Newsgroup Discussions: Percentage of the Gross...

Percentage of the Gross...

alt.fan.pratchett

This thread is slightly unusual


Subject: [I]"Percentage of the gross" - preferably whilst he has something in his mouth...
Date: 03 Jan 1999
From: Trent Hill (Mountaineer)

How much does Pterry actually see of the price of each book? From his view of publishers in M!M I wouldn't think to much... The first Discworld books cost ~$12 Australian and the latest costs ~$15 Australian.

I'd be interested to see just how much of that goes into lining Pterry's pockets...


From: Brett Taylor

possibly only as little as a dollar or so once you take out the following

Im not going to try to break it down into cash amounts but even the net amount PTerry sees is still not all his as he would have

to pay before he saw any real money in his wallet

Makes your heart bleed. Still, if youre shifting millions of units then even if you only see pence per unit it still adds up to a great big pile


From: Miq

The author is paid a percentage of the publisher's receipts.

Of the cover price of a book, something between 40 and 50% goes to the bookseller (if the book's discounted, this is the share that gets cut - which is why small booksellers tend to dislike this practice). Distribution costs are slight, so publishers' receipts may be as high as 50% of the cover price.

In my industry sector, which is quite different from Terry's, the usual deal for the author is something like 15% of publisher's net receipts. So that's about 7% of the (undiscounted) price.

This applies to expensive non-fiction books with a small print run. Larger print runs mean lower unit production and distribution costs, so the author's share may be larger - on the other hand, prices and receipts are much lower, so the author's share may be smaller...

You'll have noticed that books by authors that are out of copyright can be had for half the price of books by living authors. I'd guess this has something to do with the publisher having to pay royalties, but more to do with the publisher wanting to milk a monopoly on a writer's work while it lasts.

I'm not going to try to guess Terry's cut: that's nobody's business but his.


From: Nathan Fenenga Yospe

As [Miq] said, his business, and none of our own.

I know I've not been paying about $37 US per book just to line PTerry's pockets... maybe a little, as I do feel he deserves as much of the take as he can get, as it is his creative genius selling them... but mainly, I buy them cause I want them. Not charity.

I'm a little curious... I've gotten a couple of nibbles from publishers on manuscripts of my own, and I'd like a tiny hint at what is reasonable in a contract, for a first novel and for more established writers... but PTerry's way too out of my league to compare.


Date: 04 Jan 1999
From: Brett Taylor

can't offer guidelines

make sure you read any contract with a large magnifying glass as they can and will try to screw you. f you don't feel that you know enough get a good contract lawyer. Yes I know it will cost but could will save you a lot down the road. This applies to both publisher and agent...

Final advice make sure you own the copywrite. Don't sign it over to a third party you will pay them dearly and be careful of advances you have effectively to pay them back!!!!!


As both Diane Duane and Terry Pratchett have some experience in these matters, they were able to give more detailed advice to Nathan ...


From: Diane Duane

I'd like a tiny hint at what is reasonable in a contract, for a first novel and for more established writers...

Easy enough. First piece of advice, though: the moment a publisher actually says to you, "I want to buy your book," thank them politely, hang up (or if you're in the bar at a convention, finish your drink and run away. No, come to think of it, take the drink with you and run away), and start calling agents. Only the busiest agent would refuse to negotiate a sale for you when you already have a publisher on hand who wants to buy your book. (And maybe the busiest agent wouldn't be one you would want when you're just getting started, anyway.)

Second piece of advice: don't talk money to publishers. <python>Don't...you know...just DON'T. </python>

What your average contract looks like...well, something like this:

(a) It sets out what you get as an advance (short for "advance against royalties"). For a beginning writer of a work of, well, science fiction or fantasy (better stick to what I know here), this would probably be somewhere in the low to middle four figures. (Though mileage may vary on this, as markets differ: the UK market is different from the US one, and from others around the world. Some publishers pay better than others. Etc.)

(b) It sets out the levels of royalties. The royalty is a percentage of the sales of the book, usually paid starting a year after the book appears on the shelves (though the statement for that payment usually appears three to six months later, and every six months after that: and this timing is also determined in the contract. One of my publishers, a most unusual case, actually renders royalty statements once a month after a book has earned out. More on this shortly.)

