Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Agenting 101: Part Five: Payout

STATUS: It’s raining in Denver. This is actually good news. In fact, it’s been raining consistently in the afternoons for the past 5 days. We are in a terrible drought so this is fabulous.

Do you know what else is fabulous? My author Jennifer O’Connell popping into a Stop-n-Shop in Boston, Massachusetts and seeing a copy of PLAN B on their mini-bookstore display.

Go Stop-n-Shops. Is that a perfect venue for a teen book or what?

What song is playing on the iPod right now? CONSTANT CRAVING by k.d. lang

Last night I had to blog in a hurry so I didn’t sum up some of the drawbacks to the dirty and quick advance formula. I need to highlight that here before tackling payouts.

The Q&D is simply a semi-educated guess because most of it is determined by numbers that may or may not be accurate.

Is 30% the discount? What would you, as a debut author, actually sell-through? What is the print run going to be? An editor can estimate and have it change drastically before actual pub time. The editor might not be willing to share that info and then you have to work off of knowledge of general print run numbers for mass market or trade paperback or hardcover.

And 8% is not the only royalty percentage in the contract. In fact there are usually 2 pages of various royalty percentages depending on import, export, Book Club etc. Using only 8% is actually fudging the numbers quite a bit.

Lot of non-solid numbers figuring into that “formula.”

Not to mention, that info was more for debut authors with no track records whatsoever. If you have been previously published, that throws in a whole new monkey wrench. Suddenly your publishing history needs to be taken into account (although you’ll have a pretty good idea of your sell-through percentages!)

Just a word of caution.

But onwards.

PAYOUT
This is the schedule the pub house will offer for paying your advance (and needs to be specified in your deal negotiation before the contract is finalized). Most often, payout is done in thirds.

And unfortunately, pub houses seem to be implementing a nasty policy that one of those thirds has to be on publication (which makes me wonder why it is then called an advance!)

So a payout can look something like this:

1/3 on signing of the contract
1/3 on d&a (delivery and acceptance) of the manuscript
1/3 on publication

Can you tell that the ‘on pub’ third gets my goat? If you have no leverage (as in, no other house is bidding on your project), you might get stuck with an ‘on pub’ payment. Best you can do is to shift the money weight forward to the other pay dates and get the least amount of money possible for the “on pub.” That messes up the 1/3 exact ratio but that’s okay.

There are a variety of ways to schedule payouts (depending on the project etc.) but avoid drawn out payouts (as in 1/4 on this and 1/4 on that so you have more than three payout payments) and other schedules can look like this so you should at least try for them:

1/3 on signing
1/3 on delivery of the proposal and first three chapters
1/3 on delivery of the full manuscript

I’ve done:
1/3 on signing
1/3 on delivery of manuscript
1/3 on acceptance

I’ve done:
1/2 on signing
1/2 on d&a
(LOVE that schedule and I always go for it if possible)

And I imagine it’s possible to get the entire advance upon signing but I haven’t had the pleasure of that—yet.

I’ve done a variety of others but I’m too lazy to go through my contracts to see what was what.

Remember, I only allot myself 15 to 20 minutes to write these blog entries.


10 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    As a former independent bookstore manager, the discount we most often received was between 40 and 46%, depending on the quantity we ordered. That was ten years ago. Not sure if that has changed. Just wanted to mention it.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I should add to the above: hardcover was usually 40%, sometimes 38%. MM or trade, a little higher in the 45% discount range.

  3. kaolin fire said:

    Not to argue against money on any day, but the final third on publication is still in advance of earnings, unless I misunderstand publication… eh, a quibble. I’d certainly rather had it sooner, but I think I’ll be quite excited if I ever have the opportunity to complain about such a thing. 🙂

  4. MaryJanice Davidson said:

    The “third on publication” is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It’s like that old saying: you don’t pay the butcher when you cook the chicken, you pay him when you BUY it. One of my publishing houses switched horses in mid-stream on this policy: when I first started writing for them, it was half on signing, half on delivering the complete manuscript. Then they changed the policy a year or so ago: a third, a third, a third. I could understand going into it and finding out a third, a third, a third up front, but switching a couple of years later? Argh. I see it as simple money-grubbing on their part. But then, I’m grumpy this week. 😉

  5. Anonymous said:

    This happened to me. I was so annoyed I’d missed it. Because I was already published with the publisher I didn’t look for it. It’s annoying and undesireable because it means if they don’t publish it for three years until they have a space then you sit and wait for the third you should have already had…
    At least it’s paying royalties in the end though, because the other half of me – the illustrator – in educational publishing for children doesn’t even keep the copyright – oh boy do I hate this – and consequently refuse to do educational illustration.
    Penny

  6. julia buckley said:

    Thanks so much for the posts about this. Very enlightening for a new author.

  7. Anonymous said:

    And in multi-book deals, it might be even more divided than that. For instance:

    1) 1/4 on signing
    2) 1/8 d&a 1st book
    3) 1/8 pub first book
    4) 1/8 proposal 2nd book
    5) 1/8 d&a 2nd book
    6) 1/8 pub 2nd book
    7) 1/8 d&a 3rd book

    etc.

  8. Ryan Field said:

    I like to add: This process, from what I’ve experienced, is the longest, slowest in the history of business. From the time you make the sale to the time you actually see the money in your hand, you could start a small family. Publishing is not a business for the impatient.

  9. Manic Mom said:

    Oh Yeah! That reminds me when I was in Georgia this past week, there was a commercial on MTV for Jen’s book, Plan B, and I meant to email her to tell her…

    I saw the commercial, and was like, “HEY! I know that author! I met her and we email occasionally!”

    Yes, I felt famous by association.

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