Misinformation Part 2

There must be something about the full moon that brings the crazy out in normally rational people.  I don’t usually do so many posts, but this weekend has seen a spate of lies and misinformation crop up in writing circles.

I don’t think that people intentionally set out to misguide others, but often things end up like one big game of Chinese whispers, with the actual relaible information getting lost somewhere among the ‘he said/she said’ and ‘a friend of a friend told me.’ The problem is that this misinformation makes it harder for people to get to the truth.

This morning I have been following this thread on Absolute Write (AW) http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=216896 and I feel that I really need to address some of the issues raised. Scroll down to the bottom of the first page and read on from there.

Now, many of the other members have already commented on this thread, and the information they have given has been quite correct. But let’s go through it again, just so we’re all clear:

#1 “The money flows to the writer, not from the writer.” It’s not the same in indie-pubbing.”

Several points here – the author is not talking about independent publishing, he’s talking about self-publishing – two very different things. Independent publishers are those publishers that are not part of the big 6 conglomerates.  Secondly, money should always flow to the author, even if you self publish. There are so many options these days to publish for free, and so many marketing options that don’t cost a bean that there is no reason for the author to spend any money, even if they self publish.

#2 ”An advance is a loan that the publisher can take back”

An advance is not really a loan as such. It’s literally an advance of the money the publisher expects your book to earn. Like getting a paycheck advance from your boss.  I have never yet seen a contract that requires an author to pay back an advance if the book doesn’t sell. In fact, the only time I have seen advances being paid back are when the author fails to deliver the book, therefore breaching their contract, and in that case the publisher is fully entitled to take back their advance.

#3 “Publishers under report sales frequently”

I get where this has stemmed from – authors who track their own sales and then don’t see how they add up on the royalty statements. So let me talk you through my royalty statements – I get one every six months, for the previous six months. In my case, if I get a statement in January, then it covers the period January to June of the previous year, not the six months leading up to the statement being issued. Other publishers have their own methods, but it’s important to know and understand how your publisher issues them and the period covered.

Now, errors do happen, no one is disputing that, and there surely are instances when sales are under reported, but the problem is that no one has any hard facts about it and so it’s difficult to prove. That said, it’s not the massive world wide issue that many people seem to think, after all, if under reporting was as big as some would claim, then you can rest assured that if there was a mass problem of under reporting sales that the professional bodies such as SFWA, RNA etc would take action on it.

In addition, it should be noted that different outlets use different calendars for reporting sales, this means that some report for the previous month, some for the month before that, which means that ‘missing’ sales often turn up several months later, having been reported at a different time, and therefore making it onto a different royalty statement. The big issue with this seems to come from the difference between e-book and print books.

#4 “You will owe your agency money forever”

Um, no. See, here’s the thing. Agents receive the royalty payment from the publisher, deduct their cut – usually 15% and then pass the rest on to you. YOU never pay the agent directly. If the book doesn’t sell then the agent doesn’t get paid. Them’s the breaks.

Now, there’s there phrase ‘In perpetuity’ which seems to cause some confusion. Basically it’s this, when an agent agrees to represent your work, then they represent that piece of work until the end of it’s life, unless your contract says otherwise. So, even if you change agency, the agent who sold that project will still receive their 15% of it unless otherwise stated in your contract, or unless otherwise agreed when you leave the agency. This basically prevents you getting Agent A to do all the hard work selling the book, only to shift to Agent B and them to get all the reward for it.

#5 “Option clauses mean you have to sell your next book to your current publisher”

Not quite. Option clauses simply mean that the publisher has the option of seeing your next book before anyone else does, and they have the option of making an offer on it. This doesn’t mean that they will, and it doesn’t mean that if they turn it down that you can’t sell it elsewhere. Many authors haven’t sold their second books to their current publisher. Often option clauses are tied down to genre, so, say you write sci-fi usually, but you next book is a romance, the publisher might have the option tied down to your next sci-fi, so they won’t even care about the romance and you would be free to shop it elsewhere from the off. Again, always check your contract.

#6 “You can’t write anything else until your current book is published”

I don’t think I need to say how ridiculous this is. Writers write and there’s nothing to stop them doing it bar taping their hands to their ankles. There seems to be some confusion with regards to this notion, and I’m not entirely sure where it came from, but I suspect it started innocently enough, with, for example, a publisher or an agent saying that they didn’t want to see/take on your next book until the current one has sold. Which is fair enough. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t ‘allowed’ to write. Now, this could also stem from ‘non-compete’ clauses, which mean that an author is not allowed, under the terms of their contract, to publish another book while the current book is being handled. Usually non-compete are tied down to genre and usually for a set period of time, but I’ll do another post on those later. Essentially they are in place so the author isn’t competing with themselves for shelf space, the publisher wants the author to do well, but they want each individual book to do well too, so it makes no sense to have two books competing at the same time.

#7 “Traditional publishers steal your royalties”

I hear this a lot, usually from self publishing advocates who are unaware that I have self published and traditionally published in the past. And this statement can usually be interchangeable with ‘You’ll make more money self publishing’.

Traditional publishers are NOT out to get you. They are not out to ‘steal’ anything from you. Honest. But let me explain the royalty break down for you, because many people seem confused as to how much they can earn:

Trad publisher: 15% on a cover price of 300 page £7.99 = £1.20 per book

(£7.99 converts to $12.34 according to XE.com)

Pricing the same book on CreateSpace at the same price (using the conversion above) will net you $2.37 or £1.46 in royalties on the standard plan. So, there’s not much in it really, a matter of pence. And while the self published model is gaining you a few pence more per copy, you need to offset this against the other costs that aren’t factored in.

That 20p I’m loosing to my publisher is paying for the editing, marketing, promotion and distribution of my book. It’s paying for people to do the business side of things for me, to sell the book for me.

Now, ebooks. – I’ll stick to dollars here to save all the conversion.

I’ll start by saying that ebook royalties are usually higher than print. I currently get 40% on my ebooks, which I’ll be the first to admit is quite high, industry standard being around 25%

Amazon offer a 70% royalty for books that have a price point over the $2.99 mark. The majority of SP ebooks selling on Amazon sell for between $.99 and $5, with the majority being in and around the $2.99 mark – priced to attract readers and also the lowest point possible to take advantage of the 70% royalty rate.

This means that for each SP ebook at $2.99 the author gets $2.10

For each TP ebook at $9.99 the author gets £2.50 (I get $3.40)

Again, it’s only pennies in it. But clearly no one is ‘stealing’ your royalties.

This isn’t going to be a SP vs TP debate, but I wanted to illustrate the actual economics of the situation and show that yes, you can make money both ways, but it’s not as cut and dry as people would have you believe, and traditional publishers are not out to get you.

In fact, no one is out to get you.

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