Your royalty usually comes in two pieces: the base or starting royalty (say 8%) and the "rollover" royalty (say 10%: the amount you are paid if sales of your book go over a certain number of copies. Usually 100,000 or something like that.) So when describing a book deal to you in shorthand, your agent might say to you that you've been offered "three thousand pounds against eight and ten".

But note well here. You do not start getting royalty checks until the publisher has entirely recouped the cost of your advance from your 8% share. This is "earning out". After that, you get your 8% in those six-monthly checks. - Or most of it: there is also something publishers do called "withholding against returns", meaning even though they have sold your books to booksellers, they expect to get a certain number of them back unsold, and they're withholding a certain amount of money to cover themselves against those losses. (Let's not think any more about that for the moment, it's too depressing...since naughty publishers will sometimes withhold entirely too much, and there are ways to stop them, but it's a nuisance. Argh.) There is also an annoying practice called "joint accounting" in which, if you've sold a publisher, say, three books in a contract, you don't get any royalties on any of them until they've all earned out. Argh twice.

...Anyway, those are a couple of the major things you might expect to see in a contract (along with much else.) A note or two: as you gain experience, and your books sell reasonably, and if your agent is any good at getting you decent deals, you can expect your advances to slowly get larger, and your royalty percentages to increase somewhat. But there are special cases in which these conditions may not obtain, specifically "work for hire". Royalties offered for licensed works are typically much lower than for original work. Sometimes 1% and 2%, maybe up to 2% and 4% if you're lucky. Some publishers try to pay no royalties on licensed work, only advances. Some will try to make up for this by larger advances. Some won't, and are satisfied to let you take it or leave it. You have to decide whether this is something you can live with or not. Licensed work does expose your work to larger audiences, but there's no absolute certainty that those audiences will then (or ever) be interested in anything else you've written.

Those are the basics at the money end. Much else will also be in the contract: sometimes clauses indemnifying the publisher from any liability if anyone reads your book and does something ludicrous because of what they read in it, and sticking you with all the liability: sometimes clauses requiring you to participate in certain kinds of publicity work, and stipulating what that participation looks like: sometimes confidentiality clauses so tough that they make the Official Secrets Act look like wet Kleenex: sometimes clauses put there by your agent requiring the publisher to guarantee certain kinds of publicity for the book: all kinds of things.

I seriously hope that you get to experience these things for yourself. Meanwhile, the first piece of advice stands. If any of those nibbles go solid, if the hook sets in hard, call an agent.


Date: 06 Jan 2000
From: Terry Pratchett

What can I add to this? I generally get from 10% to 'er, more than 10%, but certainly less that 20%!', depending on the age of the contract; things get complicated, too, on translations and overseas rights, where the size of the cake is smaller. What is nice (now) is that many of the early books had real small advances, so they earned out on day one -- that means that Mort, for example, still hands me a happy wad of cash twice a year.

For a beginning writer of a work of, well, science fiction or fantasy (better stick to what I know here), this would probably be somewhere in the low to middle four figures.

That's about right. You'll only get more if it's a 'real' book full of angst and you've got chums in the chattering classes:-) Forget the stuff you read in the papers -- a typical advance is well under 10k.

One of my publishers, a most unusual case, actually renders royalty statements once a month after a book has earned out. More on this shortly.

I've never heard of monthly royalties!

there is also something publishers do called "withholding against returns", meaning even though they have sold your books to booksellers, they expect to get a certain number of them back unsold, and they're withholding a certain amount of money to cover themselves against those losses.

It's apparently viewed as a legal way to delay part of the due payment...

There is also an annoying practice called "joint accounting" in which, if you've sold a publisher, say, three books in a contract, you don't get any royalties on any of them until they've all earned out.

An agent will avoid this like the plague. It offers altogether too many nasty loopholes.

If any of those nibbles go solid, if the hook sets in hard, call an agent.

Right. It sort of sticks in the craw - you've made the sale, and now some guy just saunters in, chats to the publisher, and takes 10% or more. A fair number of UK publishers now have Minimum Terms Agreements, usually negotiated with the Society of Authors, which tend to be okay. But an agent should be able to improve on them (not so much up front, perhaps, but in the fine detail like translation rights; these are something the happy newbie won't worry about, until one day when she learns that she's big in Japan and is getting a 2% royalty...)


