Pub Rants

Time For A Cool Change

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STATUS: I’m working on two different contracts this afternoon. So necessary, so time consuming, and always delightful when it concludes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? P.Y.T. (PRETTY YOUNG THING) by Michael Jackson
(of course!)

It’s no longer okay for Publishers to say to me in a negotiation: “we have a policy that we won’t do that.”

Especially when I’m talking about royalty structures and for this rant, the royalty structure for a trade paperback.

Just to be clear, there are three main types of print formats for books. There is hardcover–which is of a certain size and has a hard cover covered by a dust jacket. There is trade paperback—which is usually the same size as a hardcover but with, funny enough, a soft cover and no jacket. Then there is mass market—which is the smaller soft cover usually associated with “pocket” size (although some of them are tomes that wouldn’t fit in a back pocket or otherwise).

Today I want to rant about trade paperback royalty structures. For twenty years, the “standard” royalty percentage authors earn from trade pb sales from publishing houses has been 7.5% flat.

Why is that? Why is the trade paperback royalty lower than the mass market version where “standard” starts at 8% and usually escalates to 10% (typically around 150,000 copies)?

Trade pb has a higher price point for point-of-sale so that’s not the reason. Yes, it’s more expensive to print than a mass but it’s not as expensive as a hardcover. And why is there no escalation?

Especially now when publishing is rapidly changing and there is a movement away from doing hardcover publication and doing original trade paperbacks instead—even for debut literary authors.

So why in the world are we stuck with an outdated royalty structure that doesn’t match how publishing is currently operating today?

And it’s not enough to tell me, “well, we’ve never done an escalation for a trade paperback royalty. It’s just not done here at our house.”

Just because it hasn’t been done in the past doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it in the here and now. Publishing is not the same as it was 20 years ago so why are the royalty structures?

Very good question I think.

I’m out. TGIF!

23 Responses

  1. Janet said:

    Because they think they can get away with it. So the question is: can they? Or would it be realistic to look them in the eye and say: it’s our policy not to accept those terms. How badly do they want you?

  2. Torsten Adair said:

    “Yes, it’s more expensive to print than a mass but it’s not as expensive as a hardcover.”

    Wouldn’t the costs be factored into the price being charged wholesalers (and passed on to consumers as the cover price)?

    Wouldn’t the strip-able nature of mass market books cost publishers more, since the publisher is not getting the book back? (Or does it cost more to handle returns?)

    Isn’t the publisher making money (and not paying royalties) when trades and hardcovers are being remaindered?

    Do publishers offer a sliding royalty for number of copies sold?

  3. J.T. Oldfield said:

    Keep pushing! Knowing you, you’ll get there eventually, and then everyone will have to keep up with you!

  4. Tricia J. O'Brien said:

    I’m glad you are in the writers’ corner on this. I sure hope a change occurs.
    When it comes to purchase of books, I prefer trade paperbacks over mass, because they are larger format and better quality. It makes no sense that mass pays better.

  5. Aimee K. Maher said:

    I think an agent who is looking out for the best interests of her clients (and by association, herself), and is willing to get mad and fight for what she thinks is just, is living up to some fine standards.

    Disclaimer: While I do write, that wasn’t butt kissing!

  6. Rebecca Knight said:

    I agree with Joseph ;).

    Seriously, though–SOMEONE has to make a call for change, or nothing will ever happen. The publishing industry will stagnate.

    Thank you for being that voice!

  7. Andrea Cremer said:


    You are such a wonderful advocate for authors. Thanks and keep fighting the good fight!!

    wordver: pations – the horribly misspelled but more aurally-accurate description of what I lack while waiting to hear from publishers about my submitted MS 🙂

  8. Glen Akin said:

    You see, publishers are like most really old people. They can’t seem to change their old habits, and they see every new thing as a curse. Mostly. And when you tell them they’re wrong, they think you’re not smart enough or wise enough or worthy enough to step up to them and talk such “nonsense”.

    Which is why self-publishing will continue to grow, attain respect and eventually reach a level where it is considered lucrative for most authors.

    I’m not into self-publishing, so don’t point any fingers at me, because I know a lot of you are against it. Truth is, the state of the publishing industry at the moment is just as bad that I don’t understand how some agents, authors and editors can have the balls to sling mud at self-publishing.

    What’s more depressing is that it’s not the failing economy that seems to be crippling the industry (this rubbish highlighted in this article has persisted long before today), it’s the publishers themselves and their asinine old ways.

  9. Deb said:

    I don’t think “set in our ways” covers this, quite. If Kristin and the others were arguing for them to change to a 6% royalty on trades, they’d embrace change quickly enough.

  10. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    This is why we authors seek agents. You understand the business. For those aspiring authors out there, who think they’re above seeking an agent, read through Ms. Nelson’s post one more time, until you get it.

  11. Jen P said:

    Hear hear. And as you allude to the change in the hard vs soft approach – I have often wondered why does there have to be a hardback at all? Why is it ‘easier’ to get reviews of hardbacks? I know many people who don’t buy hardbacks just because they are less ‘manageable’ and heavier, and wait for paperbacks.

  12. Mariana said:

    Lucky are your clients, that have someone not conformed to old ways. Good luck with the changes you intend to make! And I hope it extends to all market in due time.

  13. Anonymous said:

    I do believe there should be a royalties escalor for trade pb (Oxford University Press for example, does have a trade escalator.)
    But trade pb do cost more to print than mass markets. And I can assure you trade unit costs are more than 6% higher than mass markets (the difference between initial mm and trade royalty rates). Also publishers usually print much, much smaller quantities on trade pbs compared to mm which drives the unit cost up even higher.