Can You Tell My Earnings From My Amazon Sales? Spoiler: Nope, Not at All

There was thread over at Metafilter this week talking about book sales and author earnings, including a link to a study that purported to chart author earnings, based on sales at Amazon.  I have to admit I had a bit of a giggle over it. Not because it was attempting to guess author incomes, which is fine, but because the methodology for estimating those earnings came almost entirely from trying to estimate sales of the authors’ books on Amazon, and extrapolating income from there.

Here’s the thing: For non-self-published authors, the correlation between annual book sales and annual “earnings” as a writer can be fairly low. As in, sometimes there is no correlation at all.

Confusing? Think how we feel!

But let me explain.

So, I’m a writer who works primarily with a “Big Five” publisher (Tor Books, which is part of Macmillan). For each of my books, I’m given an advance, which in my case is paid in four separate installments — when I sign the contract, when I turn in the manuscript and it’s accepted, when the book is published in hardcover and when the book is published in paperback. This is fairly typical for most writers working with a “traditional” publisher.

Once the advance is disbursed, my publisher owes me nothing until and unless my book “earns out” — which is to say, the amount I nominally earn for the sale of each unit (usually between 10% and 15% of each hardcover, and 25% of the net for eBook) exceeds cumulatively the amount I was offered for the advance. Once that happens, my publisher owes me for each book sold, and that amount is then usually disbursed semiannually…

usually. There could be other complicating factors, such as if the royalties of the books are “basketed” (meaning the contract was for two or more books, and the royalties are not disbursed until the advance amount for every book in the “basket” is earned out), or if some percentage of the royalties are held back as a “reserve against returns” (meaning that some books listed as sold/distributed are actually returned, so the publisher holds back royalties for a payment period to compensate).

Bear in mind that most publishers try to offer as an advance a sum of money they think the book will earn, either over the first year in hardcover, or across the entire sales run of the work. Which means that if the publisher has guessed correctly, it will never have to shell out royalties. Sometimes they guess poorly, which means either they paid too much for an advance or not enough; in the latter case, that’s when the royalty checks come (please note that even if a publisher pays “too much” and the advance isn’t earned out, it doesn’t mean the book wasn’t profitable for the publisher — their bottom line is not necessarily heavily correlated to the author’s advance — nor does the author have to pay it back).

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a non-self-pubbed author, often none of their annual earnings from a book are directly related to how many of those books sell in a year (or any other specified time frame). In fact, depending on how the advance is paid out, three-quarters or more (even all!) of the author’s earnings from a book are disbursed before the book has sold a single unit.

Like so:

Book is contracted: 40% of the advance (“signing installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0.

Book is turned in and accepted: 20% of the advance (“delivery and acceptance installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0

Book is published in hardcover: 20% of the advance (“hardcover installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0 (there may be pre-orders, but the sales don’t usually start being counted until this time).

Book is published in paperback: Final 20% of the advance goes to author. Books sold to date: Hopefully some! But even if the number is zero, the final installment gets paid out (if so few books are sold that the publisher foregoes the paperback release, there’s still usually the contractual obligation to pay out).

Note these advances can be paid out over more than one year — I once got a final installment for an advance roughly six years after I got the first installment (it was a complicated situation). Likewise, once the book starts selling, it can be years — if at all — before the author starts earning royalties, and even then, thanks to the reserve against returns, what the author gets in those semi-annual royalty checks is not 1:1 with sales for the period the check covers (note: this sometimes works to the benefit of the author). Also note: Those semi-annual checks? Often cover a period of time located in the previous fiscal or calendar year.

All of which is to say: For a “traditionally published” author, at almost no point do what an author’s yearly earnings for a book directly correspond to how the book is selling in that particular year.

(Is this bad? No, but it needs paying attention to. Authors tend to love advances because they’re not directly tied to sales — it’s money up front that doesn’t have to be immediately recouped and can help tide the author over during the writing and the wait for publication. But it also means, again, that it can be years — if at all — before money from royalties comes your way. Authors need to be aware of that.)

