3. Contracts, Production, Promotion
(i) CONTRACTS & ROYALTIES
So you finally land that contract! Pop the champers! But perhaps you’ve heard horror stories about shonky contracts? Don’t worry, no reputable publisher will try to do you over. As with any contract, though, you should go into it with your eyes open.
The traditional percentage for royalties is 10% of RRP (recommended retail price). That’s good: publishing houses could easily drive it lower, given the competition among aspiring authors. In America, they do. In the UK, authors benefit from tradition.
You won’t change the percentage as such, even if it’s lower than 10%. But you can try for a clause specifying a higher percentage if sales reach a certain figure well above the breakeven point.
Advances on royalties are paid to you usually in three portions: on signature of contract, on delivery of finalised draft and on publication. They’re money in your pocket, but that’s not why they matter.
A small advance is easier to ‘earn out’, which makes you look good with your publisher. But a big advance guarantees that your publisher will make an effort to push your book—naturally, they’ll want to recoup that initial outlay. With so many books coming out all the time, any extra bit of push is invaluable.
A truly gi-normous advance becomes a selling point in itself, attracting media and retail interest. Ah, dreams! I read about such advances sometimes in the newspapers …
As for royalty statements: I know a great many professional writers, and not a single one can interpret their royalty statements. Some swear they’re on the brink of a dazzling revelation—but even ex-accountants never seem to achieve full understanding. The ultimate complication is when books are sold Sale or Return, which means that, after a period of months, a bookshop can return unsold copies and claim a refund. The publishing house has to hold back a part of the money from sales to cover the cost of refunds, and this part is also held back from an author’s royalties. It’s a mystery tangled in a perplexity submerged in a deep obscurity …
Publishing houses aren’t very fond of the Sale or Return system, because they’re giving refunds on thumbed-through copies that often can’t be sent out again for sale. New authors should probably approve, though, because the system gives an unknown more chance of making it onto the shelves. If bookshops had to sure of selling all their stock, they’d surely incline to play it safe and stick with established names.