This is in response to an actual letter that I received. I'm not posting the piece verbatim, because it's too frothy and stupid, so I'll paraphrase. The letter was from a writer demanding to know, "Why do I get 7% in royalties, and you get 93%?" This wasn't a Pretty Things Press author, but someone pitching to our other publishing house. I love when people are all aggressive before they even have a deal. But I realized that what makes tons of sense to me—as I was raised in the world of publishing—can still seem like crazy talk to outsiders. And I thought—hell, why not use what I'm writing to the author as a post for my blog?
Here's the deal. We publishers, no matter how large or small, would fucking love to make 93% on every single book. God, think of what we'd do with all the money. But in truth, we often make less than the writers. How is that possible? Well, let's take a look. Someone walks into City Lights, plunks down a ten dollar bill (plus loose change), and the book is theirs. Right? Where does the money go?
Of the $10 cover price, a publisher is lucky to receive $4.50 from a store. (I'm using a 55% discount as an example here.)
Of the $4.50, the average author gets .70 cents, leaving the publisher with $3.80.
Say the book cost $1.50 to print (a 15% unit cost is pretty standard). Now, the publisher has $2.30.
Publishers who don't own their own warehouses must pay an outside company for storage, fulfillment, shipping and other miscellaneous costs. For our little publishing company, we end up paying about 20% of sales to the warehouse—the majority of that is for storage. That's .90 cents on a $4.50 sale, and now we're down to $1.40.
When we had sales reps (in better days), our reps took 10% off the sale price, knocking the profit to .95.
From this .95 the publisher must find a way to pay for copyediting, typesetting, and cover design. (Sure, these are only one-time fees, but they must be paid for, and generally paid for upfront, before any profit is ever seen.) Now, consider this, we haven't started talking about rent for an office, insurance for the books, accounting fees, legal fees, telephone, office supplies, advertising... and this doesn't even allow for a salary for the publisher.
Some businesses cut costs by printing overseas. But I've always believed in printing in the U.S. And people might say a 55% discount to a bookstore sounds high, but that's the standard discount Amazon.com takes, and Amazon requires the publisher to pay shipping, as well. Some discounts are lower, and some are higher. We once made a massive sale (again, not for Pretty Things Press), to Canada. The company received an enormous discount, but our rep cut her fee so that we could make the deal work. So, sure, there are different places to skim here and there. If you print more books, your unit cost goes down. We've never really been able to do that, but I understand the concept.
At Pretty Things Press, I strive to do for my writers what I would love for a publisher to do for me. For several years, we took out a $125 a month ad on a popular blog for Rachel Kramer Bussel's spanking books. We've paid to print postcards and bookmarks and to place ads in BUST magazine. Honestly, the only way we have survived is that we are able to operate on the barest bones of a budget. There are many months when I don't draw a salary at all, and we've skated through this economy based solely on my freelance work. That fact, and the concept I have of not going out of print with books, is what makes us work. I put so much effort into these beauties, I want to keep them in print as long as possible. Slow and steady wins the race, in my opinion, proven by the fact that even though our books aren't for sale in most brick and mortar stores, Naughty Stories from A to Z has sold more than 20,000 copies, Down & Dirty has sold nearly 15,000, and we've gone into the fourth printing of Naughty Spanking Stories, putting 10,000 copies now in print. My goal is to create classic smut that people will want for years to—you guessed it—come.
Still, I just have to shake my head at the naive belief that for every buck we get, 7% goes to the author and 93% goes into our coffers. God, I'd love that. Whatever the fuck a coffer is.
P.S. I didn't even see the Frenzy post at Erotica Cover Watch, until after I wrote this. This wasn't meant as a response to Olivia's comment about how much writers make. And sure, I have feelings about the ECW post—because I'm human and I have, um, feelings. But I'll hit that another day.