What is an advance, royalties, a platform, self-publishing? Some concepts explained.
What is an advance?
The advance is the money that a traditional publisher gives you in exchange for granting them the exclusive right to publish your book. Unless you breach the terms of the publisher’s contract, you will never have to return the advance, even if your book sells only 3 copies. However, all royalty income will be charged against the advance, so you won’t see any more money until your royalties surpass the advance.
How are advances determined?
The amount is roughly determined by the publisher’s best guess of how many copies and subsidiary rights they can sell within the first year of publication.
What are Royalties?
Traditional publishers pay their authors a percentage of the book’s revenue. Many variables determine the royalty percentage, and publishers don’t all offer the same structure.
A rough guideline:
Hardcovers start at 10% of the listed retail price and escalate to 15% after 15,000 copies are sold.
Paperbacks are usually fixed at 7.5% of the list price.
Many retailers are able to force publishers into granting them better than 50% discounts; these are known as “high-discount” sales, and every book contract contains fine print allowing the publisher to pay significantly reduced royalties against copies sold at high discount. The lower royalty is “justified” because the publisher’s profit margin is supposedly also reduced.
Most independent pressed pay royalties on the basis of “net” receipts, which means what the publisher receives from the bookstore. Most of the time, wholesalers, bookstores and other retailers pay publishers around 50% of the list price for print books. However, the independent presses usually manage to equalize the royalty situation for the authors by simply doubling the royalty percentages. Whereas a list royalty might be 7.5%, a net royalty may be 15%.
Paperback originals are much more common now than they were in the past. Publishers will only issue a hardcover edition if confident about selling a requisite number of units.
Digital sales have surged over the past few years and represent a large percentage of overall sales. Authors tend to receive 25% of the publishers net earnings on each digital sale.
Why have ebooks changed the business?
Obviously, it’s expensive to print, store and ship physical books. Because most retail sales are based on consignment, which means that stores can return unsold books, all books are printed at significant risk. Ebooks bypass all the above. Digital publishing has made self publishing much more viable.
What happens after you deliver your finished manuscript to your publisher?
Your publisher will take 30 to 60 days to have someone read the manuscript and make all kinds of suggestions and demands about what to revise or add. You get to decide if you want to make the suggested changes or if you want to protest them. It’s ok to disagree, but unless you convince your publisher to see it your way, by contract it’s their way or the highway and you may have to return your advance. The work isn’t considered to be accepted until the publisher says so.
Next, the manuscript goes into production (including line editing/copy editing, type-setting and proof reading) which takes several months. Your publisher will consult you about cover and title ideas. Then the book is posted in the frontlist of the publisher’s catalog (print or digital) which goes to all booksellers.
Will the publishers promote your book?
Will they pay to send you on a multi city media tour? No. Every traditional publishing house has in house publicity and marketing departments that will, in varying degrees, try to get you interviewed by relevant media outlets and send the book to prospective reviewers and bloggers.
It’s wise for most authors to learn how to be a self-marketing machine.
What’s an “Author Platform”?
Publishers want to see that you have mature and vibrant social media and professional networks, which need to exist largely in cyberspace for optimal speed, volume and value. You’re expected to receive high volume, quality traffic to your website and to appear often and early whenever your subject is searched for. Basically they want you to enter a few clicks and sell 10,000 copies minimum.
What about Self- Publishing?
Most self published books are Print on Demand or Digital, and at least 95% of self-published books sell fewer than 10 copies a year. Today, anyone can self publish anything at any time. That’s the easy part, but self marketing and self distributing is where most self publishers fall down the stairs. Amazon will give you a webpage, but that means nothing if you cannot drive sales to that page. It’s better to self publisher than never publish if you can’t get a traditional deal. Don’t be caught by expensive self publishing packages.
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, agent and book editor. She is a structure fanatic and coaches writers on how to write and get published.