Sunday, September 20, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Merch and/or Ancillary

Crocodile Creek, MerryMakers, Inc., and Manhattan Toy Company design plush toys for children’s book publishers. When do publishers decide to introduce this type of product? What percentage of sales goes to the author and/or illustrator?
Often, those makers approach the publisher, not the other way around. If a publisher does approach a toy company about a plush add-on, it's NOT when the book is newly out. It's when the book clearly has a significant fan base. Did you sell 50,000 copies last year? Great, have a doll. The plush market is not strong right now, nor has it been for the last several years, so getting a plush to go with your book is extremely unlikely.

Lots of authors have visions of sugar plums and merch subrights dancing in their heads when their book comes out. Whether it's a doll, or apparel, or whatever. Do yourself a favor and let go of those ideas. I've known a couple authors who spent the couple of years following a book publication doggedly trying to scare up interest in merch rights, and were bitterly disappointed. Because they did not have the huge fan base that would make merchadise manufacturers interested.

In terms of how much of that money the author gets, it says how much in your contract, in the subrights section. Some publishers don't separate merch rights and ancillary rights, but in case your contract does, ancillary is any non-book but still paper-based product. (Like stationery, or cardboard stacking blocks.) Merch is any non-book and non-paper based product. (Like a wading pool or pillow cases or hats or furniture.)

One of my illustrators was found to be in breach of contract over these subrights a few years back. If you take money from a wall-hanging manufacturer for the use of your illustrations-- illustrations for which you previously sold merch rights to your publisher-- I can tell you, our lawyers will be interested.

Read your contract and understand it. Please, people.


Anonymous said...

Let's say a picture book wins the lottery and becomes popular and does have ancillary rights or merch rights sold... Does the author receive any money? Or just the illustrator?

Victoria Neely said...

I figured only books made into successful movies could maybe, MAYBE look forward to a line of merchandise...

Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing a deluge of Despereaux dolls.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Eric Carle has a line of merchandise for "Very Hungry Catapillar"---some cute baby clothes.... but that's been a best-seller for about 40 years!

Beatrix Potter, of course, is everywhere, and Paddington Bear still comes up too.....

But really, it seems like merchandise only happens when you cross from 'popular' to CLASSIC..... which makes sense. Most of the people BUYING the merchandise are grandmas, after all!

Anonymous said...

I'm in exactly this position. My book's not even out for another eight months, but I'm sure that I'll make all my money in annoying plastic objects made in China--and I'm gonna pursue that like crazy. Of course my chances of success are slim, but that's true of *everything* in publishing.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Lol, when you put it like *that*, anon... Sure, what the hell.

If you're enough of a Don Quixote to tilt at the publishing industry, you might as well follow that up with plush!

working illustrator said...

Anonymous 1:21 said: "Does the author receive any money? Or just the illustrator?"

The standard on this is a 50/50 split, first between the creators and the publisher, then between the creators (if the author and illustrator are different people).

So, the author would get 25% of that income, assuming that the contract didn't specify something else. I've worked with well-known authors who got a higher percentage of the split because... well, because they were famous.

Any sub-rights income, though, goes into the royalty account and you'll only get a check after the book as a whole has earned out its advance.

In some cases, the sub-rights money alone can cause a book to earn out. I had one book that didn't sell 5000 copies in hardcover, but the film rights were optioned, then sold. That sub-rights deal - all by itself - caused the title to earn out, with enough left over for both the author and me to get really nice checks in the mail.

Anonymous said...

Exactly! The best thing is that I'm really enjoying tormenting my agent with my fantasies. She's very kind. And I've got a three-degree connection to a licensing agent who I'm thinking of harassing.

I guess I kinda figure that given my chances are pretty much zero already, I can't really screw this up any worse! (And I'm actually quite polite to my agent.)

Plush Quixote (who loves your blog, despite only commenting anonymously)

Anonymous said...

"Did you sell 50,000 copies last year?"

Reminds me of a story my hubby told me. A few years back, he was hired to turn a comic book series into a cartoon series. He met with the comic creator to recommend certain alterations to make the comic better for animation. The creator complained that his "100,000 fans" wouldn't like the changes.

My husband looked him in the eye and said, "If every one of your fans watched the show -- and ONLY your fans -- it would be the biggest disaster in the history of television. Our audience numbers in the millions."

"Successful" book numbers impress no industry outside of publishing, especially not merchandising.

Anonymous said...

I would pay money for a plush editor monster chewing through the slush pile...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question, EA. Cheers!

Richard said...

I'm trying to figure out how even successful children's book authors make a living.

Given the odds & the royalties, it seems one is better off starting a garage rock band.

At least there are cheap pubs, legion clubs, the odd wedding or high-school dance, that will pay you enough to get you through one week of living (two would be great).

Professional street-beggars can make $150 a day, with the right 'hook' (!) and the right location. Sure pride matters, but the effective beggars are not expecting to live under a bridge.