Pub Rants

Category: royalty statements

Agenting 101: Royalty Statements: Sales By Account

STATUS: Mondays are usual frantic but today was quiet. I’ll take it. I’ve got two submissions that need to go out by Friday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE CHAIN by Fleetwood Mac

I began with Random House’s statement because it has a lot of detail, but even RH doesn’t have sales by accounts on their statements.

So what is that? It’s the breakdown of sales for your book via the different accounts such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Indies, book fairs (such as Scholastic) etc.

And the answer is no, royalty statements do not contain that information. However, I’ve certainly requested that information when tracking sales for a certain titles. Editors have also volunteered giving that information when a title is doing particular well and we want to chart where the majority of the sales are coming from. Or, equally important, getting on an account who hasn’t bought in for a title—especially when that book is doing well and it’s in their best interest to carry the title.

As hard as it is to believe (especially looking back now), it took Hyperion more than a year to get Borders to seriously buy-in Ally Carter’s YA novel I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You. I know, in retrospect, seems pretty short-sighted of them to take so long. But Borders only had so much room for new YA titles and so Hyperion had to hound them about how good the sales numbers were to make them pay attention to this debut title.

Obviously now they are staunch supporters of the Gallagher Girls series but the break-down showed us what we needed to do.

We actually also use the breakdowns to see which Independent bookstores are really supporting the series and guess where Ally went on her book tour? A very good use of the breakdowns I’d say.

Agenting 101: Royalty Statements: Reconciliation To Print

STATUS: Although I’m not in Frankfurt, I spent a lot of today dealing with stuff from Frankfurt Book Fair. We’ve done 40-plus foreign rights deals so far this year. Bring it on! Sara, however, is hugely sad. She loved this project, offered representation but alas, the author had 7 different offers of representation but didn’t choose us. Unhappy face.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FUGITIVE by David Gray

Ready to get back into the tutorial? Okay, I promised rec to print. First off, what does that mean?

A reconciliation to print is this and seems simple enough to give you the clause that we insist on having in all our contracts so you can see what it is in detail:

Reconciliation to Print clause: Upon Author’s written request, Publisher shall provide to Author the following information as to any particular six month accounting period: (i) the number of copies printed and bound in each printing of each edition; (ii)the date of completion of reprinting and binding of each edition; (iii)the number of free copies distributed; (iv) the number of copies remaindered, destroyed or lost; and (v) the cumulative total sales and disposals; (vi) reserves against returns; and (vii) licensing income, including licensee’s accounting statements.

I will tell you right now that if you don’t have this information, looking at your royalty statement is meaningless.

Why? Because there is no measure in place to compare the info on the statement to what actually happened with the book.

Without the rec to print, your statement tells you nothing. As you can see, I’m not in the camp of less is more and giving more info just confuses authors and agents and wastes everyone’s time by useless questions.

In fact, because Random house gives this info as a matter of course, it takes the least of amount of time for me to review and assess RH statements.

Do I still find errors. Certainly. But then it’s easy to call the royalty department and say, “look, you have an error here.”

And they always reply with “you’re right. Let us correct that and get the corrected statement out to you immediately.” (And just so you don’t think this is an RH love fest, other houses have done similar but I’ve had to ask for the rec to print; however, if an error was found, they’ve corrected it.)

Analyzing your rec to print with your royalty statement allows you to assess whether an audit is necessary. Given that so many of the big NYC houses are putting limits on look-back for audit (2 years is unfortunately becoming a sort of “standard”), it’s more important than ever to analyze statements and see what action, if any, is necessary.

And I know most of you are thinking that the big NYC houses would never intentionally hurt an author. Call me cynical but if you believe that, then you haven’t been keeping track of the major lawsuits against publishing houses in the last 10 years. Lawsuits that have been won by the way. Now to be clear, that’s not the norm, but it has happened.

So reviewing and analyzing your royalty statements is hugely important. I’ll also tell you right now that not all agents are created equal in this matter. Some agents just look at the statement and lay back and think of England. Others have whole departments devoted to the care and analysis of statements.

Nelson Literary Agency? We hire an outside gun who has been doing reviews, audits, and lawsuits on royalty statements for 25 years.

And let me tell you, together, we have found plenty of errors that needed correcting—always in the author’s favor.

So, that’s the rec to print.

Agenting 101: Random House Royalty Statement

STATUS: Statements and more statements.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS by Little Mermaid soundtrack.

