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How to negotiate royalties for a textbook test bank

Q: “I am in the process of negotiating my second contract to write a test bank. The first contract was for a flat fee. I wrote a total of 490 multiple choice, true/false and fill in questions for a 14 chapter criminal justice book. The book was going into its 3rd edition and I think it is a big seller.

This second book is also a criminal justice textbook. It will be 18 chapters, 800 pages, it is going into its 9th edition and I am sure it is a big seller. We haven’t yet agreed on how many questions I will write. I asked the editor if it would be possible for me to receive royalties for this test bank and she told me that because the test bank is a free supplement they can’t offer royalties, it has to be a flat fee.

I have four questions:

1. Should I push harder for royalties?

2. If I ask for royalties what amount should I ask for?

3. What should a flat fee be based on?

4. What is a reasonable flat fee in this case?”

A: Ron Pynn, TAA Executive Director and political science author:

“It is true that royalties for a test bank are rare, if ever given. I have seen them for student manuals, workbooks, etc., but not for test banks. The publisher is correct, they are freebies, in the language of publishers, ‘throw aways.’ You can try for a royalty but I suspect you will get nowhere. As an author, I would not agree to give up 1 percent of my royalty on a book for a test bank. When faced with a $3,000 to $4,000 fee for having someone write the test questions, I opted to do it myself. The point is, the author will need to sign off on any agreement effecting the royalty income from the book.

As for the flat fee, it is usually a dollar total based on past experience with the publisher. $3,000 to $4,000 is about right. There is no science to that number that I am aware of. Your best argument is you have done it before and have a track record of writing good questions. Believe me, my own experience is that people contracted to write test questions do not know what they are doing in terms of learning objectives, or making easy, and then difficult, questions. They just come up with questions, most of which I would never use to evaluate my students. So if the publisher was happy with your work, use that as leverage for more money.

You could ask for money based on the number of questions (multiple choice or fill in the blank); essay questions are more tricky. But an intro book is likely to have a large multiple choice bank. My guess is the publisher would agree to this but end up with a dollar figure ending at the $3,000 range: 1,000 questions at $3 a piece.

Bottom line: Push for a flat fee that you think is fair and can live with. Stress your past experience and stress that writing good, educationally meaningful questions is difficult and time consuming. Thus a good test bank will enhance the selling of the book.”

A: Mike Sullivan, Former TAA President and math author:

“Publishers utilize work-for-hire agreements for supplements because they are not-for-sale items for them. Therefore, they generate no revenue, and, as a result, no royalties.

Compensation for doing test banks can vary widely from discipline to discipline. In math, for example, $5,000 to $10,000 for doing Solutions Manuals is not uncommon. You may want to check with people in your field who do this to see what they are getting paid.

I also suggest you calculate the time spent on the first work you did, to see what the hourly rate was. Then estimate the time you expect to spend on the new project and apply a reasonable hourly rate to get at the price you should charge.”