To move the discussion to me directly for a moment, if someone tried to guess my annual earnings based on my yearly unit sales on Amazon (or via Bookscan, or anywhere else for that matter), they would be likely be, well, wildly wrong. At any moment I have several books at various stages of advance disbursement — some contracted, some completed but not published, some published in hardcover and some published in paperback — a few all paid out in advances but not earned out, and several earned out and paying royalties.

Add to that audio sales (another set of advances and royalties) and foreign sales (yet another) and ancillary income like film/tv options (which are not tied to sales at all, but sales help get things optioned) and so on. Also note that not all my sales provide royalties at the same rate — a lot will depend on format and how many were previously sold (if they are in print or physical audio), unit price (if they are eBook or audio files), and on other various bits that are in contracts but not necessarily disclosed to the wide world. Oh, and don’t forget my short fiction and non-fiction!

Basically, my yearly earnings as an author are a delightful mess. I’m glad I have an accountant and an agent and a very smart life partner to help me stay on top of them. These earnings have almost nothing to do with unit sales in any calendar year, and more to the point, never have, even when I was a newbie book writer with a single book contract to my name. I signed my first book contract in 1999; since then I have yet to have a year when my earnings from being an author approach anything like a 1:1 parity with my book sales in that same year.

Does this matter? Well, it matters if you are, for example, trying to extrapolate what “traditionally published authors” make based on their annual sales, and are then comparing those “earnings” to the earnings of self-published authors. It’s ignoring that these are entirely different distribution systems which have implications for annual earnings. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other, but a direct comparison will give you poor results. Note also that’s true going the other way — applying “traditional publishing” income models to self-published authors will very likely tell you incorrect things about how they’re doing economically in any one year.

(And as a further note: Do likewise be aware of the caveats for anyone trying to extrapolate self-pub/indie annual author earnings from Amazon as well. It misses direct sales, which for authors who ply the convention circuits can be significant, and also may not fully incorporate how Amazon deals with payments in its subscription models, which are handled rather differently than actual sales, and which (unless it’s changed very recently) come from a pre-determined pot of payment rather than a straight percentage of sales. Hey, it’s complicated! Almost as complicated as the “traditional” model.)

Here’s one thing I suspect is true: It’s possible to make money (sometimes a lot of it) as a traditionally published author, or as an self-published/indie author — or as both, either in turn or simultaneously, since, as it happens, there’s no deep ideological chasm between the two, and generally speaking an author can do one or the other depending on their project needs, or their own (likewise, it’s possible to make almost no money either way, too. Alas). It’s not an either-or proposition.

But yes: Here is a grain of salt. Please apply it to anyone who tells you they know how much any author (traditional or self-pub/indie, but especially traditional) is earning in any year, based on Amazon sales, even if they’re  limiting it to Amazon sales. They’re just guessing, and you have no idea how far off their guesses are. And neither, I strongly suspect, do they. Only the actual authors know, and most of the time, they’re not telling.

47 Comments on “Can You Tell My Earnings From My Amazon Sales? Spoiler: Nope, Not at All”

  1. Before anyone asks, this has nothing to do with the excitable raft of boys who like to say I don’t sell anything. This is another group entirely, who I think have positive aims but whose work I sometimes find… slightly handwavy.

    Also, please do not try to make this into an “indies vs. traditional pub” comment thread. There are fab writers making money (and not making money) in both of these models and I also find the “us vs. them” nonsense tiring at this point. I like when authors make money from their work! How they make it interests me less (actually it interests me a lot, but not as an ideological position).

    Also also, for those wondering what I do make as an author, I’ll give the same answer as I have for a while now: Enough that Congress keeps trying to lower my tax rates to the general expense of the rest of you. My tax rates are bearable, folks. You don’t have to help me with ’em, thanks.

