How to divide royalties when one author retires

Q: “I’m interested in information about the division of royalties, the typical percentages for members of the author team, and the percentage for the author who is retiring from the author team. Can anyone offer advice?”

A: Paul Rosenzweig, CPA:

“As far as I have ever perceived, there are no “rules” about how co-authors or a team, divide royalties. The co-authors negotiate their own shares among themselves. I recently saw a group that had different percentages for the main text vs salable ancillaries, with varying rates among the ancillaries, presumably based on the co-author’s contributions.”

As for the share allocated to a retiring author, that’s usually designated in that author’s (earlier) contract with the publisher. Typically, the retiring author retains a declining percentage as the editions continue.”

A: Don Collins, Former Managing Editor:

“Royalties are usually based upon the amount of work contributed and seniority of the authors. In some cases there is a sliding scale based upon the success of the product. A retiring author usually gets residuals based upon the past success of the product. Royalty rates vary from company to company and different rates are accorded to school texts and college texts.”

A: Stephen Gillen, Publishing Attorney, Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC:

“Royalties between co-authors of equal stature are typically allocated in proportion to the division of labor. If each is responsible for half the book, then the split is 50/50, and so on. If one is pre-eminent in the field and has many publication credits and the other is a neophyte, either the split or the workload may be adjusted to compensate.

When a new author comes on to revise an existing work, the new author might be asked to work on the first such edition for a fixed fee with no guarantee of participation on subsequent editions – this is a sort of trial run. If this works out, the new author may be invited to participate in royalties. Typically, the split on the first such edition would be say 1/4 of the royalties for revising 1/2 of the work (in recognition of the senior author’s past contributions).”

A: John Coburn:

“I agree with Stephen regarding royalty splits between authors, and would only caution/urge that the royalty splits and the division of labor be written up in the actual contract. The contract should also include remedies for what will be done if one of the team is unable or unwilling to fulfill their assigned duties to the enterprise. In addition, if you are an established author looking for help to expand your work or ease your writing burdens (notice the following is in capital letters), YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE A SUBSTANTIAL WRITING SAMPLE FROM THEM TO BE ASSURED THEY HAVE THE TIME, TALENT, AND ABILITY TO WRITE. Too often, a person might be an excellent teacher or excel in their field, yet be unable to write well enough for the national market.”