Well, The Royalties Are Reasonable

May 1st, 2005 · 9 Comments
by Booksquare

Ever read an article and feel the urge to sit everyone down and bang some heads together to get answers? Or maybe take a hot shower? Then you know exactly how we feel most of the time. Macmillan in the UK is trying a new publishing model, one which will allow authors to earn a 20% royalty. We were kind of thinking, okay, we’ll go with this for a minute, but the end of paragraph (one which, naturally, was not explained as well as we’d like) stopped us:

If it [Macmillan] decides to accept a novel for the list, terms are unnegotiable; no advance will be paid, though writers will receive 20% of royalties from sales. Macmillan will copy edit books, but if manuscripts need more detailed work, it will suggest that writers employ freelance editors. According to notes sent to authors, such editors “will charge realistic fees and this will not in itself guarantee publication”.

If one were skeptical, and we recommend skepticism as a hobby, one would almost think, uh, how strange is it that Macmillan knows in advance that the freelance editors will charge realistic fees? Setting aside the definition of realistic, it does beg the question of how cozy the relationship between two of the parties in a three party system is.

Of course, from the publisher’s perspective, this approach is the only way to find and publisher new authors. There is no other option. They’ve tried.

“There are literally tens of thousands of writers out there – and we have a responsibility to help them. We can’t do that by paying a half million advance to every author [Yes, indeedy, that emphasis is ours].”

Let’s see. . .is there another way? Can anyone think of a solution that might fall somewhere in the middle, halfway between 500,000 and zero? We don’t have a calculator handy, but imagine how many authors could receive an advance, professional editing, and whatnot if each of them received 50,000. Same pool of advance money simply divided up in a slightly different manner.

Then, because the publisher has spent such a vast sum of money, albeit it divided into smaller piles, they will still feel compelled to recoup their money because half a million is a big number. So big that it requires action on the part of the publisher:

According to Barnard: “We won’t be spending as much on marketing and promotion as on novels that have had big advances; but we believe we can find new ways of promoting and selling these books.” He said the books would appear in the main Pan Macmillan catalogue and would be “very posh books” with ribbon markers, sold at £15. He expected them to become “collectors’ items”.

You know, after reading about the ribbon markers, we’ve got nothing. Except a bit of advice: in a joint venture situation, if one party suddenly tells the other party that they should be spending lots more money than they traditionally have, then something’s not right. Skeptical authors do research.

(Special thanks to Susan G; we presume her reappearance from the mists of time mean she’s turned in her book on time)

File Under: Publishers and Editors

9 responses so far ↓

  • Karen // May 1, 2005 at 9:48 am

    So some poor author, on top of his or her zero advance (zero!), may be required to hire an outside editor, at a cost of, say, hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars, and then, for whatever reason, if the book sells almost nothing, the author will be insanely in the red. Of course, the publisher will have lost money too, but percentage-wise, it hardly seems fair. It’s possible a given book will catch on and sell beautifully, and then the 20% will be a boon, but history indicates that the odds are against that.

  • Saundra Mitchell // May 1, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Is it just me or does this sound exactly like the way PublishAmerica does business, short of the fact that they don’t accept *every* manuscript?

  • Caro // May 1, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Huh. So, in other words, they’re opening their own branch of vanity publishing. This does not make me feel particularly warm and fuzzy inside.

  • Susan Gable // May 2, 2005 at 6:32 am

    Hey, PublishAmerica doesn’t accept every ms – only the ones they can manage to produce on a daily basis and cost-effectively for them. (g) For example, they no longer accept full-color children’s books – costs too much. And they can only run spell-check so fast, so they seem to have a cut-off of how many ms they can accept. (Please, for anyone out there considering PA, do your homework! Check out http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=181985#post181985 and ask many questions before you sign. If you choose to sign, fully aware of what PA truly will and will not do for you, great, more power to you. Best of luck with the book. But you have to do your homework first! So says the former teacher!)

    This MacMillan thing seems to me like a way to pad the corporate coffers with the paid editing, or with kickbacks or something from the editors they will recommend to the author. Whatever it is, it stinks to high heaven.

    Oh, and those 20% royalties? What do you think the print-run might be on a book like this, one that the publisher has no money invested in? I’m thinking there won’t be much of a print-run. 20% of 100 ($20) is still less than 5% of 1000 ($50). (Numbers simplfied to make our lives easier. LOL! Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a mathematician!)

    I’m also wondering how eager the bookstore buyers (the folks who do the buying for the chains) are going to be to offer these types of books shelf-space. Will they turn their noses up at them? I guess that all depends on how well they think they’ll sell.

  • Cantara Christopher // May 2, 2005 at 6:48 am

    Aren’t they concerned that this will bring down the prestige of the Macmillan imprint in general?

  • Brenda Coulter // May 2, 2005 at 7:33 am

    I imagine it will be a self-limiting program. They’ll never attract quality authors with a plan like that, so they’re doomed to produce inferior products that won’t find a good market.

    I’m going to chuckle once and move on.

  • Caro // May 2, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    Suan wrote:

    “Hey, PublishAmerica doesn’t accept every ms – only the ones they can manage to produce on a daily basis and cost-effectively for them.”

    Or unless your name is Travis Tea and the manuscript is called “Atlanta Nights”… 🙂

  • Susan Gable // May 2, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    LOL – You just gotta LOVE good ole Travis and Atlanta Nights. Why, that there’s some fine writin’. LOL. See, PA hadn’t reached their quota for the day when that literary masterpiece rolled in, so of course they accepted it. I know eventually I’m going to break down and buy my very own copy – the proceeds go to a good cause, and it’s just one of those How Not To books every writer should own. (g)

  • Saundra Mitchell // May 3, 2005 at 6:17 am

    I am a proud owner of a copy of Atlanta Nights, and I have to say it’s an *astonishing* piece of literature. Hee hee hee!