Pub Rants

Category: advances

Earn Out

STATUS: Typical Denver. 75 degrees one day. 45 degrees the next. I actually wore gloves this evening while walking home from the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RAIN by George Winston

Generally speaking, the statistics are rather grim when it comes to authors earning out their initial advances. Of course I don’t have actual numbers at my fingertips, so what I can safely say is this: the percentage of books that never earn out is high—over 50% of the books sold (and probably reality is more like 80% but without actual numbers, why be more depressing?).

Beyond the statistics, there are actual several factors involved with an author potentially earning out.

1. The level of the advance. After all, it’s a lot easier to sell-thru and earn out if you only received $5000 as an advance for your book than if you received $150,000.

2. The format of the book. Hardcovers have a higher price tag so an author can sell fewer books but make a higher royalty percentage and thus earn out faster than authors who are publishing initially in let’s say mass market format. (Although mass markets have a better price point and thus have more potential to sell more copies in general but I think you guys get the picture.)

3. Royalty structure. The higher your percentages are for the royalties, the easier it will be to earn out.

4. How long your book stays in print. Often authors can earn out their advance over time so long as the book(s) stay in print.

For example, just this week, I received a royalty statement for an author who just earned out the first advance for a book that was published originally in 2005. The author is solidly midlist and has consistently sold steady over the last 4 years. The advance was a nice five figures and since the book sold well over time and the title never went out of print, the author is now earning royalties.

Ah, this is how publishing is supposed to work. An advance that is representative of how much a book will sell and then grow from there. It was hugely exciting to cut the check for royalties earned and I imagine that the author was even more excited to receive it!

Agent Joe Regal Weighs In On Niffenegger Sale

STATUS: I feel normal. No cough. No sniffle. I’m so happy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME by U2

This is very cool. Audrey’s agent, Joe Regal, commented on yesterday’s entry. That happens so rarely, I didn’t want it to get lost in the comment section so I’m posting it here. My hearty thanks Joe.

I have a Google alert for Audrey’s name and have been watching the response to the news of the sale, and since this particular thread seems to be from a thoughtful group of writers, I thought I’d take a chance and weigh in.

First, as Audrey’s agent, I very much fought against the news of the sale coming out. It seemed likely to stir resentment, and I already expected reviewers to approach the book with knives drawn before any leak of the money involved. For instance, since the NYT never reviewed THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE in any way, shape, or form, how could they say positive things about the new book and not look kind of foolish? In my submission, I specifically mentioned this likelihood and begged editors not to discuss the potential auction or possible eventual sale price with anyone.

Needless to say, word got out anyway. I tried to talk Motoko Rich out of doing a piece, but the leaks were so broad that there was really no chance. Thus my somewhat exasperated comments in the article, once I realized the article would run whether I participated or not.

Another reason to keep the news quiet was precisely because of the inevitable Charles Frazier comparison. It’s a hell of a lot more than a nuance that, unlike him, we sold a completed novel, a brilliant book that is a step forward for Audrey as a writer. It’s weird, inventive, original, singular, and not necessarily as commercial as the first book, but she has grown as a writer and handled the second novel challenge by pushing herself to grow as a writer, with new challenges and new rules, none of which had anything to do with sales. All she could control (as I noted in the article) was the actual writing, not how people responded to it. So she focused on that and wrote a truly remarkable novel.

That the industry responded to positively isn’t just because of her track record; people genuinely loved the book. A few editors told me, “this is so much better than TTW!” That kind of irritated me, because I think TTW is a pretty great book, but I got the point: editors recognized she had grown as a writer. So, combine a great book with a great track record, and you have the closest thing to a sure thing in a very uncertain market, and publishers were eager to pay handsomely.