When talking about royalty statement, first off you need to know that not all statements from different houses are created equal.

Today I’m going to begin by talking about the Random House Statements. They are my favorite. The statements are at least four pages long (sometimes longer depending on formats sold) and always contain all the information I need to evaluate if the statement is accurate.

Now this is not to suggest that every other publishing house has terrible statements. That’s not true. They just sometimes don’t contain all the info needed and then we have to request the extra info we need. All the houses, in general, are great at giving you the reconciliation to print info on request—but you have to request it. With RH, it’s all there.

Love that. (Tomorrow I’ll explain reconciliation to print, what it means, and why it’s important to have it when evaluating the accuracy of royalty statements.)

But for now, back to the Random House statement.

Page 1:
For RH, this is the royalty summary sheet and also highlights the ending royalty period. Then the page looks something like this (depending on what rights were sold to the publisher and how many formats have been exploited—by format I mean hardcover, paperback, audio etc.)

There would be four columns for the formats listed:
Current Copies, Current Earnings, Cumulative Copies, Cumulative Earnings

Trade paperback
Mass market
Electronic book

Then of course the above columns would be filled with numbers. The rest of the remaining sheets in the statement are to show detail for this summary sheet so you can see sales broken down by the individual ISBN numbers for the various formats.

So the next page or pages will have six columns:
Market, Royalty Rate or external market, royalty per Unit or net receipts, current copies, cumulative copies, cumulative earnings.

Then of course all these columns would be filled it with numbers.

But the next page is my favorite at RH—the Print Summary (this is all the reconciliation to print info that’s so necessary to review statements). Three columns for all this info.

Description, Current Copies, Cumulative Copies

Reserves released
Reserves held
No Charge

Total reportable sales

Returns to stock
Scrapped from stock
Internal Summarization

Total Shipments

Then we have the Sales Summary by Market with four columns:

Market, Gross Copies, Return copies, Net copies
Spcl disct
No Charge

Then we have Rate of Movement by Month with three columns

Month, Shipments, Returns

As agents, we stay on top of print runs done, how many copies in print, what is Bookscan reporting. Does the info we have match up to what the statement is telling us? If not, we are going to have a lot of questions.

In order to grab the columns, I was looking at a statement where only North American rights were sold to the publisher. (In other words, translation was not given to the publisher and the agency kept them to sell separately.) If the publisher has World rights, then that detail will also show on the royalty statement.

That’s all I’ve got time for today. More tomorrow!

Agenting 101: Royalty Statements: Accounting Periods

STATUS: Cross-eyed from reviewing statements all day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OUT OF AFRICA by John Barry

So I have to admit that it’s been a while since I did some nuts and bolts type blog entries. Personally, I find them a little tedious as I LIVE the nuts and bolts of publishing every day. But I don’t want to forget that a good majority of my blog readers have not been published yet and may actually be endlessly fascinated by some nuts and bolts blog entries.

Either that or I’ll bore y’all to tears. Both are equally possible.

Since I’ve been yammering away about royalty statements all week, let’s dig in to this topic. I’ll have to start off a little light because it’s just now occurring to me that this might make a couple of interesting posts and I’m typing this from home (rather than from work where I would actually be looking at a royalty statement).

Obviously I can’t share specifics about any given statement (as that is client confidential) but I can certainly tell you about what is generally on royalty statements (or is missing) and what information agents end up digging for.

So flex your fingers and kick off your shoes; we are diving back into some Agenting 101 entries that I’ll need to bookmark on the sidebar.

Because it’s a little late in the day (and I really need to finish up a client manuscript read), let’s start with something simple.

The accounting period.

This is a lovely and archaic system that publishing houses have in place despite all our digital technology. I imagine that at one time, this sort of accounting period made sense. In today’s world, it’s a relic and I wish it was like a dinosaur and would become extinct.

The traditional NYC Publishing houses do reporting in 6-month increments. For ease of explaining, imagine a royalty period that begins January 1, 2009 and ends on June 30, 2009.

Six months.

Then the publishing houses, and this cracks me up, get four months (oh you read that right—4 months) to generate and mail that royalty statement (with a check if monies are owed). Why four months is necessary in this day and age is rather a mystery. Or maybe not a mystery. Publishing houses want to hold on to your money for as long as possible. (As an aside, I love Holt Uncensored and Pat Holt’s idea of revolutionizing the royalty system by making online royalty accounting available for authors). Brilliant—but then there would be no reason for taking four months to mail you the statements.

