Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Mailbag: Earning Out

Before I get going, Jenny mentioned in last week's post on romance novel sales that Brenda Hiatt has some great information on romance novel advances. I was remiss in not posting this the first time and now offer it up for your perusal. Thanks, Jenny!

Short post today, gentle readers. A few days ago, I received an e-mail to PMN that asked that age-old question: how many books earn out their advance? The answer is, in short: not a lot.

According to the New York Times, roughly 70% of titles do not earn out their advance. This number is more or less in line with my estimate (mine is slightly higher, 75%+).

However, some of you will be glad to learn that this is not necessarily the case for all books—just certain categories and genres. Justine notes in her posts that children's/YA books and romance novels are exempt more often than not, and while my experience in those areas is not nearly as extensive as hers, I'm inclined to agree.

Um... happy Monday?

15 comments:

  1. Okay, 70%+ do not earn out their advance, but surely that doesn't mean that all these books lose money for their publishers! I've heard that a book can break even or make a profit for a publisher even if it doesn't earn out. Are there any available numbers on how many books flat-out fail to earn a profit (which, it seems to me, would be the real question a publisher asked before taking on the next deal with the author)?

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  2. Good to know, glad i'm writing YA ;)

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  3. I was glad to hear some genres are exempt from this rule, but sorry to find that mine wasn't one of them. So give us the bad news about science fiction.

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  4. I've always wondered about this. Now I know.

    Now I'm dying to know the answer to CKHB's question. How can a book make any profit for its publishers if it doesn't earn out?

    Tell us, oh omniscient insider of publishing! Your subjects demand an answer!

    (just kidding. I'd be fine if you decided to distract me with something shiny or that has a large monetary value so I forget my question.)

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  5. I wonder if there is a way to track which genres sell out faster vs the long haul. After all Classics took years sometimes to become well known and have come backs randomly in their lifetime, like Jane Austen.

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  6. I'm quids-in with my YA Romance then! Bet no one else thought of writing that. Do statistics show that more books in this genre are published too?

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  7. How likely a book is to earn out its advance has a lot to do with the size of the advance. Genre publishers don't go in for the inflated advances common in other niches, so their authors are more likely to earn out and then keep earning. Successful books in these niches are also more likely to be republished as the authors gain readership.

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  8. If 70-75 percent of titles don't earn out their advances, it seems to me there's a flaw inherent in the system somewhere....

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  9. I'm happy to report that my novel (historical fiction) has already earned out with change, thanks to foreign sales. It's not even available until February 2010. So it happens...

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  10. Johanna,

    Can you explain how a book is able to earn out even though it's not available yet?

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  11. Random House sold it to HarperCollins UK for more than they advanced me. It has also already sold to Germany.

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  12. I admit that I had to read that NYT article twice before I started to (somewhat) understand it. A bit of discouraging information, but not at all surprising.

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  13. @Reesha: One thing to note: that the point when a book earns out the author's advance and when it becomes profitable for the publisher are not, in general, the same point. A book can not earn out and still make money -- just, no additional money for the author.

    ---L.

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  14. Really? 70-75% don't earn out? That really surprises me. You're right though, I can see how the figures depend on the genre. I'd love more information on this fascinating topic. It's interesting to see how publishers still make money when books don't earn out. There's so much about this industry that I still don't know.

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  15. This a really great blog, Eric, keep up the good work...only wish I'd discovered it sooner! All the best, Rafe.

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