From: Colin Rosenthal

When Unwin published the Lord of the Rings they gave Tolkien a "profit sharing" arrangement whereby he got nothing at all until the book went into profit and thereafter 50% of the profits. This turned out rather well for JRRT!


Ross was doubtful about Diane's remark about agents.


Date: 07 Jan 1999
From: Ross Smith

Only the busiest agent would refuse to negotiate a sale for you when you already have a publisher on hand who wants to buy your book.

Er ... hesitant though I am to even hint at arguing with a Real Writer, but is this really true? I've seen quite a few writers give advice to the aspiring in various books and newsgroups, and all the others have been unanimous that no reputable agent would give you the time of day until after you'd sold (not just had the publisher say "yes" to) at least two or three books. (Maybe it's a difference between British and American practice? British agents are more friendly and/or desperate?)


From: Terry Pratchett

There is probably a difference between US and UK practice, but (speaking at a one-time chairman of the Society of Authors) I'd be surprised if you wouldn't at least get a friendly hearing from any agent if you had an acceptance letter in your hand. Of course, other factors come into play -- the amount of work the agency has, the type of work the agency prefers to handle, etc -- but I think they'd talk to you; if you are unpublished, a fiction author, and not a well-known thesp or media chum, then your chances of getting an agent from cold are small.

Advt: in the UK, the Society of Authors can be very useful -- and they're fairly used to getting calls from non-members on the lines of 'help, I've just had a novel accepted, what do I do now?' They negotiated the MTAs I mentioned earlier, and anyone accepting one of those, while not maybe getting the very best deal they could, won't get a bad deal.

Things seem to be a lot tougher and nastier in the US. The 'work for hire' deals that Diane mentioned appear to be spreading; they may make sense for a professional author, who knows the ropes and reckons that $X for a few months work on another spin-off in the 'Californians with Different-Shaped Noses In Space' universe is a good deal, but I don't think a newbie should go near them.


From: Diane Duane

I've seen quite a few writers give advice to the aspiring in various books and newsgroups, and all the others have been unanimous that no reputable agent would give you the time of day until after you'd sold (not just had the publisher say "yes" to) at least two or three books.

Mmmm...I'm not sure what to make of this idea. My own agent(s) agree that if someone comes to an agent and says "Such and such a publisher says they want to buy my book", any reasonable agent whose business isn't already so full that they just can't take on another client should be happy enough to make a call to the publisher, find out if the story is true, and then (if the agent is acceptable to the writer) start negotiating the deal. Though there are, I'm sure, agents who won't take on "first time" writers simply because they prefer not to, either because they think it's too much work, or for prestige reasons ("I only handle best-sellers..."), where they think that the news that they were handling a beginner might adversely affect their "clout". That's a personal thing, and, I would guess, the exception rather than the rule.

I don't know where those other writers are getting their info/advice. I guess that mileage may vary ... but the above is what my agents tell me.

Now, that said, what I would not bother an agent with is handling short-story work (and even now I don't bother my agents with it: the contracts for short stories are so straightforward that even I can understand them, as a rule -- if I have any questions I'll fax a copy through to the agent and ask for information/advice, that's all. Also, the payments from short stories are generally small enough that it wouldn't pay an agent to handle them anyhow). If all I did was short stories, I wouldn't bother trying to get an agent until the day I sold a novel...mostly because of the complexity of the contracts. Even now, after a number of years of looking at the things, they can still make my brains hurt. (Though there are occasional moments of amusement/wonder. One contract I signed within the last couple of years speaks of the control of one type of rights "in this universe and all others which may be discovered for all time". :) Talk about covering your rear end...!)


From: Nathan Fenenga Yospe

any reasonable agent whose business isn't already so full that they just can't take on another client should be happy enough to make a call to the publisher, find out if the story is true, and then (if the agent is acceptable to the writer) start negotiating the deal.

Thank you, by the way, for the advice... hopefully I'll have opportunity to use it soon...

[...]the payments from short stories are generally small enough that it wouldn't pay an agent to handle them anyhow.