  2. I love these behind-the-scenes reality checks at the business end of writing. These do a lot of good helping people manage expectations, if they are willing to listen and learn, and I find they are some of the most comprehensive and usable posts you write (other than your social justice posts, which are uniformly thoughtful and compassionate). Thank you.

  3. I’ve always felt it’s a misdirection to focus on units sold. That’s old school, sort of like “reporting stores” for the NY Times list.
    It’s really old school when it comes to eBooks. Earnings on an ebook sale can vary widely. This is particularly true for indie authors. But also, no one really knows what a trad author has negotiated in their contract. We don’t know what the royalty rates are, subrights included, discounts, basket accounting, yada yada I had the bisque.
    Publishers marketplace is a great place to see misdirection in reporting. First, there are four broad categories a deal can be in. And it’s based on what an agent says the deal was. I know one major agent who flat out lies to make his clients look better. I know this because I saw what he reported and I saw the actual contracts.
    I remember an author breaking into tears at lunch at the Maui Writers Conference years ago when I started talking about actual numbers in a contract– it was a forbidden topic among authors. Thus everyone always feels someone else is getting the good deal.
    I really don’t care what other authors make; because I also don’t care how they spend their money or live their life. Appearances can be deceiving.
    The bottom line is every author needs to focus on their own careers. When I was starting out, I was pretty happy to make enough to live in a one room un-heated apartment above a garage and be able to write and only take one or two gunslinging ADSW tours in Special Forces a year to make up the difference. I’m pretty happy now to be able to have my backlist in print and be earning off it every day. To be able to write whatever I want, as quickly as I want, and make a living off of it.
    I don’t count units sold. I record checks deposited.
    Nothing but good times ahead.

  4. I did not know the advance was 4 stages. (I think, anyway; maybe I had only gotten detail levels from paperback authors, which would explain that gap.)

    What happens if the paperback isn’t printed? (Does it ever happen that the hardcover does well and the paperback isn’t published?)

  5. Sean Eric Fagen:

    It’s rare for a book that’s done well in hardcover not to get a paperback printing; that leaving money on the table. Although these days it’s more common that the publisher will skip mass market paperbacks and publish in the larger/slightly more expensive trade paperbook format.

    (exception here would be hardcovers that are a limited edition.)

  6. They can extrapolate until the cows come home, but they will get better results sacrificing a black chicken in a dark forest and examining its entrails. Amazon sales account for a different percentage of total sales for each individual author for each individual title. For some people, Amazon sales comprise 50%, for others 80% of their total ebook sales per title, and we won’t even comment on print.

    For this past year, my husband and I had two traditionally published contracts and the payments guaranteed under those contracts; royalties from two publishing houses; our self-published work, which is in constant flux due to figuring out which promotions and discounts we decide to go with; some of the traditionally published series titles as self-pub titles in the territories for which we still hold rights and which have to be accounted differently; audio earnings, both traditional and self-published; option for film, etc. I can tell you how much money we have earned so far. (I know this because we are trying to buy a house.) But I have no idea how much money we will earn by the end of the year. I am not going to even guess.

    So, no, one can’t tell anything about the total earnings by examining Amazon sales. The only sure way to determine total income is by looking at the bank deposit slip.

  7. Amazon’s payment scheme for their subscription service (Kindle Unlimited) uses the same model as Spotify. They take a fixed percentage of their revenue from the service and divide it up proportionally among all the Kindle Unlimited books based on how many times they are read. (This applies to e-books published by Amazon, not to the small number of traditionally published books that are available through Kindle Unlimited; those have separate contracts that Amazon has not disclosed.)

    It’s actually a bit more complicated that that because it’s based on page reads – about half a cent per page, though the rate has been on a downward slide in 2017. You get less if the reader doesn’t read the entire book, and a complete read of a longer book pays more than a shorter book. At least 10% of the book has to be read for it to count at all, so you get nothing if somebody only samples a few pages. And the payout for one reader of one title is capped at 3,000 page reads, so if somebody repeatedly rereads your book you eventually stop getting paid for additional reading by that person.


