Pub Rants

Publishers, You Want An Edge On the Competition?

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STATUS: TGIF and blogging early as I actually want to leave the office before 7 pm tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY by Led Zeppelin

Then let me throw this idea out there before all of you jump on the 25% of net band wagon so as to be like every other publisher out there offering substandard e-royalties.

Three years ago when I had a hot project (as in I’m getting pre-empts, potentially going to auction, going to have my choice of publishers), if Random House was in the mix, I’d lean their way. Why? Because RH had decent royalties for eBooks (at 25% of retail—which I know doesn’t match ePublishers but for a NYC major, not bad). Obviously other factors were in consideration such as marketing plans, other royalty structures, escalator break points but I think you can see where I’m going here.

This was 3 years ago (maybe even longer) when eBook sales might have added up to 10 copies total in any given 6-month period (SF&F or major authors excluded).

I could see the change a-coming; it was just going to be a matter of time.

So RH, you used to have a strong leg-up—which this year you’ve taken away from yourself. I can’t help but think that’s short-sighted.

You want an edge on the competition? Well then, why are all you publishers racing to do the same short-sighted thing?

Tell you what. Come to me with strong trade paperback royalty escalators, solid e-royalties percentages with escalators, decent audio percentages (downloadable or otherwise), etc. and I’m open to talking about non-outrageous advances or dare I say it? No advance at all if we can truly do a shared equal risk on a no returns basis (a la Vanguard Press and Harper Studio).

Maybe I’m alone on this (but I doubt it), I’m totally open to discussing less on the front end for a larger share of the back end.

But what I hear from publishers is the same low advance spiel with no change on the back end. And you’re wondering why I’m not leaping out of my chair with joy. I often hear that agents are to blame for demanding crazy advances etc. but have publishers asked themselves lately what’s been offered in return? Given an alternative, agents could be persuaded to think outside the box. Not given any viable alternative, then we have to stick with business as usual in order to best represent our clients.

Two to tango, certainly, as I’m thinking that “business as usual” won’t suffice for either publishers or agents as the publishing model rapidly changes…

And since it’s Friday and sheesh did I get off on a rant there, a gratuitous Chutney-in-the-snow shot from this morning. She HATES wearing her fleece. Can you tell? She won’t even look at me. Grin.

No Imeem file available.

38 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    The industry is completely going to implode if it doesn’t change it’s unsustainable practices soon. HOLY CRAP I mean honestly. And then everyone makes fun of people who self-publishes.

  2. Kat Meyer said:

    Hell’s yes. Along with the numbers, the conditions need to be negotiated. It’s one thing to acquire digital/electronic rights, but if a publisher then just sits on them and does nothing to actively publish and market-or publishes a shoddily formatted ebook, then the author is out potential sales.

    And, while we’re at it, if an author is going to be investing their own resources heavily into the marketing of a project (digital, paper or otherwise), that should be accounted for/compensated by the terms of the contract. More and more publishers are expecting authors to contribute to the marketing (or be wholly responsible for it), and publishers reap the benefits of the author’s marketing and promotional efforts, but there’s no modification of advance or royalty structure to reflect that. At best, the marketing department will split costs here and there if an author hires a publicist or sets up an event. Definitely needs to be discussed before the ink is on the contract.

  3. Tania Shipman said:

    A lot of publishers are still operating as if it’s the 19th Century, let alone accepting it’s now the 21st Century.

    Time to stop burying their heads in the sand and hope this internet ebook thingy will just GO AWAY and start dealing with it.

    Really enjoyed reading this.

  4. Keith Schroeder said:

    Is that snow I see? I heard that happens in some foreign countries. Never happens in Wisconsin, where I live. Not like that, not in October. Please, be a nice agent and keep that white stuff there. Pleeeeeease.

  5. Jill Edmondson said:

    Love it, love it!

    No advance but a fair royalty (escalator) on audio and other formats – great idea! Or at least potential.

    Equal risk? Again- could be a great idea!

    It is definitely time to find new ways to sort out the money side of this. Too many changes in the last while and creative thinking is long overdue.

