Monday, 7 July 2008

Royalties: An Introduction

When a writer is signed up to a commercial publishing house, the contract that both parties sign will set out in some detail the terms of payment involved.

The first thing to remember is Yog’s Law: money flows to the writer. So the contract will specify how much money the publisher will pay to the writer, and when: if any mention is made of the writer paying the publisher, this is probably a contract that the writer should not sign.

The money will almost always be paid as a royalty on books sold. So the writer will receive a royalty from of every single copy of the book that the publisher sells, the amount of which is determined by the terms in the contract.

It is usually best for the writer if the royalties are calculated as a percentage of the cover price of the book, rather than on profits, as profit can be difficult to define: for example, if a particular book is selling well but its publisher occupies over-large offices, then those book sales might well end up subsidising the over-large offices instead of earning their author royalties.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jane,
Is it true that many publishers are not paying advances anymore, opting rather to just paying royalties only?

Jane Smith said...

That's not my experience, Debs: some of the tiny independent presses sometimes don't pay advances, and the Macmillan New Writer imprint doesn't either, but it isn't common practice as far as I know.

Where did you hear this? It's typical vanity press misinformation, so could be a red flag if you're in negotiations with a new publisher.

If you're reluctant to tell me openly you could always email me the information.

Anonymous said...

No, not my experience either. I've always been paid advances on my work, but someone mentioned it to me recently and I wondered whether this was the case. Debs.

Jane Smith said...

It's not a general trend in publishing as a whole: it is something that happens in publishing's murkier waters.

I'll bet you a venti latte that the press involved is a vanity press or a start-up independent.

And in the unlikely event that I lose the bet at least we'll have a coffee together.

Anonymous said...

I think I read about the trend to no advances on the Guardian website, maybe it was Random House or an imprint of them...about 3 months ago - vaguely remember something about how they would do this so they can take less risk on and push it onto bookshops to promote books or something somehow without them incurring the financial risk associated with publishing.....sounded dreadful...though I think this article mentioned it was for new authors and the like, not AS Byatt! :)

Luc2 said...

Like Debs and Gondal-Girl, I read also about this trend somewhere. I'll see if I can find it.

Just wanted to say hi, and thank you for commenting on my blog, which allowed me to find yours. Very informative. I'll check out all the older posts when I have time.


Luc2 said...

I did not find the piece about less royalties, but I did find this post on Nathan Bransford's blog about Vanguard, who instead of offering royalties put a substantial amount into marketing. That sounds like an interesting concept.

Here's the link, I hope it works:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, if not the Guardian, perhaps I read it in The Literary Review a few issues back...failing that the Sydney Morning Herald ( but I doubt that) but I did read it somewhere...

Jane Smith said...

Luc, welcome to my blog. I hope to see more of you.

I love it when people do my research for me.

Thanks for the update, everyone, and sorry that I didn't respond sooner. If anyone does uncover anything concrete about a trend towards no royalties do please send me a link, either via the comments here or via email (address: hprw at tesco dot net). Meanwhile, I'm going to take a look at this and I'll blog about it soon. Thank you!