TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Royalties, how much? From:Grace Joely Beatty <TALKLIST -at- AOL -dot- COM> Date:Thu, 5 Jan 1995 21:35:22 -0500
Kelley, Bev, and others interested in authoring
As an author, I'm interested in this topic. I'm happy to share my experiences
with those of you who are also interested.
My husband and I have written 16 beginner-oriented computer books, a
mass-market "popular" book that was selected for the Book of the Month Club,
and a few college textbooks. The royalty rates were different in each of
those fields, so I'll address my comments towards the computer book market.
Re: What percentages did you ask for?
The standard contract offers a scale of royalties from 5% to 10% to 15%
depending on the volume of sales and the market in which the sales are made.
For example, we get a larger royalty on sales after the first 10,000 copies
made to regular bookstores and a smaller royalty from special sales (call-in
sales to the publisher, super discounted sales, etc.) Once we proved we were
salable, our agent was able to negotiate improved rates for certain kinds of
We have a wonderful agent. He's worth every penny. He's well-known in the
industry and we trust him implicitly. After all, it's in his best interest to
get us the best deal. Psychologically, I don't like to argue about money with
the people I have to work with on a regular basis. I'd rather have someone
else do the haggling and leave me to develop a mutually beneficial and
supportive relationship with my acquisitions editor, project editor, etc.
Also, I believe that my agent knows what kind of deals are being offered to
other people and can use that as a bargaining chip for my benefit.
Re: pay rate during the contract (before royalties)
In my experience you are either a contract writer (and you get some
agreed-upon pay rate) or you are a royalty writer (and you live or die on
your royalties). Never the twain shall meet. If you are working on royalties,
you get an advance against royalties. The size of the advance is negotiable.
Unfortunately, in the computer industry, the advances are very low ($2,000 to
$6,000). If you have a track record, you or your agent can get a bigger
advance. Advances are paid half up front and half on delivery. Advances for
popular fiction or non fiction can be substantially higher if your proposal
is dynamite (and you have a good agent.)
Re: how much did you estimate for purposes of Uncle Sam?
I would think this depends on your income as a whole and whether you have
what my husband and I call the "J" word (job) or whether you're a full-time
writer and can write off a home office, etc. If you deduct the appropriate
proportion from each check you receive and deposit it to a special account,
you should be safe. (I wish I followed my own advice!) Another unfortunate
fact of writing for a living as an independent author is the time span
between the actual work of writing the book and the royalty payments. Most
publishers pay twice a year and they withhold a certain percentage of
payments against possible returns. The bottom line is that you may not
receive any money from your first book (other than the advance) for 6-9
months. And if you haven't earned out the advance, you won't get any money,
or very little money, in that first cycle. You may have to wait another 6
months before you see any cash. And, of course, you are totally dependent on
the publisher to advertise and market your book. Just because they have
published the book doesn't guarantee they'll promote it. (Publishing is a
VERY STRANGE business.)
Notwithstanding all of the above, I love what I do!
Good luck. I'll be happy to answer any other questions.
I receive my mailing list mail on a special screen name (TalkList).
Please send personal replies to:
AOL = Empressgjb
Internet = Empressgjb -at- aol -dot- com