    Thanks, Jill

  6. Fleur said:

    I agree: I would rather reap more benefit (money) from my efforts to sell the book at the back end. That way, everyone wins if the book does well, right?

  7. Dana said:

    Amen! I couldn’t have said it better! As an author would I love a six or seven figure advance… of course…would I love an advance period? Oh yeah… but I would much rather have a larger chunk of all of the sales, small or large. I honestly think it’s a better deal for the publishers also… but that’s just me. Ahh… well.. we call can dream can’t we?

  8. Jude said:

    Great post.

    Re: hating her fleece coat, it might tend toward static electricity. Some dog coats are terrible that way.

  9. Tina Lynn said:

    Ah, but you are ignoring the fact that your suggestions makes sense. It’s an everyone-wins scenario, which in the face of greed, just does not stand a snowball’s chance in a frying pan.

  10. Cam Snow said:

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, if you went to no advance (or very small advance) and then offered a heavy royalty structure, what is going to be the publisher’s motivation to get it out in a timely manner? Or what’s going to make them fight for shelf space in book stores?

    It would be interesting to see the numbers how much a hypothetical book would generate if it was “mid-list” (yeah, I just went there) vs. a blockbuster.

    I do like the idea of higher royalties/lower advances

  11. Anonymous said:

    if you went to no advance (or very small advance) and then offered a heavy royalty structure, what is going to be the publisher’s motivation to get it out in a timely manner? Or what’s going to make them fight for shelf space in book stores?

    The motivation is the thousands in up front costs publishers expend during production – before the book ever hits the shelves. I’d say a return on investment is motivation enough, wouldn’t you?

    Why buy a book if you don’t have any plans to push it? Makes no sense.

  12. said:

    No advance at all if we can truly do a shared equal risk on a no returns basis… Maybe I’m alone on this (but I doubt it)

    Does equal risk mean equal profit for the author?

  13. Laura said:

    Well said, Kristin.

    Authors says this a lot… and get told we’re merely authors, we don’t understand business, we don’t know what we’re talking about, we shouldn’t worry our silly little heads over things beyond our ken, blah blah blah.

    And then self-published people come along saying, “Do it MY way! Self publish! I get ALL the profits of my book!” Cheerfully ignoring the fact that the advantage of dealing with a major house is their massive production, marketing, and distribution capabilities, so that I can -write- full-time, instead of spending 1/4 of my time producing my books and 3/4 of my time hawking them to readers. And I’d much rather have a reasonable percentage of 100,000 sales than all of 100 sales.

    But publishers so indeed need to be REASONABLE.

    And one of the key problems with net, in addition to the low percentages being offered to writers, is that calculating net is extremely complicated–meaning it’s also extremely complicated for the writer to figure out if she’s being paid what she’s owed. If a publisher makes 12 different distirbutions deals for a title, the author needs to know how each one is being calculated, because her net will be different on each of those dozen sources; and each title on her semi-annual or quarterly royalty statement SHOULD (but probably won’t) account for the dozen different inflow terms on which her sum total for that period is being based.

    When a publisher attempted to negotiate a net royalty into a contract with me last year, they COULDN’T ANSWER all my lawyers questions about the income sources and the different percentage deals on which my royalty income would be based.

    Negotiations ground to a standstill as my lawyer kept saying, “If you want Laura to agree to net, she needs to know WHAT she’s agreeing to.” In the end, they reverted to offering me the traditional royalty basis, a percentage of cover price. On that basis, ALL I need to know to monitor my royalties is how many copies of a title are sold (which, as anyone who’s ever read a royalty statement knows, is hard enough, since they leave out so much information!).

  14. Cam Snow said:

    Anon 7:41 – I guess what I was thinking, if I were a publisher is that I would take a contract out on a book, let’s say, that was rough b/c it cost me nothing to do so… I would then have the author edit and re-write and edit some more and keep them strung along, and then if it didn’t come in with really, truly, great potential I would print it… otherwise, I would say, “tough luck” and maybe I’ve helped the author get a better book, but maybe not, and either way it’s not cost me (the publisher) a penny up front (nor given the author a penny).
    It would also be a way to keep new authors from signing with rival publishing houses.

