* Subtitle: Not Good.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit since I struck a deal with a publisher. Now, in the interest of honesty: The biggest thing, at this point, is that I’m being published by a house that cares about my book and knows my market. However, in the interest of further honesty: At some point, it would be nice to turn this book-writing thing into a full-time, sustainable living, and so while I am gratified and honored to be published, I hope you’ll excuse me when I also say that the economics of publishing hold more than a passing interest for me.


This is how the conversation with my wife went after I told her that my novel was being picked up:

Me: “Riverbend’s picking up the novel.”

Angie: “Great!”

Me: “I’ll get royalties twice a year.”

Angie: “Great?”

Me: “March and September.”

Angie: “Uh …”

Me: “But they’ll probably hold some of it against returns.” **

Angie: “Uh …”

Me: “It’s wonderful.”

It is wonderful. And Riverbend’s royalty-paying structure is an industry norm. I’m definitely not taking aim. It’s just the way it is.

My point is, there’s not a ton of money in books, unless you’re a King or a Meyer or a Patterson or somesuch, and what little there is trickles out inconsistently. As Hyman Roth said, “This is the business we chose.” For love of art and all that. But don’t take my word for it; I’m just some schlub who hasn’t cashed a royalty check yet. For a more established authority, look to Susan Beth Pfeffer, who breaks it down nicely in this blog post from June.

The money paragraph:

Royalties get paid twice a year. The publisher keeps track of how many copies of the book are sold, multiplies the total by the percentage the writer gets (10% for hardcovers, 6% for paperbacks), sends the total amount to the agent, who takes her 15% and sends the rest to the writer, who’s been going crazy waiting for the check to arrive. It used to be I never knew how much money (if any) to expect, but nowadays I can ask what the sales numbers are, so I have a far better sense of how big (or small) the check will be. This definitely cuts down on the stress.

Hey, no stress here. Just eyes wide open.

** — Here’s the skinny on returns. Your publisher sets a retail price for your book ($12.95, say). Bookstores can acquire copies at a 50 percent discount ($6.48). When they do, the author rings up his contracted percentage of that sale. Pretty sweet, huh? Well, for the bookstores, it’s even sweeter: They can return the book within a certain time frame and receive full credit back. Care to hazard a guess as to whose royalty becomes a debit on the next statement?