  8. As a reader, I hope that your income is sufficient to 1. Support you and those you love, and 2. Allow you to keep writing full time. Since this appears to be the case, my concern over your income is at an end. I’m not sure why so many people, particularly your detractors, think they ought to be minding your business!

  9. I think my takeaway from that description is to be even more grateful that writers are willing to navigate the complexities and ambiguities of such arrangements and still create amazing things for us to read. The description is fascinating on a theoretical level, but I can’t imagine living with that much uncertainty about where the next installment of revenue is coming from and when it will arrive. It would drive me batty in a heartbeat, and I hear tell that is not a productive state of mind for creative work.

    TL;DR. I don’t care how much you make, Mr. Scalzi, beyond a general hope that it will continue to be enough to convince you to keep writing. And I, too, am very glad that you have a good accountant, a good agent, and a superlative life partner to watch out for you.

  10. If it all comes back to only the publisher knows the exact sales figures, do you think the publishing industry as whole is trustworthy? Obviously you trust Tor or you wouldn’t have signed a long term deal, but with all the horror stories over the years about music/movies I still gotta wonder.

  11. I was delighted that I knew this answer, but I love these types of posts of yours because you ARE sharing the business side of things, and it’s interesting.

  12. Dear John,

    Morbid curiosity has me wanting to read that study. Do you (or someone else here) have a link? My Google-fu is insufficient.

    My *impression* (and someone on the publishing side of the business please correct me if I’m wrong) is that the old rule of thumb that the advance should match the first year/printing/edition sales or it’s not a money-maker is still a good rule for small advances (like low five figures). As the size of the advance (and the run) goes up it drops off. If you’re in the best-seller league, the advance might be 2-3 times as much as that, and everyone will still be happy with the bottom line. Although, of course, everyone is much happier if the book earns out its advance in the first whatever, ’cause… ka’ching!

    pax / Ctein

  13. I read Issac Asimov’s biography many years ago. He talked about how he routinely turned down big advances. “Publishers that lose money on a big unearned advance don’t invite the author back. The editor gets into trouble for overspending and sometimes even gets fired. Bookstores order half as many copies for the next book as they did for the first one. Everybody loses…except the agent. So, I just handle my own deals, accept modest advances and get rich on royalties. Everyone looks good and everyone makes out fine. Am I right or wrong?” Ultimately, my understanding is that an advance is simply the timing of when you get the money, provided, of course, that you earn out. Clearly there is some value in getting the money earlier, but ultimately, it’s all royalties in the end.

  14. Travis C:

    I love being with Tor, but trust doesn’t have anything to do with it; I have the contractual right to have an audit done if believe they’re underreporting sales. That said I’ve been with Tor since 2005 and have no reason to believe at any point they’ve defrauded me.

    Charles Owen:

    With all due respect to Dr. Asimov, the number of authors who can blithely assume that “it will all equal out” with regards to their sales is reasonably slim. From a financial point of view, most authors are probably better off with a large advance if they can get it, possibly with the admonition that if the book doesn’t sell well, they should never expect another advance like it again, so maybe save some of it for a rainy day.


    It’s at Metafilter and still on the front page; just scroll down a bit and you’ll find it.

    You are correct that the equation changes for more successful authors, on the reasoning that successful authors are more likely to have their backlist in stores longer, and that every new release will push the backlist sales.

  15. For the last year or longer, author Kristine Kathryn Rusch has had a section of her blog devoted to “Business Musings.” I am not an author, but I find it a fascinating look behind the scenes of the current publishing business. She herself is an indie publisher (a very busy one!), after years of working on the traditional side.

    TL;DR (in my reading): it’s getting scary out there, for both indie and traditional. There’s a LOT that authors need to know about going in, even if you just want others to handle it. (There are whole sections just on contracts.) And the market is changing so fast, even within the past year.