    Personally, I would forgo the advance if they committed the funds to buying shelf-space or marketing.

  15. Laura said:

    Cam, before embracing the idea of higher royalties in exchange for lower advances, you have to keep in mind how many houses don’t report roylaties accurately. For example, three major houses have been successfully sued for this just by people whom I know personally, and a fourth is currently being sued.

    Collecting royalties can also be a problem in dealing with small presses, which don’t all manage their monies as well as they could. (I speak from recent personal experience with this.)

    So much of advances negotiations for a writer is based on knowing that if you ever do get any royalties, there’s a reasonable chance you’re not actually going to get what you should, and so it’s best to collect as much as possible up front.

    A massive corporation that’s part of an international conglomerate is better at hiding income than an individual author, her auditor, or her lawyer are at finding it. One writer who agreed to a large settlement after 3 years of legal battles told me that sum was considerably less than what was missing, but they were settling because they knew they’d never find the rest.

    The problems involved in royalty reporting and payments is why writers want such big advances. It’s a way of ensuring we actually get paid, and that we make our deal decisions on the basis of KNOWING what we’re getting paid. I tend to regard my royalty earnings as confirmation that I should keep asking for bigger advances.

  16. saralee said:

    Let’s face it. The way the traditional pub contracts are written, authors have Vegas odds at best. With my last four novels,the house definitely won. By the time I added up my advances against my marketing expenses (a new website, promotional material, travel, etc), I was way in the loss column.

    For years I said give us deals where the publisher and author are partners in the process- let us join in on the risks as well as the rewards by taking lower advances. No thanks, they’ve said. They only want us as silent partners.

    Time for a change, indeed. Thanks for beating the drum, Kristin! My hope is that other agents will join the chorus, and then maybe we can make some headway.

  17. Gordon Jerome said:

    I love the way Kristin greases the…ahem…wheels of the inevitable future for new fiction authors–i.e. no advance, royalties only.

    And who’s first with an almost religious support of it–surprise! Nathan Bransford.

    And then the ubiquitous chorus of wannabes knowing no better than to hero-worship the agents think it’s a great deal. To quote a young Tom Cruise as he screams over the roar of an M-60 in the movie Taps:

    “It’s beautiful, man. It’s beautiful!”

    P.S. Agents, it used to be, existed to get writers as big an advance as possible.

  18. Curious said:

    Does 25% of net mean that if the publisher decides to offer the eBook for free, the author doesn’t get paid for any eBooks? Is there language that prevents the publisher from being able to do this?

    I think I’d rather not sell e-book rights.

  19. Anonymous said:

    Advances are necessary but those don’t need to be excessive–just enough to give the publisher an incentive to sell the books to readers.

    Ebooks are not developed enough yet. There’s no proven method yet of promoting them and it’s not going to get any easier when all of them use the same promotion methods. Ebooks need careful editing and more control over what’s accepted to begin with.

    Online markets need to set criteria for what they’re willing to list for sale within the literary industry. Readers have a right to expect good writing and that means quality in both the writing and the editing process.

    Dave Kuzminski

  20. Eva Gale said:

    As an author I would totally and 100% give up an advance in return for higher royalty rates. I’ve been saying that forever. It’s best business deal for agents and authors all around.

  21. Anonymous said:

    I’m going to have to read up on the whole payment system of publishing because it seems a bit confusing to me. I just hope publishers give authors what they’re due – it’s not easy writing a book after all and like everyone else, writers deserved to be paid appropriately for their work…

  22. Ken Baker said:

    I agree with much of what you say. However, if you eliminate or significantly cut down the front end advances, you’ve also cut down the publisher’s investment in you. Doesn’t a higher advance ensure a higher commitment level from the publishers? Also, don’t book sellers sometimes gauge how many books to order based on the size of the advance? I’m all for better profit sharing, but not if it’s going to weaken the publishers commitment to make the book succeed.