What royalty rate should you expect for trade books?

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “A friend of mine has an extraordinary self-published book of photos that has garnered the attention of a national publisher but he has no idea what a reasonable royalty rate would be, and I have no idea if it would be anything akin to text royalties. I’d describe his work as similar to any other professional photographer level coffee table book (think of a book on nature, national parks, flowers, etc). Does anyone have any idea what any standard royalty rate for this genre of books is?”

A: Mary Ellen Lepionka, Founder, Atlantic Path Publishing:

“Standard advance for books of that kind is in the 10k – 25k range. Standard royalty rate is 10% of net, but offers typically range between 7.5% and 12.5% of net for a textbook. Coffee table books are notoriously expensive to produce at quality.”

A: Hannah R. Rubenstein, Hedgehog Productions:

“Photo books can be expensive, so that may affect what they offer, but generally trade publishers offer in range of 10 to 15%. When dealing with a neophyte, they may well start lower, sometimes dramatically so.”

A: Stephen E. Gillen, Attorney, Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC:

“The prevailing rates for hardcover non-fiction trade range from 5% to 15% of cover price (not of “net receipts,” which would be typical of a textbook deal). Frequently the rate is on a sliding scale based on units sold, e.g., 10% on the first 5,000 copies, 12.5% on the next 5,000 copies, and 15% on all copies over 10,000. Coffee table books are, relatively speaking, more expensive to manufacture, so the rates for these may tend toward the lower end of the range.

A: Michael Lennie, Attorney, Lennie Literary & Author’s Attorney:

“Net Receipts’ is typical of a textbook deal; ‘Cover Price,’ often referred to as ‘List’ is typical of a tradebook deal with a major commercial publisher. The smaller the publisher, and including practically all university presses, the more likely they will want to pay on ‘Net Receipts’. You need to do the math to compare apples to apples: for example: Assume a $35 list price for coffee table book; Assume the book sells at 50% discount, so net receipts are $17.50; Publisher 1 (“Big House”) offers the author 8% of List for first 5,000; Publisher 2 (“Little Jigger House”) offers 10% of Net for first 5,000; Pub #1 pays Author $2.80/book for 1st 5000 books Pub #2 pays Author $1.75/book for 1st 5000 books Big difference: $5250 for the first 5000 copies sold. Under these assumptions, try for ‘Big House’, but do the math, and don’t forget to negotiate the best deal.