    While I’m sure you’ve got things well in hand, Mr. Scalzi, newer authors might find this a resource to look into.

  16. My thinky bit is that you might consider stopping responding to those who pursue this topic in a negative manner. You are a successful author whose work is widely admired. The financial details are between you and your financial advisors and your wife. If your point is to help those who would like to emulate your success, well done. We love your work… and I don’t really care how you financially reap the benefits of your brilliant creativity.

  17. Toni:

    Why would I do that? It gives me a chance to be talk about nuts and bolts of publishing and author finances, which I find fun and useful. You might not care, but others might find it interesting.

    I recognize there’s a chance people think I write about this stuff out of some sort of defensiveness about earnings or whatever, but it’s not that. I just like to hold forth.

  18. Count me in as one of the people who finds this interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing the details! I knew about some of those details (earning out an advance, etc.), but others were new to me.

  19. While you can’t predict the incomes of individual authors if publishers base advances off estimated sales and are somewhat competent at this then the average income from advances+royalties for an author should be significantly more predictable which is what most authors deciding whether to go the traditional publishing or indie/self-publishing should be considering. Tor doesn’t offer the “John Scalzi career” package to every author.

  20. I LOVE your “nuts and bolts of publishing” pieces.
    And thank you for not thinking my taxes should be higher so yours can be lower.
    And thank your beloved life partner for her various competences that give you more time to write.

  21. Speaking as a non-author, I find the ‘nuts and bolts’ articles fascinating, as I often do for many such articles from experts in their field commenting on both how their industry works and (in a greater meta sense) correcting misunderstandings on the part of outsiders.

    One thing that always made Babylon 5 fun to watch (beyond the show itself) was how J.M. Stracyzinski made himself available on USENET, often directly refuting wacky fan theories with facts about the day-to-day of running a TV show. Sometimes this would result in a some ‘fan’ showing their ass, as the one who commented on what a terrible makekup job one character had…which turned out to be his actual face (the actor had been wounded in military service, leaving a dramatic facial scar). Likewise producer John Rogers had an excellent blog about running ‘Leverage’ and ‘The Librarians’. Also likewise writer Ken Levine’s blog, wherein he talks about sitcom writing (and his years on MASH and other shows).

    I like these posts, is what I’m saying.

  22. The only difference I see with your breakdown of the advance is that as an editor I’ve never seen a hardcover portion and paperback portion–that must be something either particular to Macmillan or something relatively new the larger publishers are doing. At my small/midsized publishing house, we break it up in thirds or halves, as such: upon signing, upon delivery/approval of final manuscript, and upon publication (being the first version of publication, usually the hardcover).

    We also don’t look at the advance as a way of guessing how much the book will earn for the author. We’re much more old-fashioned, you might say, in hoping that we’ll keep the book in print for decades to come and we anticipate–we HOPE–authors will earn out quickly and be paid royalties for decades to come. What this means is that our advances are lower than the bigger houses, but we tend to keep our books in print longer (we’ve put something like half a dozen books out of print in 25 years of publishing).

  23. If Scalzi isn’t making filthy lucre then my dream of getting a pony from him on his next book tour is dead.

  24. A quick nuts and bolts question. When discussing how your books earn out, you wrote, “usually between 10% and 15% of each hardcover, and 25% of the net for eBook.” I was curious what the percentage was for paperback sales — whether mass market/pocket or trade/quality paperback. And I will echo all of the commenters who said they enjoy these types of posts — they are great. Should we thank the knuckle-draggers who keep attacking your sales for prompting so many of them?

  25. This is fascinating! And dizzyingly complicated. Nevertheless, thank you for these kinds of pieces. They are helpful to any of us who want to understand how things work in general. I could care less what you make, but it’s instructive to know how the biz bizzes. Thanks!

