Yes, it’s time again for My Opinions on Publishing.
I saw this article on Gawker this morning, and of course rushed right over to Galley cat to see their take on it. (In a nutshell, there’s a new sherriff in town at HarperCollins, and he’s planning a new imprint. This imprint will “will publish approximately 25 popular-priced books per year in multiple physical and digital formats including those as yet unspecified, with the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution. Authors will be compensated through a profit sharing model as opposed to a traditional royalty, and books will be promoted utilizing on-line publicity, advertising and marketing.”
In other words, there will be no advances. The author will get a much larger percentage of royalties (this article at the NYT suggests 50%) instead, and Miller is hoping to do away with returns.
The idea of no advances seems to have set a lot of tongues angrily wagging, but I have to say, I don’t see this as such a terrible thing. I don’t know that I would necessarily want to sign on to this imprint (not like I’m being offered the chance, we’re just playing Devil’s Advocate here), but really, I’d be awfully tempted to take 50% royalties over an advance, for a number of reasons. One, because I am a nervous nellie and the idea of not having to worry about earning out would soothe me. Two, because it’s conceivable this arrangement would make me a LOT more money.
Let’s say for the sake of simplicity (because my math skills are the suck) that you sign a contract with a 10k advance–an average advance for a first book, as far as I’ve heard. Your book sells for $20 and 10,000 copies are printed. Your royalty rate is 15%, (the $20 and 15% are from the Times article).
So. 10k advance. At 15% of $20, you need to sell 3,333 copies to earn out your advance. You earn 3 dollars on each remaining copy, leaving you with a royalty total of $20,000. So you’ve made a total of 30k on your book.
Now let’s take the same figures but no royalty. You make $10 per copy on 10,000 copies. Um. That’s $100,000.00. To me the difference between $30k and $100k is pretty clear, and waiting for the money would be worth it.
Of course, these figures aren’t perfect and don’t take into account reprinting or larger advances, especially not the number of books that never earn out their advances. But if less books are losing money on their huge advances, isn’t that a good thing for the industry? Don’t we want publishing to make money and thrive?
Like I said, I don’t think we have enough information yet on whether or not this new imprint will work, how it will be marketed and promoted, distributed, all kinds of important things. But I do think it’s a little early to start panicking that the sky is falling and writers will never be able to make money. This actually seems to me like a solution to some of the industry’s problems, rather than a deeper problem. Hey, the only one of my books I’ve ever gotten an advance on is Personal Demons, and I can assure you that while the EC stuff isn’t making me rich–especially with the crushing exchange rate–it’s not terrible by any stretch; I’ve had a few fantastic months.
And while we’re on the subject of the industry itself, and (sort of) on ebooks and money and all that…
I know I made this point, in a slightly roundabout way, back in my publishing series. But I want to say it again. Quit gambling with your work. Do NOT submit to that start-up epublisher whose editors and administrators have no experience, and are basically the tech equivalent of Andy Hardy and the gang putting on a show in the garage. Just…don’t. Don’t figure you’ll give them a shot and see what they do. Don’t figure everybody has to start somewhere. Yes, they do–usually as interns at an established publishing company. As has been said on Absolute Write, “‘Publisher’ is NOT an entry-level job.”
The same goes for agents. Having an agent does you no good at all if the agent doesn’t know what they’re doing or have the necessary connections. So the lady setting up the agency is really nice, and worked in marketing, and loves books? Yeah, so? What has she sold? What is her previous experience in publishing? I don’t care if she made a mint selling ice in Alaska, because publishing is a different beast entirely. I swear it honestly makes me feel a little ill when I see people squeeing over their new agent, when the new agent is a housewife from Oklahoma (no offense, Oklahoma) who “really loves books” and so decided to start an agency. Publishing contracts are complex; even if the agent manages to sell your work, the odds that you’ll get as good a deal as you would have with a decent agent are slim. Don’t take a chance on this. Don’t waste your work!
An agent should have sales, verifiable sales to royalty-paying publishers. Sure, you can look at and submit to a new agent–a new agent at an established agency, for example, already has credentials simply because of the name on the door. An agent leaving an established agency and striking out on his or her own is also an excellent bet, provided they’ve made sales in the past. But Peg from Omaha who sets out her shingle and loves your work is NOT a good bet. STOP DOING THIS! Experience counts. Contacts count. Please don’t assume that because the business card says “Literary Agent”, that this person can sell your work. Chances are, unless they’ve got experience, they CAN’T.