The key takeaway here is simple: write the best book you can and then sell it. Arguments that “she could take her time to write her second book because the mortgage was covered” are way off the mark. She didn’t sign a two book deal with the first or second novel because she knew how hard it is to write a good book and she didn’t want the pressure of a deadline hanging over her. It’s hard to herd cats on a schedule. Maybe if you’re a genre writer, OK, it’s possible, perhaps even necessary, but otherwise, keep your day job and write a great book and sell it when it’s done. In Audrey’s case, she kept her day job for years after publication of TTW; she was careful to live in a way that put the ability to do her work her way, on her schedule, before any other material needs. She protected her priorities. That’s discipline, and she had been practicing it on modest means as a visual artist for decades before she became a writer.

I hope this is useful information. All best wishes for luck and courage to all writers here working to write the best books they can.

Joe Regal

Update 2:54 p.m.
Kristin: Joe’s not knocking genre writers as his agency reps them as well. It also occured to me that maybe I should add the link to Joe’s website so y’all can check it out.

Thanks for appreciating my note. A risky thing to do, but I couldn’t resist. And sorry for the couple infelicitous phrases and typos. One clarification: I’m not dismissing genre writers; I’m saying that the rules are a little different. For instance, my colleague Markus sold a new crime writer, Josh Bazell, to Little, Brown in a two-book deal. The main character of his first book, BEAT THE REAPER, is designed to be a continuing character, and the house paid a nice advance because they’re investing not only in the writer but in that particular character. They don’t want to spend money to make the character a star (never mind the writer) without having the ability to spread that investment over two books and without feeling like they won’t have some time to evaluate whether they’ve “grown” the series. So while it’s possible we could have battled to make it a one-book deal, it would have been counter-productive — it wouldn’t have served the publisher OR the writer.

So all I’m saying is that the rules are different, because the conventions are different. If you’re a crime writer, for instance, you’re supposed to hand in that next book a year later, maybe 18 months, so the house can publish on a consistent schedule and build the series. That isn’t the expectation with literary fiction. No slight intended! Especially from someone who, if he has time to read anything but his own books (he doesn’t at the moment), reads genre.

Shown The Money?

STATUS: I’m starting to, gasp, feel normal. Surely this is the end of bad cold?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU BELONG TO ME by Anita Baker

I just read on Galley Cat that Audrey Niffenegger, author of the very wonderful TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, just sold her next novel for 4.8 million.

Sources close to the negotiation say….

This cracks me up. If the publisher or the agent really didn’t want the public to know what a book sold for, trust me, the word would not get out. Unless a leak happened of course. (There are many tales of editorial assistants being bribed for info but I have to say, I never could confirm any of these tales. And I imagine all the EAs out there are wondering how to get that gig!) Regardless, either a leak happened or the parties involved wanted it to be known.

Now my blog is not about whether Audrey deserves said advance. That’s really not the point. Her first novel did well; based on sales numbers alone I’d say that advance is commensurate* with performance. Now it didn’t state this in the article but I’m sensing this was a complete manuscript she sold (as it’s been six years since the release of her prior novel).

[side story: I was at the 2003 BEA in LA when I happened by the MacAdam/Cage booth to talk to an editor friend of mine. She mentioned this debut author of hers so I wanted to stop in and lend support. There in the booth was the editor, the author, a large stack of galleys, and not too much traffic. I sat down and had a cup of tea and some lively conversation. I took a plain blue cover galley home with me. Yep, you guessed it. I have an original galley of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE—which I read and loved.]

But that’s off topic. Basically, and here’s the point to my blog entry, wait for it, I want to say that I think Audrey was smart. She wrote her next novel and then sold it. Actually this is all speculation as I certainly don’t know if that’s what she did but it sounds like it from the article.

Talk about significantly alleviating the pressure of performance for a sophomore effort.

We don’t talk about it much in publishing but I do think it can be rough on an author to do really well with book 1, do a big deal for a next book, and then have the pressure on for the writing of said second novel.

I know what you’re thinking. Cry me a river. You’d like to have such a problem.

[*thanks for the typo catch! I laughed when I reread my entry this morning.]