  26. “Although these days it’s more common that the publisher will skip mass market paperbacks and publish in the larger/slightly more expensive trade paperbook format. ”

    Out of curiosity, is the decision to go trade paperback vs. mass market paperback something authors have any say in? I personally prefer mass market paperbacks for how they feel in my hand as I read them and I’ve been disappointed by the recent trend of trade paperbacks.

  27. I’m curious about how often authors exercise their right to audit the publisher’s books in regard to sales and royalties. I work for a business publisher, and to the best of my knowledge it’s never happened even though our contracts allow for it. (Though to be fair most of our authors are practicing professional advisers who make a lot more from their practices than they do from their writing.)

  28. I still think that every time one of Scalzi’s books are sold a dollar bill flys into his house like the scene from the first Harry Potter book (when Harry’s acceptance letter is being sent to the Dursley’s)

  29. Dear Charles,

    Possibly one time in the distant past, what Isaac says might’ve been true. It hasn’t been for as long as I’ve been a professional writer. For one thing, publishers don’t “invite” authors (unless the authors are considered to be money in the bank), authors submit work to publishers and then they decide if they want to publish it.

    If there is a miscalculation and a book fails to live up to expectations (and the advance) that does not mean that the publisher won’t take books from that author in the future. Unless the author is (unrealistically) insisting upon as large advance as they got previously, or the sales are so appallingly low that the publisher simply can’t make money from that author, the publisher will still consider books from that author.


    Dear Stacy,

    The way Scalzi describes the payment schedule is the way John Sandford’s and my contract for Saturn Run with Putnams was structured. We got paid the signing and delivery portions simultaneously because we didn’t sign until we were just about ready to deliver the book (because I was an unknown gamble). So, 50% on “signing/delivery,” the next 25% when the hardback came out a few months later and the final 25% a year later when the paperback came out.

    Obviously it’s different for different publishing houses and authors.


    Dear John (and wishdumain and DHMCarver, because this also goes to your comments/questions),

    Thank you for the pointer! For other readers who may care, here’s a direct link to the report:

    For those who really care, the authors of the study have made their raw data available — scroll down through the comments and the links are there.

    For that reason, despite the breathless tone of their article, I am reluctant to criticize the authors. Because I’m not willing to look at the data. One of my pet peeves is readers who attempt to criticize a scientific report with, “Ah, but did they think of THAT?!” 99.9% of the time the answer is yes they did because they’re not idiots and/or because it was addressed in a study 10 years ago. (This pops up a lot with climate change deniers.)

    I’m not saying this is the case here or that your criticisms are anything but valid. But since I won’t take the time to delve into the data…

    That said, as you’ve brought up in previous columns, the Amazon data itself is troublesome. I just checked my total sales numbers. Amazon’s total is less than 1/4 of the number of copies of Saturn Run that I know have been sold. If (as the study authors assert) Amazon is responsible for at least 50% of all book sales, that’s still under-reporting by more than a factor of two.

    Further confounding matters — the financial specifics of the authors’s contracts. Royalty rates can be anywhere between 10 and 20% (on physical books), and the more successful/powerful authors are likely to get better deals. That skews the statistics. Worse, most (??, many, at least) royalties are based on the publishers’s gross income, in other words the wholesale price. But some are based on the book’s cover price, regardless of what the publisher is selling it to the retailer for. There is another factor of two, and again it’s going to be skewed towards more successful authors.

    So, significant underreporting in the Amazon statistics and a fourfold variance in how much the author might get per dollar of book sales.

    It’s possible the study authors have taken all of this into account In doing their analysis. But I certainly don’t know this.

    – Pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. 
    — Digital Restorations. 

  30. I like it that you “hold forth” on many subjects, ordinary subjects, mildly to very irritating subjects, whatever. Keep on.

  31. I expect you (meaning your accountant/agent/wife) have a massive excel spreadsheet detailing out the different phases of your book deals, payouts, royalties, etc……I’d expect that with your “artsy/writer brain” this doesn’t gel well with the creative process and is therefore delegated to your accountant/ agent/wife….is this how you keep all this together? my engineering brain is salivating on how cool this spreadsheet would work.

    thanks again for all the “behind the scenes” look of actually being a writer…it’s fascinating to me!

