Saturday, June 25, 2011

High Royalty Rate Vs. Big Advance

"Get that little son of a bitch Zandri on the phone right now!!! You hear me people?!!!!"

My friends and colleagues, the cats over at StoneGate Ink, put up a post on the their FB page asking this simple question: As an author, do you prefer a high royalty rate or would you prefer a big advance?

If this were ten or even three years ago, I would have said, "Advance" without evening thinking about it. In fact, my reaction would have been more automatic then breathing. But all that has changed in the past year since having signed on with the Inkers for a 50% royalty per E-Book sold rate.

I come from that generation that for ages believed you went to writing school, then got an agent, then nailed a major contract with a legacy publisher. All of which has happened to me. In fact when I signed a contract with Herr Bertlesman worth close to a quarter million bucks back in 1999, I thought my life was set. The publisher would take the time to develop me, I would eventually sell out, and be offered a new contract every other year or so, all of which would boast more and more zeros.

But what I didn't know at the time, was that a first novel usually sells only moderately well. There are exceptions of course, but I ain't talkin' about Harry Potter here or Kitchen Confidential. I'm talking about the other 99.9% of us lucky enough to have landed a major contract or two. So when THE INNOCENT (As Catch Can), sold only so-so, and then GODCHILD its follow-up the did the same, the big boys in the Bertlesman Tower decided to pull the plug on Vincent Zandri, thriller writer. Lucky for me I was able to keep my advance without having earned it back. However, all marketing of the books ceased, what were left on the shelves were remaindered, and the bastards even hung onto my rights for eight more years, pretty much putting me out of business. In the words of my then editor: "They are preventing you from selling books!"

I had to head back to full-time freelance journalism.

Then came my new agent Janet Benrey (now retired) who beat my novel rights out of Random House. She wanted to strike up a deal with a new upstart publisher who was making its mark on the publishing world by re-publishing back-listed novels by some heavy hitters in the industry, and publishing some new novels as well. There wouldn't be an advance but the royalty rate would be staggeringly high and what was even better, the novels would come out within a couple of months instead of the usually one to two year wait.

Still, despite 5-plus tortuous years without a new contract, when Janet urged me to sign with this publisher, I honestly thought she might have been smoking a little too much of the Chinaman's pipe. But what the hell, I signed anyway.

Fast forward to a year later, and I've sold close to a couple hundred thousand E-Books, and well over 100,000 Kindle copies of THE INNOCENT alone. GODCHILD is a close second. THE REMAINS a close third. The past three months were so staggeringly good I got calls from The Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran a small piece about "Innocent's" success.

What's this mean for me?

It means the six figures I'm earning this year is real money. It means I am operating in the black. It means I am now involved in responsible publishing. It also means that there's a good chance that if Mr. B had believed in me and what I could potentially sell, instead of showing me the door after only two books, I would not only have earned the advance back, I would have made him a nice profit.

But instead the money I've earned is all mine. Sorry Random House, you had your chance. Serves you right for holding my rights hostage for 8 years!

Hmmmm, wonder if I should go for the 4 bedroom villa in Tuscany or the three bedroom with the in-ground pool? Decisions, decisions, decisions....


  1. Congrats on getting your rights back and doing so well! Very inspiring!

  2. I'm glad it's all turned around for you, Vin. It's great to see other writers succeeding.

  3. Wow I can't help but be a little delighted that my post on SH page inspired a blog post. Everyone at SH delights in your success Vincent. Great post, thanks for sharing all your personal triumphs and failures.

  4. Well I'm just about finished with the triumphs, but I'm still only just getting started with the failures :)))

  5. So are you saying you plot out your life like a novel and your adding the conflict now?

  6. Ha Bri,
    Obviously I'm joking around a little with this other words, I can't quite yet afford that villa (ha!)...but what I can call my own is having persevered at a time when a lot of people might have just hung it up. And unfortuneatly my story isn't so unique.

  7. I bet you don't really want that villa anyway. You have gas in your blood and need to travel to have too many residences.

    As far as your story not being unique, perhaps you are right. But you are forthright about your experiences, your good and bad choices in this business as well as life and that in itself is something of great value to not just new or aspiring authors but people in general.

  8. Wow, shows that there's not better person than you, to be captain of your own ship. Big name publisher doesn't always warrants big results. It's always fun to see somebody succeed outside the traditional ways and keeping the giants honest.

  9. Vincent - Congrats on having a great agent.
    I read somewhere that the big publishers were calling the ebooks that are coming out of Smashwords and Amazon as junk writing. So far, I have found only one or two that I wouldn't read again. In the main, they are good enough to be midlist and even on the top of the pile. And why, aren't they there?

    Yea, the gatekeepers are being overrun. ;-)

  10. Thanks Cyn:
    I can name a few of the biggie published novels that stink up the joint and a few indies that do the same. It's always the well crafted stuff that rises to the top...Or that's the way it should work anyway.:)