Monday, November 17, 2008

A Milestone

Thanks for all the book suggestions for my father in law. I'm still cogitating on it.

The end of last week saw a new milestone in my writing career. A first. I've waited a long time for it, and I took the weekend to process that I've actually turned the corner on another stretch of my career. What's the news?...

I received the royalty statement for the period of Jan 1st to July 31st. (Yes, it takes a bloody long time to get these things - always longer than you expect.) For the first time, I've made royalties! A decent numerical figure, actually. If you've got a minute, I'll explain just what I mean...

One of the nicer things about staying in print and publishing over the years is that you increasingly can find your income coming in from diverse sources. Movie options and audio rights - handled by my agent - appear on their random schedule. But since I first signed with Doubleday back in 1999 they've held on to my world rights. This means that people in the Random House foreign rights department negotiate with foreign publishers on my behalf. They make the deals, and then they usually just bring me in to confirm that I'll accept what they think is the best offer. For this, they keep a percentage of the money the foreign publisher pays to publish the book in their country/language.

There are pros and cons to this. Many successful writers will tell you they gain a lot by having kept their foreign rights. Their agents handle them, and they likely have more say in the small details and negotiations. AND they get to keep a higher percentage of any deal that's made. Our agents always take their 15%, but if a publisher is negotiating the deal they take another 15 to 20%. So, say you have a $10,000 advance for Italian rights. An author whose agent handles those rights gets $7,500 from the deal. An author repped by his/her publisher gets $6,000. (Before taxes.) So obviously, you keep a higher percentage of your money if you hold on to your rights.

Thing is that not all authors have books that are going to be attractive to a foreign market, and not all agents have the overseas contacts to make those deals happen. My agency, ICM, does very much have those contacts, but by the time I signed with them I'd already agreed (unagented) to the basic aspects of my contract for Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness. I'd signed away the foreign rights to Doubleday, and at the time it didn't much matter. Those books did not attract foreign interest (except for WTD selling in Portuguese, go figure...) Basically, though, I got a slightly higher advance because Dday had the rights, and since they weren't really selling anyway that all seemed appropriate. And, true enough, in the years since these two books have just about earned out the amount I got in advance for them. They haven't earned royalties over that amount yet, but all in all the accounting was pretty spot-on. That's a winning situation, really, because many, many books never earn out their advance. This doesn't mean the publisher can't still make money off the books; it does mean that the author may not see money in addition that agreed upon advance amount.

When it came time to negotiate for Pride of Carthage and "another novel" I was in a little bit of a Catch-22. I wanted foreign rights back, sure, but I also wanted as large an advance as I could get. I couldn't know if I'd ever break into the world market anyway, so I signed for those books, let Dday keep the rights, and took what looked like a lovely check at the time. (It was a good advance.) Of course, this time around foreign publishers jumped on the book. Transworld bought it in the UK about two months after I'd signed with Dday - and, no, I hadn't written the book yet. You see, those first two novels proved to them I could write. They just wouldn't bite until the topic of my book looked more commercial. Other foreign language sales followed, and Dday began to recoup the money they had paid me in the advance. They KEEP the money from these sales until the money brought in pays back the advance they gave me. Only after that point do they start to need to think about cutting me royalty checks.

BUT... Pride of Carthage and what became Acacia were accounted together. Each book had a price tag attached to it, but when the revenues for the first book reached the point at which you could say that book was earning royalties the royalties didn't actually come to me. Instead, they started to pay toward the moneys advanced on the second book. About a year ago, Pride of Carthage had earned more in royalties than I'd been paid in the advance, but Acacia was hot off the presses, and just at the beginning of its earning cycle. So, no royalties.

Until now. Yes, friends, the revenue from Acacia has finally pushed the combined income from both books beyond the amount of the advance. From now on, every six months I can feel pretty confident I'll be getting a check in the mail. I'll never know exactly how much, but it'll be something. And that's an income my family had not seen up until this point. Lovely.

Oh, and I should mention that the only reason I earned out was because of foreign sales. Yep. On Pride of Carthage well more than half my income was from overseas. Acacia looks similar so far. Do I wish ICM handled those foreign rights for me? Sure, it would've meant quite a bit more cash at this point - if they'd made the same sales Random House set up. Who can know if that would have happened? And who can say that Dday would have published me as well as they have without them knowing they had all the rights to exploit? And how would I have kept my family afloat if I'd hadn't taken the money offered when it was offered? Ah, so many questions...

What's done is done, and I can't say I'd do any of it differently. What matters now is what comes next. New deals to make. New books to write! You can believe I've got some schemes in mind on how to make the best of what's to come. The fact that I'm now a royalty-earning author makes it that little bit easier...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

congratulations david! and thanks for taking the time to blog such terrific advice.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an aspiring writer, I find this look into the financial side fascinating and it' not something I've heard much about before. Thanks for sharing a potentially murky situation so clearly.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez David, I'm sure it meant a huge load a relief to you and the family when you saw the cheque(s). :-) I knew it was an intricate business, publishing, but man, only getting royalties after the advanace has been paid back? Now I know why I always thought that only people like Stephen King and James Patterson can quit their day-jobs! :-)

Congrats, David! :-)

12:22 AM  
Blogger Meghan said...

Thanks for posting this. I never thought about the pitfalls of being under contract and not knowing my full rights.

Congrats on making royalties though. That sounds so awesome!

12:46 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Good to know folks find the information useful. Certainly, there are lots of different ways to get published and lots of different details to different author's contracts. It's not done exactly the same way for everyone, but I don't imagine my version of things is unusual. (If anything, the unusual part is that I actually earned out!)

I don't know about other industries, but publishing doesn't make it particularly easy to see how they do things. They're happy to announce that some new author got a million dollar advance, but the details of that remain fuzzy for the general public - and for aspiring writers who aren't even just the general public anymore.

But, yeah, that "advance" is just the publisher's monetary risk in one area of expenses - author royalties. That's totally standard, and a lot of times that million dollar advance can be a career killer. If you get that money in your pocket and then your book doesn't perform to expectations you can end up looking like a failure. Strange, because you could flip that around and say if that author had received 100k instead and then sold the same number of books he'd be considered a great success.

Of course, I'd have taken the million dollars at whatever point it was offered, but I'm aware looking back that everything has unfolded for the best. I can look to future book deals and know that my advance payments are based on a steadily growing track record. That's a good place to be, even if it took longer than I would have wanted 10 years ago.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

It is odd to think that the quality of one's writing has only a marginal relationship with the success one gets from that writing.

It can make some people think they should be writing books that are less "craft" and more "workmanlike", just to get enough product out to eventually maybe make some money off of them.

At any rate, this is very welcome info. I have been paying attention to the way the publishing industry "works" for a while, and this just illustrates some things I was marginally aware of.

7:21 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


2:22 AM  
Blogger Andrea Eames said...

This was a really interesting read - thanks!

3:44 PM  

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