Reversal of Royalties: A Modest Proposal

Bob MayerBob Mayer, NY Times bestselling Author

When does a book go out of print if it is made available in eBook?

Many contracts, particularly those pre-dating the eBook explosion, are not clear on this point. Some clauses state if sales fall below some ridiculously low number, like less than 100 sold on the last two royalty statements. That means a publisher can keep rights to a book if it sells just 100 copies in a year.

That does neither the publisher, nor the author, much good. It is actually an inducement for authors to NOT promote their books, hoping sales fall low enough to get the rights back. To make the effort to promote a book at 25% of 70% for eBooks is not that thrilling. And for any book that has not earned out, there is zero incentive.

I propose a solution: Reverse royalties.

Give the rights to the book back to the author, along with rights to the cover (if available) and an electronic version of the edited book. In return, the author pays the publisher a 25% royalty. I can assure the publisher that they will make more money this way than keeping the rights, and I have the numbers to back this up (later in blog).

An author will be much more motivated to promote a book they make 70% eBook royalty on and also control. Also, one on which they can track sales daily and get paid monthly. The author has the option to bring the book back into print via Lightning Source if they desire for hand sales (if the book is not available in print from the publisher).

This is a win-win situation. The author makes more money. The publisher makes more money.

Some might ask why should the author pay the publisher anything?

  • First, for the rights back.
  • Second, for the electronic version of the edited book and the cover, if available.
  • Third, and this is something that authors have to start acknowledging about backlist, for the editing and other work the publisher put into the book.
  • Fourth, such books have more ‘street cred’ than all the ‘material’ being self-published. Putting on the cover As Originally Published by Random House will make a difference. And it’s promoting the publisher.

Let me give you numbers to prove this.

I have a series with Random House (which I will not name since under the current system, I want the complete rights back to) that has sold over a million copies in mass market. The books are available in eBook form now but sales are anemic since the publisher does zero promotion, but high enough to crest that 100 mark per year. But not enough to make me excited to do any promoting.

Plus, on those books that didn’t earn out, I have zero incentive to promote them, since any monies earned go to the publisher. I don’t begrudge the publisher that money since I got the advance, but there’s no incentive.

If Random House gave me the rights back here is what would happen:

ATLANTIS [Kindle Edition] by Robert Doherty aka Bob MayerI had a series with Berkley under a pen name. Six books in the Atlantis series. They went out of print before eBooks became big and I got the rights back. I’ve put them back into print via eBooks on an array of platforms (Kindle, iBookstore, etc.) and the first few in POD via Lightning.

My sales per month for those books top my sales per year for my Random House series as I am actively promoting those books via social media, my own publishing company (Who Dares Wins Publishing), at talks, etc. etc.

Random House sales via eBook per year run around 120. My sales for Atlantis books run in the hundreds per month and are steadily growing.

I’m seeing a lot of “I hope traditional publishers die and rot in their slush pile of rejections” coming from authors lately and I think that’s not a very productive attitude. I believe we all have to work together to succeed.

The future is uncertain and we all have the same goals: sell books. So let’s work together.

Here’s where publishers will balk: they’re holding on to those rights not because they necessarily generate income, but on the off chance the author breaks out or something happens and those books become a hot commodity. That’s understandable. Publishing is always a crap shoot. But surely, something can be worked out against that possibility in the meanwhile and keep generating more income for all involved?

My open request to Random House.

Give me the e-rights back to these books and I will pay you 25% of my profit for all books (even those that earned out) for the next four years. If the books or I become such a hot commodity you feel the need to re-issue the books in a major way, rights will revert back to you. In the meanwhile, I guarantee you will earn more money from these books than you currently are and you will have no expenses, such as royalty statements, accounting, etc.

This is a win-win no-brainer. Will it happen? Stay tuned.

This article was originally published at Write It Forward and has been reprinted with Mr. Mayer’s permission.

Bob Mayer is the best-selling author of over 40 books. He is a West Point graduate, served in the Infantry and Special Forces (Green Berets), and in Special Operations Western Command on a variety of classified assignments. He has been studying, practicing and teaching change, team-building, leadership and communication for over thirty years. He is the Co-Creator of Who Dares Wins Publishing.

7 thoughts on “Reversal of Royalties: A Modest Proposal

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  3. Rod Rodriguez

    Totally agree, Bob. If anyone has the right to make suggestions on matters of royalties, it’s writers such as yourself. Nobody knows their material better than the author, so why not give them full control to steer their work in the proper direction and in turn benefit from the end result? The king should arm his knights with the proper weapons so they can win the battle for his kingdom. It is all about incentive, and a writer who is given the opportunity to profit greatly from his work will pull at every string to make sure it sells. Publishers should wake up and realize that working hand in hand with writers, and giving them their due royalties, will be more beneficial in the long run both parties.

  4. Steve

    It must be hard for you as a writer, doing that much work and only gaining a small slice of the total profit. It has always been the case between publisher and writer. Though you some bad comments about the publishers Bob, you still want to build a strong bond between both parties. Can you show some guides on how to share your work via social media?

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