Q&A: How to determine a good royalty rate offer when negotiating a textbook contract

Q: “I’m in discussions with six publishers right now for my first book. One of them has just made a preliminary offer, including a 12 percent royalty on the first 2,000 sold and 15 percent thereafter. They also offered me a $3,000 advance against royalties to prepare a camera-ready copy over the summer. The editor has informally projected something like 2,000 books/year sold at about $90-100 per, saying it costs them $60-70 per. Here are some of my questions: 1) How common is it to have a lower percentage on the first chunk of books?; 2) Even if it sold only 1,000 at $80, 12 percent of that equals $9,600. Shouldn’t they be willing to part with more than $3,000 of it up front?; 3) How much am I saving them with a camera-ready copy? Doesn’t that cut out a lot of work for them and shouldn’t that translate into a much better deal than this? Sounds like a cookie-cutter offer.”

A: Don Collins, former managing editor at a publishing company:

“First, it is very common to offer a lower rate on the first textbooks published. The publisher is in business for profit and at every point the publisher wants an advantage although in your case it seems slight. Second, up front money is an expense. If the book does not sell then the publisher is out this money. But you get to keep the advance. And lastly, you may think of giving camera ready copy as saving the publisher money. It probably is. But the way publishers play the game is to take only authors who are willing to do this.

Only after your work has proven successful and you have established a reputation will you have much of a chance of negotiating better terms.”

Q&A: What to consider when recycling content from writing project to writing project

Q: “A general question: You are writing a book — in one chapter, you wish to include information that you have used in another book with another publisher. What is the rule of thumb — if there is one — about how much information can be used and/or the level of changes necessary?”

A: Jay Devore, Professor Emeritus, Department of Statistics, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo:

“I’ve been thinking about this issue because a colleague and I are thinking about collaborating on a business statistics book (introductory statistics for a business audience). I have written statistics books for engineers and also for a general audience — 4 in total, all published by Thomson. But Thomson (actually their subsidiary Southwestern) already has a full stable of business stat books, so may not be interested in publishing another one.

Q&A: Should you create resource materials for a textbook to sell commercially?

Q: “Is permission needed from a publisher to develop resource materials for a textbook if those materials will be sold commercially or is it just necessary to have a disclaimer?”

A: Elsa Peterson, a freelance editor with 25 years of experience in the college textbook industry:

“I’ve done a fair amount of permissions editing over the years, which doesn’t equip me to give a comprehensive answer to your question, but I’ll give you my perspective. I think there are a couple of different points to address here.

Q&A: Timeline for textbook royalties: When should you get paid?

Q: “I am concerned about the length of time a publisher can hold onto royalties. Mine are due in April, four months after the close of the accounting period in December. This means some monies have been held from July 1 through April — 10 months! I would think interest should be paid or royalties sent out on a more continuous basis.”

A: Steve Gillen, Attorney, Wood Herron & Evans:

“The publisher’s obligation to account for and pay royalties is set forth in the publishing agreement. While the timing of payment and the nature of information contained in the reports may be negotiable, the time to negotiate these issues is before the agreement is signed. Once the deal is done, it’s too late for the author to complain. Historically, publishers have paid royalties on an annual or semi-annual basis (providing reports and payments anywhere from 30 days to four months after the close of the relevant accounting period). I suppose there was a time when this delay was justified by the difficulty in processing returns and credits and closing the books. Now, however, it persists as custom rather than of necessity.

Q&A: How to approach a publisher to publish conference proceedings

Q: “I am organizing a conference that I think will be very good. How do I approach a publisher for the proceedings? What is such a publisher looking for?”

A: Michael Lennie, Authoring Attorney and Literary Agent, Lennie Literary and Authors’ Attorneys:

“Ask your adviser; or research similar proceedings to determine their publisher and editor. Obtain several and then contact them to see if they have an interest. The original contact should be by way of a query letter (one well written page) with or without synopsis, sent through snail mail with a SASE. Your initial query should be more detailed (3-4 pages) than the query for an article, including the names and a sentence or two about each participating panelist, his/her subject matter for the proceedings, the forum, date, time, etc.”

Q&A: Tips on receiving feedback from students when you’re not teaching

Q: “How do you get feedback from students about your book when you are not teaching?”

A: Karen Timberlake, author of Basic Chemistry, winner of a 2006 Texty Award:

“Use a focus group. Bring in students (from a local school using your book) for an afternoon and ask them questions about it.”

A: Marilyn “Winkie” Fordney, author of textbooks on insurance billing and medical transcription:

“I created a questionnaire and gave it to faculty using my book, asking them to have their students fill it out.”