True on all counts. I've sold shorts to a couple of minor magazines, and have three in the slushpile at Analog, it seems... one of these days, if luck holds, I'll get one of those in print. Payoffs really aren't large, but they're decent as supplemental income for a college student. ;) Both of the shorts I sold came with seven year rights... meaning I would lose the right to resell the stories for seven years. I don't know if this is standard...


Date: 08 Jan 1999
From: Ross Smith

I'm reminded of the publisher's disclaimer I saw on one edition of Harry Harrison's A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!. It started with the usual "all characters fictitious, no resemblance etc etc" stuff, but then added, "In this universe, that is. As for parallel universes, we make no promises."


From: Diane Duane

Yup. Well, now they've started trying to tie down our relationships with those parallels. Jeez, can you imagine what the lawsuits would look like? (clutches her head) Argh.


The following few posts aren't really relevant to the original topic


Date: 07 Jan 1999
From: Mark Firth

Ah-ha - a real life published Trek author! Congratulations Diane, I really enjoyed Intellivore. Encore, encore!


From: Diane Duane

(bemused smile) If things go the way they seem to be doing, I may be writing a Trek short story shortly for an anthology that's in the works. That's about as much encore as is planned for the moment.

But thanks anyway, and glad you liked that one. I always wanted to write a book about a monster that comes along and sucks people's brains out with a straw. :)


From: Nathan Fenenga Yospe

She's also written several children's fantasy novels I read as a kid and quite enjoyed, and several adult fantasy novels that I've just started a reread on... (sorry, Diane, but I am that young. I was five when I got into the Wizardry series...)


From: Diane Duane

Five.Five.

(more head-clutching, but of the milder sort) There are only three things these days that make me stop and think "Gee, I'm getting older". One is looking at the wrinkles on my knuckles, which didn't used to be there. The second is noticing the strange cracking noises the joints of my busiest typing fingers have occasionally started making. The third is getting letters and e-mail from people saying "I read your Wizard books when I was in my teens and now I'm starting my children on them..." This feels strange.

But there is a flip side to it. I sometimes find myself wondering whether the Wizard books, written between fifteen and, mmm, eight? years ago, are still germane to the experience of, say, nine-year-olds. What really helps is getting carefully scrawled letters from nine-year-olds that start "I have read all your books and I think Nita and Kit are cool..." And then I feel either eleven or eighteen again. So it all averages out.


Date: 08 Jan 1999
From: Irina Rempt

I was 39. Does that adjust your statistics a bit?

I'd heard of the Wizard books and always wanted to read them, but didn't have the chance to pick one up until I went to a role-playing convention in Canada and some of us got lost in a bookshop and there it was. Someone beat me to it, but I paid him half the price and he actually sent it to me when he'd finished; this is a guy who never keeps a book after he's read it once <boggle>.

I desperately want to read the rest, but they're simply not available in the Netherlands; I had one on order from the American Bookshop and it never arrived. Much as I want to support bookshops, I'm afraid it's going to be Amazon for me...

The third is getting letters and e-mail from people saying "I read your Wizard books when I was in my teens and now I'm starting my children on them..." This feels strange.

Have you ever read a newspaper article from someone you used to babysit for when you were in high school? I have. It's another thing that makes you feel your age.

What really helps is getting carefully scrawled letters from nine-year-olds

I can remember being nine, but that's more than thirty years ago, and the world was so different ... I'll try it on my best friend's daughter, who is almost fourteen. I don't know any nine-year-olds who can read English - perhaps I should have a stab at translating it, but it's so New Yorkish that that may alienate Dutch kids more than any wizardry involved. (The theory being that if you're reading another language it's easier to imagine a different country; it works that way for me).


Date: 09 Jan 1999
From: Lindsay Endell

What really helps is getting carefully scrawled letters from nine-year-olds

Well, while I may wish your books were around when I was that young, what would be even better would be if I could find them now, whether categorised as "children", "young adults" or "fantasy". I found "Book of Night with Moon" on ppint's table at DW2 and am still looking for the predecessors...


From: Diane Duane

Argh. (sigh) Amazon is your best bet...they seem well-supplied with the Harcourt paperbacks.

At this point, the thread "drifted" into a discussion of recent films


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