But I digress. So if you have a royalty accounting period that ends on June 30, 2009, the author is going to have a royalty reporting period of April/October (October for the June-ending statement and April for the December-ending statement).

All information on the statement will be for sales (in all formats) from that six-month period. So when you get the statement, you’re already months behind in knowing current numbers.

Got that?

Tectonic Shift

STATUS: Halloween is going to be here before we know it. I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be the holiday season soon.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNDER PRESSURE by Queen (with David Bowie)

Or to quote Malcolm Gladwell, we may have reached the tipping point. As I mentioned earlier this week, October is a big royalty statement month here at the agency. All the publishing houses have different royalty reporting periods but the good majority of statements come in February/August, and April/October. In the last week, we’ve received a ton of statements.

And it’s always a happy time because with statements comes money.

But that’s beside the point. What I wanted to highlight tonight was that I’m reading a ton of statements from different houses, different authors, and different genres.

I’m noticing one big change. The amount of eBooks being sold in any given accounting period has risen dramatically.

I’ve been watching this for years. Four years ago, any author that sold more than 50 books in the electronic form (in one accounting period) was blowing it away and mostly I’d only see high numbers from our SF&F authors.

Now I’m looking at titles selling 500 to 1000 copies (and certainly sometimes more) in electronic form regardless of the genre. Even this time last year the numbers were not running nearly this high.

The tectonic shift is happening and it’s all clearly spelled out on paper—although one has to wonder how long those paper statements will last…

Speaking of eBook Royalty Rates…

STATUS: Monday madness! Sounds like a new game show. I can’t believe it’s 5 pm already. Lots of phone calls and prep work for my NYC trip in two weeks.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEARTS AND BONES by Paul Simon

Which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, I just received a letter in the mail today from Random House stating that as of Dec. 1, 2008, they’ll be changing their eBook royalty rate policy.

Sigh. Here we go. RH used to have one of the nicer royalty rates in the industry (of the big NYC Houses that is. I think a lot of the smaller, ePublishing houses have more aggressive standard rates from what comment posters have mentioned.)

RH’s standard royalty rate was 25% of retail (as opposed to 15% of retail that most houses use).

Now they are moving to 25% of net amount received. A big difference. Now it’s still on par with what industry “standard” tends to be in New York but I’m still disappointed.

From the letter: “The new rates are very much in line with the ebook and digital audio rates being offered today by our major competitors. Previously, Random House’s digital royalties represented a considerable premium over the digital royalties offered by other publishers. As the economics of publishing in digital formats come into clearer focus, we realize we can no longer afford to offer such a rich premium if these businesses are going to mature and become profitable.”

I was tempted to add some commentary in there but refrained. For me, RH’s generous eBook rate gave them a bit of an edge if all other factors were equal. Well, that’s going the way of the dinosaur.

If you are a new author, chances are good you are going to get the industry standard in your first contract (barring crazy auction and publishers throwing around huge pots of money that is). And if you are an established author (with a solid track record that’s building), well then, all royalty rates are negotiable, aren’t they? eBook being just one of the factors to play with in the deal points negotiation.

eBook Royalties

STATUS: Finished up a contract today. Oh man, that always feels so good to get the final draft out to the author to sign. Contracts are by far the most time-consuming part of an agent’s job.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PROUD MARY by Tina Turner

As agents, we are constantly learning. Even old veterans had to learn the ins and outs of eBook royalties over the last decade.

And even still they are tricky. Every publisher has their own structure (which is a bit annoying) but there you have it. Also, there are two basic ways to pay e-royalties.

Some publishers do a straight percentage of retail price of the work (standard is 15%). But some publishers do the royalty based on net amount received. Not quite the same thing. Standard for net amount is 25%.

So you have to check the language. You might look at a contract and see 15% and think it’s all groovy. But 15% of net amount received is not the industry standard.

See what I mean?

Then there are some publishers who refuse to do “standard.” You have to know who they are and take it into consideration before granting a book. Sure, the percentage of
e-royalties is miniscule compared to overall sales of a book in print formats but who knows what the future might bring so you have to at least think about it.

Some publishers allow language that if the industry e-royalty rates go up in the coming years, you can go back and re-negotiate it in the contract. I’m all about that and get it in my contracts whenever I can.

Right now, after looking at my incoming royalty statements, it’s very clear to me that the best sales for eBooks are still in SF&F. No surprise there as SF&F readers tend to be tech savvy and early adapters.