  32. Do mass market paperbacks really exist anymore? You don’t see spinner wheels of books at drugstores anymore, and only a handful of trade paperbacks and hardcovers can be found with the magazines anymore. Mike Resnick predicted the death of the mass market paperback at Windycon some 10 years or so ago. At the time I thought he was overly pessimistic, but he was correct, if only by predicting it a little prematurely. Mass market paperbacks have been replaced by ebooks.

    I love my e-reader, but I miss spinning the wheel around looking for the next Doc Savage.

  33. This question comes purely out of my own curiosity, and it’s both rather personal and tangential, so feel free to ignore. But I know in comics, there are some graphic novels that are considered “evergreen”–that is, for as long as superheroes exist, they’re probably going to be able to sell copies of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Does the same hold true for any of your books? Or do the sales generally trickle down to more or less negligible amounts after a few years? And feel free to answer in terms of the sci-fi genre more generally, if you prefer. I’m basically just curious if the “evergreen” concept holds here, and if does, what effect that has on the numbers.

  34. Lots of people struggle with how business works to be honest. You can be profitable and go out of business quite easily because while you’re closing deals and booking revenue the money isn’t following in a logical way.

    Stage payments and acrual accounting work like that in many fields. I’m not surprised some don’t get that business is more than sales.

  35. I’d like to second Nagol99’s expression of enthusiasm for the huge spreadsheet.
    I don’t have a grain of creativity in me that has ever tried to worm its way out, but I’m glad you make a good living with what you do. I happily and freely contribute every time I buy.
    This is in stark contrast to my automatic contributions to certain sports teams and (ex) athletes simply because my electricity provider or bank or the company that makes the shoes that I want just happens to sponsor them.

  36. Nagol99:

    In fact I’ve always been pretty good at the business end of things and don’t see an inherent conflict with creativity and business savviness, both in one’s personal skills and in the skills of the people one partners with (like agents, etc). And yes! Lots of spreadsheets.

    John M. Cowan:

    MMPGs are not dead (I sell a bunch) but eBooks made far more inroads into their overall sales than they did for trade paperbacks.


    Some books just keep on selling, yes. Old Man’s War has basically sold the same number of books week after week for years now.

  37. So I guess advances are why authors are cool with what libraries do? Along with being decent human beings that is.

  38. Thanks for this post. I will save it so I can show it to people who think that since I wrote a book or two, if I manage to get it published or pub it myself, I should be rolling in dough. If only!
    That’s nice, but it’s not the only reason writers write. Not that we shouldn’t be paid for our work, though. :)

  39. This is interesting. So if you have an author who all of a sudden sees a big increase in sales on the latest book that quickly earns out that author may not see royalties from it for a while.

    This isn’t necessarily for John, but anyone who knows this.

    It sounds like “basketed” royalties are a bad deal for authors. It sounds like its something that publishers are able to negotiate because the author has no other options. Is this ever a good deal? Could it lead to a larger advance since advances are bundled so you get more money up front?

    I would also think this “Which means that if the publisher has guessed correctly, it will never have to shell out royalties.” is a little misleading. I would expect publishers would want to pay as little in advances as they can get away with. However, the author(or authors agent) generally tries to negotiate the estimate for 1 years sales. I would think that publishers would greatly prefer for books to earn out since their return would be higher. I would think it has more to do with negotiating leverage.

  40. Mark:

    Well, libraries pay for books, too. And buy them again, when they wear out.


    “Basketed” royalties are almost always to the advantage of the publisher, but in a small percentage of cases can work out to the benefit of the author. My first two books were basketed, with the first being Old Man’s War, and each bought for $6,500. OMW earned out for both books in relatively short order, so when the second book (The Android’s Dream) was published, it was already in the black; I earned royalties from the very first sale.

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