That first royalty statement as a traditionally published author

When will my advance be paid off?

Hello and welcome to The Pinnacle. This week I’d like to open up about the finances of writing books and getting published, because this is a subject often cloaked in mystery. Although I’m not free to give any specifics here – my contract prevents me from doing so – I hope that I can shed a little light on an area that might be murky for those looking to get started as an author.

Once the money earned from a book’s sales exceeds the amount that was invested into its production, you’re in profit. This principle applies to all forms of publishing. My early self-published books all made a profit, but the time it took to get there varied between three months and well over a year. Some of them did considerably better than others. And, of course, sales tend to tail off after a book has been around for a while.

In the world of traditional publishing, you sign a contract with a publisher, who will then pay you an advance (short for advance against royalties) – often before you even begin writing the book. Providing that you fulfil the terms of your contact, this money is yours no matter how many copies your book sells, but you will only start earning royalties once the amount earned from sales exceeds your advance. The royalty is the percentage of your book’s price that is paid to you once the publisher takes their cut.

Some books never earn out their advance at all, which means that they will never yield royalties. But what about that long-anticipated first royalty statement? How much can you expect to be paid then, six months or a year after the publication date?

My first traditionally published book, Wanderlust Europe (gestalten publishing), was signed in December 2019, and I received a two-part advance, with 50% in February 2020 at the start of the writing phase and 50% in August when the work was complete. The book was published in September 2020. I get royalty statements every six months.

Although I can’t give exact figures here, I can tell you that the advance was several thousand pounds – relatively large for a first book these days. The royalty rate, however, is relatively low – far less than the 10-12% typical for a traditionally published book. However, given the £35 cover price of the book, and the generous advance, I was (and am) happy with this arrangement.

My first royalty statement arrived in late March 2021. I was not expecting to be due much, if anything, as I knew that in all likelihood the book would still be paying off its advance.

The accounts were as expected: although the book was selling favourably, it had not sold anywhere near enough to clear the advance (it had made it to about 55% of the way there). Frankly, I would have been extremely surprised if it had. Hopefully next time! With a more typical advance, I would have earned a small amount in royalties on this first statement.

So there you have it: a few simple financial truths about publishing. It’s a huge achievement to attract the attention of a publisher and for them to publish your work, but it can be hard to know how the money side will work out. My advice is simple: in the vast majority of cases, you are going to need other sources of income, at least to begin with, and certainly until you have a number of books out that are all selling very well. Even then, it’s tough to earn a living as an author these days. Most of my income is from editorial work and writing for magazines, but I hope that in time book income will add up to a bigger percentage.

Any questions or queries? Please feel free to reply, and I’ll get back to you!

Next week’s newsletter will be the latest edition of Pinnacle Reads, and I’m already gathering some tasty links from around the web for your interest and enjoyment.

In other news…

Thanks to TGO magazine for inviting me to contribute to this piece about mountain dreams for when lockdown lifts. I seem to exist in a state of permawanderlust at the moment – it’s an occupational hazard.

Until next time,

Alex

www.alexroddie.com

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