private investigator in her Kate Nash Mysteries. The Arizona Summers mysteries also include a bonus feature: recipes of dishes mentioned in the book.

In publishing with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited model, authors are paid for each page that’s read, and Keene said that’s where she makes most of her money. Keene’s publisher is Springfield-based Paperback Press, which prepares manuscripts for print-on-demand or digital release.

“The most I ever had was 80,000 pages read in one month,” she said, noting she hopes to reach 1 million. “I’m going to get there, I have no doubt, if I live long enough.”

Keene enjoys teaching the art of the cozy mystery, and her fee varies. She, like Harrison, likes to spend the bulk of her time writing.

“The key to success in my opinion is to keep writing. That’s why I’m writing two books at the same time right now – I don’t usually do that,” she said.

Writing series books is also a difference-maker, she said.

“Readers want to see the character grow,” she said. “They will tell you what they want more of. I think you could write a series and have a hundred books in it and get more popular with each one.”

Susan Keene: Readers like seeing how characters in a series grow and change.

David Harrison: Every new book is its own reason to celebrate.

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