Friday, May 4, 2012

Royalty Statements

April and October are the usual months when book authors receive their royalty statements from publishers.  Here, the publishers share information about the respective book's sales record (number of copies sold, total revenue, number of copies returned, royalties owed, royalties held against returns).  These spreadsheets are dizzying, and are designed to confuse the author so he or she will not understand how badly the book is actually selling.

Most authors need to hire professional accountants to read these statements and make sense of them.  (I never have, but some writers--such as successful ones who actually sell books--do.)

Last week I received the bulk of my various royalty statements. Among them, I received but one check, and that one a tiny one, about the size of Rhode Island in comparison to Texas.  The rest of my royalty statements brought tears to my eyes and one envelope induced me to puke. 

Opening these royalty statements is not for the faint of heart.  And writers who live and die by these things are in a sorry state.

That's why I don't worry about them.  I look them over, decide once again that I am not a high-level mathematician with a Ph.D. in actuary science, and toss them into the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet in my home office (a space now littered and consumed by boxes of books, piles of papers, and a still-growing array of floppy disks and zip drives).  I write, and I don't worry about trying to make sense of these statements.

The latest royalty statement I received, however, offered me a glimmer of hope.  I noted that, after nearly four years on the market, that one of my books is on the cusp of earning "royalties paid against books returned."  This last phrase is dubious terminology that is found in all book contracts and is also a category on royalty report spreadsheets.

I can only hope that this book sells a few more copies over the next six months . . . and if these sales exceed the number of books that bookstores and book sellers are returning to the publisher . . . I should receive a royalty check in early November.

So, I have that to live for.  And if the check comes through, I'll be buying a milkshake.  After four and a half years of waiting, I will have earned it.

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