Monday, September 21, 2009

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!