Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Do You Mean It's a Popularity Contest?

I read that one of the biggest risks for everyone in the business—publishers as well as authors- is advances that don't ever earn out. This makes me think editors (even if they like a submission) will not buy a manuscript from an author that has had a previous book that did not earn out. However, I wonder, how could an editor at another house know that a book did not earn out?
We can't. If you tell us what you got paid and how many copies the book sold, we'll be able to take a guess.
Would word spread on the "Editor's Grapevine" so that editors at other houses would also not want to buy a new manuscript from an author whose previous book did not sell out?!
Unlikely.
Also, I heard on Book TV on c-span many years back, that if your first 3 books did not sell out, that you should change your name. True? And on the same subject, how do editors feel about taking on an author whose book sells out, but makes little or no more money?
Ah, we seem to have experienced a change in terminology here. We've gone from talking about earning out to selling out. "Selling out" means nothing for publishers, so I'm not sure what you meant by it.

If you mean selling through; ie if bookstores returned your first three books in high numbers, then yes, a change in name might be a good idea. Booksellers look at the track record of books by an author, and if the record they see is "nobody wanted this; just nobody", then they're going to be pretty hesitant to take anything new.

Clarification: I mean changing your name on the printed book. That is, for booksellers, not your publisher. You still have to tell your publisher who you are.

9 comments:

Michael Reynolds said...

I advocate selling out to sell through.

Earning out is good. Of course maybe it just means you got hosed on the advance. If your advance was a dollar it's pretty easy to earn out. If your advance was a mill, well, tougher to earn out but who cares?

As for pseudonyms, I think I'm on my 12th one. Then again, maybe that was a dream I had.

Is it true that kid book authors sometimes drink Scotch and write rambling comments on blogs?

Is that scotch the Macallan?

Should that author be starting the book that's due, um, in 2 weeks rather than writing a rambling comment?

Anonymous said...

Really? Take the blame off the author because poor sales lies with the marketing department. The job of the marketing dept is to make sure that book is sold well. In today's world the author must do all the work: writing (illustrating) AND selling their books. One can ask the marketing dept to help with fabulous ideas that fall on deaf ears. The publisher expects the authors to take out of pocket money (from piss poor advances) to promote and marketing themselves when that is really the job of the publisher's marketing department. Why is it the author's fault if the marketing dept does minimal work on promoting a book? That is not what authors are trained for. That is what the marketing dept is trained for, so if the sales are poor fire the marketing people and hire better ones. This current policy is insane. Look to yourselves publishers; see how incredibly stupid and backwards your current marketing policies are. Take repsonsibity, marketing depts are mostly entry level jobs and I bet that person is not really caring about your books. The blame lies with the author? They'll never be hired again? Really? Why not keep score of the marketing people the same way? When books tank, look there first.

J.M. said...

Hello Ms. E.A.,

I'm thinking one would have to eventually come clean about their past three flops, Yes? I'd be afraid of dampering a relationship if I kept silent too long... when would one open up? Or is it just plain better to forget the past?

Thanks~
J.M.

Anonymous said...

"Take the blame off the author because poor sales lies with the marketing department."

Yep. Has nothing to do with the fact that the author might have written a book people weren't interested in reading. Even when those marketing people tried to convince people otherwise. Nothing at all. It's all those marketers' fault.

Because, you know, you throw enough money and marketing at every single book and it will sell. Eesh.

Anonymous said...

The authors I know who get the most marketing support for their books tell me that the way to do it is to have your agent squeeze such an advance out of a publisher that the publisher ends up with too much money in the project not to put real marketing muscle behind it. So get the big advance, and forget about whether the book earns out or not. Seems all around bad for the industry, but publishers do seem to play this game, and to an author it begins to seem like what one must try to do. Thoughts, EA?

Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of confusion in this question, and not just in terminology of earn out/sell out. If I'm looking at a submission from a previously published author, I don't care whatsoever what their old advances were, or whether or not they earned out that advance -- I'll be looking at the actual sales track (via Bookscan or what the author/agent tells me), and then if I like the manuscript and get approval I'll make an offer based on what I think the book will sell, not at all based on what the author's advances at other houses have been. It doesn't matter to me that some other house paid too much money; I'll make an offer based on what I think the market will bear and what my publisher approves.

That is, of course, unless the agent says "she got six figures at such-and-such a house in 2003," which is pretty tacky and unlikely to happen, and would probably make me wonder why that first house isn't ponying up for this next book -- which makes it even more unlikely that the agent would mention it.

Spending too much money on advances and trying to jockey for attention in the marketing department are two totally different issues.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused... could someone please post a definition of "selling out", "selling through" and "earning out"? Many thanks.

Mara said...

"Earning out" means selling enough copies of your book that your royalties earned exceed the advance you were paid against those potential royalties. Once you've earned out, you start getting royalty checks.

"Selling through" means that your books are not only ordered by the bookstores, but they're then actually sold to customers, rather than sitting on the shelf and then being returned to the publisher.

"Selling out" means doing something you're ashamed of in return for worldly success.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mara. Nicely put.
;)