It will be very interesting to see how this sales percentage grows over the next decade when tech savvy young’uns start becoming book buyers (or so we hope they do!).

HarperCollins New Imprint

STATUS: I can see the glass of my desktop. This is the first time in about a month that I’ve reduced the piles enough to have a clear surface. Now I’m off to do client reading like mad because I’m a little behind.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN by U2 and B.B. King

When I first read the news, I immediately thought of Vanguard and the new imprint model Roger Cooper is exploring over there at The Perseus Books Group.

This, too, is an advance-less imprint with some big differences. Basically Vanguard focuses mostly on fiction and working with PR-savvy authors who already have an established name and fan base. Instead of an advance, Roger allocates a budget of 50 to 100k (or an agreed upon amount) for marketing and promotion and then there is a 50/50 split with the author in profits.

It’s an alternative for name authors looking for a different publishing model.

For the new HarperCollins imprint, it’s not clear where the focus will be but I hear the emphasis is on nonfiction. So far I haven’t heard mention whether the monies will be used instead on marketing/promotion as in the Vanguard model. The press release only mentioned a focus on the internet marketing and not buying-in co-op space in the stores.

So my thoughts (off the cuff and will probably evolve as I hear and read about how those first authors do with this imprint):

1. I can see this working for established authors with clear name recognition. Not sure I can see the advantage for a debut writer unless he/she has a large platform.

2. One of the biggest issues in publishing is how long it takes to publish. Since most books take 12 months to hit the shelves (and sometimes 18 or 24), this is a huge concern. I’d like to see an advantage in speed for this imprint—to forgo the advance to get books out in a timely manner (which can be a huge leg-up for nonfiction titles).

3. Connected to this is accounting periods. With this new publishing model, I’d like to see a revamping in the accounting/royalty statement period. Currently, publishers release statements twice a year and thus hold author monies/earnings for that time span. Since there is no advance paid, I’d like to see more regular royalty statements so authors do not have to wait unduly for their earnings from this imprint (as they haven’t had any other book monies to live off of in the meantime). Otherwise an author could be waiting up to a year, a year and 6 months, or whatever before seeing any return on their investment in writing/publishing the book. Since we are shifting the publishing paradigm…

4. Will there be monies allocated to marketing/promotion? Will there be a dedicated marketing person or publicist?

I’m sure tomorrow I’ll think of five other things to add here…

Royalty Statement Time

STATUS: A new company has moved into the office suite next door and they are holding a wine & cheese party in about 10 minutes (who could resist?). I have to say I’m intrigued by the company. They work with corporations and architects to purchase art for lobbies, office decoration, etc. Sounds a bit cool I must say.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAR OF MAN by Neil Young

Statements come in Feb/Aug, March/Sept, April/Oct, May/Nov, June/December. We can pretty much count on at least one statement to arrive for just about every month of the year. Feb/Aug and April/Oct being the most common royalty periods.

I spent today reviewing royalty statements—which can make you cross-eyed by the end of the day as publishing houses like to cram a lot of information onto one sheet.

So what exactly does this entail?

Several steps to be exact. We have a large excel spreadsheet that tracks each project and when we can expect statements. A reminder in our Time & Chaos program also pops up with links to our cheat sheets (which is the royalty structure of a publishing contract at a glance).

If it’s a first time statement, one just needs to verify that everything is correct on the sheet. The advanced paid, the royalty structure, and whether the sales match approximately to what we have down for the initial print run and any sales numbers gathered throughout the year.

If there has been a previous statement, then we do a comparison, track the sales we have listed in our notes to what is on the statements, as well as following up to make sure that if a subsidiary right has been sold or a book club sold into, then the advance and record of that is on the statement as well. The cheat sheets are invaluable for this.

Then there are the issues that might arise and so would need conversations with the royalty department. For example, one of our statements (before the book was released) had a deduction of $2 on it so now the author owes more than the advance against royalties.

Obviously that’s not right and needs to be corrected and a new statement generated.

If there are real discrepancies, then a closer, more intense review is in order. Many agents (if they don’t have an in-house person) will work with a royalty review service that has expertise in doing a closer audit of the statements (for a percentage fee of the recoverable—which the agent pays—not the author).

And yes, incorrect royalty statements can happen frequently so an agent needs to be diligent with the record keeping about each project.

Here’s the fun part of the week. Several authors have just earned out beyond their advances so they get “surprise” money in the mail and smiles all around.