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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Realities of a Times Best Seller

I have just come across a superb "insider" post by author Lynn Viehl. She gives her own experience and insight into what one may expect to earn from a novel that makes a best selling list:

"Back in April when I posted and discussed the royalty statement for Twilight Fall, my top twenty New York Times mass market bestseller, I promised I would post the next royalty statement that came in for the book. That arrived this week, so today I’d like to take a look at that and share some thoughts on how the book performed in the eleven months since the initial release.

First, the actual statement, which you can view here http://alturl.com/oj65

As before, the only thing I’ve blanked out is Penguin Group’s address. This statement represents the sale period from November 30, 2008 through May 31, 2009. It was issued on August 18, 2009 and I received it on November 2, 2009.

On the statement my publisher reports sales of 7,550 copies and returns of 10,812 copies. The publisher released credits of 21,140 copies or $13,512.69 from reserves held against returns, but at the same time reserved credits against another 13,790 copies or $8,814.57, which reduces the credit adjustment to 7,350 copies or $4698.12.

Total sales for the novel now stand at 89,142 copies, minus returns of 27,479, for net sales of 61,663 copies. My credited earnings from this statement was $2,434.38 with no money due; it will probably take another six months to a year for the novel to earn out the last of my $50,000.00 advance.

So how much money have I made from my Times bestseller? Depending on the type of sale, I gross 6-8% of the cover price of $7.99. After paying taxes, commission to my agent and covering my expenses, my net profit on the book currently stands at $24,517.36, which is actually pretty good since on average I generally net about 30-40% of my advance. Unless something triggers an unexpected spike in my sales, I don’t expect to see any additional profit from this book coming in for at least another year or two.

One thing I didn’t mention in the last post is whether or not my sell-through, advance, and royalties are typical of an author with a top twenty Times mass market bestseller. Very few authors offer up their numbers, and even when they do they either go the anonymous survey route and/or don’t post statements, and publishers rarely give us any information at all, so it’s difficult to know. But based on my estimation of comparitive print run sizes, placement, distribution and a couple of other factors, I’d say no; my numbers overall probably run lower than most of the other authors on the list (of course if any other Times bestseller authors out there want to post their royalty statements, we’d all love to see the real numbers so we can establish a range.)

Speaking of comparisons, the publisher’s portion of sales on this book has grossed them around $453,839.68. I don’t have any hard figures on the publisher’s net, so I can’t give you the bottom line there. If I had to make a guess, I’d say they probably netted around $250K on this one.

What I’m taking away from this statement: returns were about what I expected; booksellers have been keeping these books on the shelves due to steady sales, and that helps.

My export sales are up, and they’re now constituting about 10% of my total sales, which is great. I’ve been reaching out to overseas readers for a couple of years now via blog promotion and I’m seeing a growing return on that investment. I’d love to see some foreign rights sales so that more of my readers could have the books in their native language, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen very often, and I can’t do anything about it because it’s all decided and handled by the publisher.

My income per book always reminds me of how tough it is to make at living at this gig, especially for writers who only produce one book per year. If I did the same, and my one book performed as well as TF, and my family of four were solely dependent on my income, my net would be only around $2500.00 over the income level considered to be the U.S. poverty threshhold (based on 2008 figures.) Yep, we’d almost qualify for foodstamps.

I finished this novel’s series in January of this year with the seventh book, which debuted eight spots lower than TF on the Times extended list. I’ve since moved on to writing a spin-off series, the first book of which is Shadowlight, which debuted at #17 on the Times list, two spots higher than TF. Shadowlight is now my bestselling novel to date.

What it boils down to is that you never know. I won’t find out for another six months how well Shadowlight initially performed or if TF will earn out in the next six months, which keeps me from obsessing over my sales. Either the books sell or they don’t; I have zero control over whether or not they appear on any list. My focus has to be on the writing (and Carrie did an excellent post this week to celebrate her series anniversary and to discuss excellent reasons to focus on the work; check it out when you have a chance.)

The overall response to the last statement I posted in April was quite positive and supportive, especially here at Genreality. A few places elsewhere, not so much. Several times since April I considered forgetting all about this follow-up post because I knew if I did it I’d be painting another great big target on myself, and no one wants to volunteer for that kind of duty. But I did promise my writer friends and you guys that I would do this, and I keep my promises. So I will duck and dodge one more time.

I know how important writer dreams are — sometimes they’re the only thing that keep us going — but I think they also have to be tempered by facing reality. To me, sharing an uncomfortable truth is better than perpetuating a myth. I know Publishing will never rise up to meet our expectations, but fiction belongs on the page, not in what we tell each other. Otherwise we risk becoming characters uttering lines of dialogue instead of working writers helping each other make good decisions."
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