Friday, 13 December 2013

Why Traditional Publishing Isn't Always The Answer ...

... If you're writing romance.

Grab a cup of tea, I'm going to explain a few things about publishing and if you're not published yet, you won't like it. (Because it will seem terribly negative and that's not what you want to read).

If you are published, you'll think I'm spilling your secrets. But I'm not, I'm just summarising what I keep hearing from all sorts of places from lots of writers all over the place.

Authors are leaving publishers. Because they can't afford to stay with them.
Publishers too are ditching authors after one or two books, because they're not becoming bestsellers straight off the bat.

Author Brenda Hiatt has been keeping track of author's earnings for 13 years and you can find her latest list by clicking the link.

Here's what I've been hearing. Author advances are falling and falling, and their royalty rates are painfully low. In some cases as little as 6% and 8%.
What makes the royalties even worse is they are all 'net' royalties, which means they are based on the price the publisher received from selling to the retailer, not the amount the retailer sold the book to the public.

For example, the publisher sells the books to the retailer for $1.20 (even if the retailer then goes on to sell it for $5 to the public). The author on 10% net (but more likely on 8% or 6%) then earns 12 c (or less) as a royalty.

THEN IT GETS WORSE.
The publisher then skims 20% of that paltry royalty to hold in reserve against returns.
ie, author earns 12 cents, but publisher withholds 3 c so it's really a 9c royalty.

It's happening everywhere and it's happening all the time.

WHAT ARE RETURNS?

Returns are horrible.
The booksellers of the world work on a 'sale or return' model. That means they buy the books from the publisher, at a very low price, sell them at double that price (100% mark up if you don't mind) and then what doesn't sell in the space of a few weeks is returned to the publisher for a refund!

And the next month they start it all again.

Which means once those books are returned, they are usually not put out on sale again.
In many cases they are pulped.

Logistically, an average author has about four weeks from the time their book goes on sale, to earn out their royalties and become a bestseller and hope like crazy they somehow break through to become one of those 'evergreen' titles that is always in the store.

It's not sustainable.

Which is why I know of so many authors who are turning their backs on traditional publishing and trying new things. They are diversifying. They are trying electronic-first publishers - where there is little to no advance but a higher royalty rate. They are turning independent - hiring freelance editors and book cover designers and formatters and releasing the books themselves.

Or, they are getting the rights back to earlier titles and re-releasing them as ebooks to a much wider audience.

When an author turns independent, they get a much higher royalty rate.
They can set the retail price lower, and yet earn way more.

For example.
I have the USA rights to my Ondine titles. I have put them on sale for $2.99
I'm now earning US $2.10 for each book sold through the iBookstore in the USA.

That same book, on sale as a paperback through my publishers in the UK for £5.99 gives me a royalty of around £0.24 p (which is about US $0.50). It was 30 pence, but then they took away the 6 pence withheld against returns.

It's a pretty big difference, yeah?

EARNING OUT

Is nigh impossible with such low royalty rates. Which means an author gets their 'advance' of a few thousand dollars and that's it. Sure, if they don't 'earn out' they don't have to pay back what hasn't earned (that's the publisher's risk to take). BUT, by not earning out, there's no second income stream. The author becomes completely reliant on the next advance - and the speed at which they can write books.

Which is why so many authors that I know are leaving traditional publishing and releasing titles independently.

Times are changing very fast.

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