royalties and the economics of book publishing

Forgive us if we sometimes seem to harp too much on money, but it's a subject dear to our hearts: we're as fond of having a roof over our heads and food on the table as anyone else.

Books are normally commissioned in one of two ways: flat fee or royalty. A flat fee book is what its name suggests: we are paid a flat fee, typically one half on signature of contract and the other on delivery and approval, and we never see any more money, no matter how many books sell.

With a royalty book, on the other hand,we get an advance against royalty, and a royalty that is calculated as a percentage of the price of each book sold. The royalty used to be around 10 per cent of the cover price of books sold in the UK, but many publishers now try to get away with less. This is 'efficiency': authors are expected to do the same work for less money!

We also get a percentage of whatever the publishers managed to get for foreign (including American) editions. Again, many publishers try to force this percentage down.

Including different editions and translations, we have over six feet (around two metres) of our own books on our shelves. As noted above, the economics of writing books are not what they were. Instead of 10% of cover price, publishers now try to pay 10% of receipts (4-6% of the cover price) or even 7.5% or less of receipts (under 3% in some cases). 'Pin Up' in the line-up above was a Colour Library book from the early 80s; not one of Roger's most deathless works...

A typical advance will be anything from a few hundred pounds to several thousand: in US dollar terms, between $1000 and $10,000. The kind of advances you hear about for popular fiction and political memoirs are not encountered in this business. This advance has to be 'earned out' before we see any more. In other words, when enough books have sold to add up to the cost of the advance (at the sort of percentages mentioned above), we see some more money. We are therefore happier to see people buying royalty books, and we plug them more enthusiastically here and elsewhere.

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© 2008 Roger W. Hicks