Monday, February 11, 2013

Royalties for the Lighthouse Queen!

Royalties.  Sounds like something for a queen! (Hence, my title.) These post-publication earnings are the much-deserved payback for years of research and hard work to create a book.  Some authors call them  “the gift that keeps on giving,” because years after a book is printed  you can still draw royalties, especially if it’s a popular book. Even your heirs can earn income if they apply for and own the royalties after your death. ( I wonder if my family might….nah!)
Many people think authors write a book and then get rich on royalties. It’s a common notion. When I tell people I’m an author, they assume I make a huge income from my books. I wish I did. Some authors do—the NYT bestselling ones for sure—but most don’t.  Few titles sell more than a few thousand copies before they disappear from shelves and stores. This is partly because books usually aren’t kept in print long enough to sell in large volume and earn much money for their authors.
In addition, royalties on print books have always been rather small. The best I’ve ever done is 15% of the net, meaning I get 15% of what the publisher makes on the book.  Crunch the numbers on a $20 book and I earn about $2 per book. I’d have to sell a lot of books at that price to get rich. If I share the book with another author I earn less because we split the royalty. Then there’s the disappointment of “returns.” These are unsold books stores return to the publisher, usually with wear on the covers. Returns do not earn a royalty. If an author is not careful with a book contract, lots of sales can be considered “no royalty.” For example, library bindings, or international sales, movie rights, etc. sometimes fall under reduced or no royalties.  I can’t speak for all authors. This is my experience.  Perhaps hiring an agent would serve me better when it comes to negotiating book contracts and royalties. But agents are another story, for another blog entry....
Sometimes, if it’s offered, I’m better off if I take a book advance of several thousand dollars. This gives me some working $ while I wrote the book and wait for royalties to come in. It gets worked off as the book sells, and once the royalties equal the advance I can start earning more. However, I’ve had several books go out of print before the earnings equaled the advance.  Advances aren’t usually offered to first-time authors, unless they have a killer, timely topic. I earned my way into book advances by establishing myself in niche publishing with a popular topic--lighthouses. Even so, advances aren’t offered with every contract.
There are many erroneous beliefs about what authors do and how they get paid. I sometimes give pep talks to students and writing groups. They are always surprised to learn how much of my own income I invest in a book. Travel expenses, photos, and all the incidentals of writing need to be factored into the cost to produce a book. (That's me in the picture below at Sheringham Point Lighthouse in British Columbia, on a research trip that put a dent in m purse!) Seldom is there $$payback$$ until at least a year after the book goes to print. The first royalty is paid after the first full six-month royalty period, so if a book goes to print in February, the first full royalty period will be June through December. After that most publishers have up to 90 days to calculate royalties and send a check. So that first royalty check on a February book probably won’t come until the following year in March or April.
None of my publishers is willing to pay for pictures beyond a cover image, unless I share the royalty 50-50 with a photographer. That can be as little of 2% or 3% of the net—not much. If I have no photographer co-authoring a book, I take the pictures myself or scare them up on my own from archives or amateur photographers who want to see their images in print. (This is a good way to get exposure for your pictures, by the way, and many amateurs really are excited to donate their images in return for some gratis copies and the pleasure of seeing their work in print.) Museums and libraries usually charge use fees for their images. The fee is normally calculated on the estimated print run and can be quite expensive. My genre is pictorial--lighthouses--so I need pictures., lots of them. Thankfully, I’ve collected thousands of images on my own and don’t have to shell out a lot of money for images. If I had to purchase them from professional photographers or stock photo sources, I’d probably go in the red for a book or not write it at all.
With eBooks becoming increasingly popular, successful authors are seeing better royalties. EBooks aren’t costly to produce, nor are they the financial gamble of hard copy books; thus, a higher royalty can be offered. At this writing, I believe Amazon offers the highest eBook royalty—70%--on eBooks that sell for under $10.00. Barnes & Noble is less, maybe 40%. Those are good deals.  There are some exclusivity rights that go with these arrangements, but no one can go wrong marketing on a site like Amazon. It’s the mega-bookseller in the industry, the first stop for most people looking to buy a book.
This said, don’t under-estimate the marketing required to make serious money as an eBook author. I recently took an e-Book publishing class and was surprised to see how much of the marketing I would have to do. Without a traditional publisher’s help, the onus of reaching an audience falls on the author. It isn’t impossible, but my guess is I’d spend much more time marketing my work than actually writing. As it is, I spend a portion of my time working on marketing for my hard copy titles. Authors are expected to participate in the marketing process. They are fools not to, I think. (Thus, you are reading my blog and maybe will visit my website and Facebook page--all avenues for leading you to my work.)
A number of my in-print titles currently are being re-formatted as eBooks. I’m glad it’s finally happening! I own a Kindle Fire and love being able to access the big library of eBooks. I plan to produce some new titles as eBooks in the next year or two, so stay tuned to see those. My friend and colleague, eBook novelist Daphne VanBerkom taught me the basics. Her crime novels are selling well.  In fact, as I write this, she's in Mexico in the warm sunshine sitting on beach chair with her laptop open, writing another novel. That's eBook success! Check out her work at

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