Yesterday I attended the Toronto Romance Writers‘ monthly meeting. I love the members of the TRW — everyone is so enthusiastic and supportive. They’re friendly and they made me feel comfortable, and welcome, from the first moment I walked in the door. That first meeting  convinced me I had to come back. Yesterday was no different.

If you are ever in the Toronto area, you are welcome to attend your first meeting for free, to check us out. Yesterday we had a good half-dozen or more guests. And I was thrilled to see almost all of them stand up and ask questions instead of hiding in a corner. Good for them! You don’t learn if you don’t ask questions. And good for the TRW that we made them feel comfortable to ask their questions.  As someone said, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Every year the board invites their published members to participate in a question and answer session with their non-pubbed authors. This year they’d set up two panels of authors, one of e-pubbed authors and one of print pubbed authors. It was a huge thrill to be able to sit on the epubbed panel instead of being in the audience this year.

We each talked about our experiences, how we’d gotten where we had and answered lots of questions, then ended it with a piece of advice. Experienced authors, both print and epubbed, all agreed that you needed to put your butt in the chair and write your next book. And that having a backlist was important.

Unfortunately it wasn’t until the meeting had ended that one guest came up and asked me what we meant by a backlist. I really wish she’d asked right at the start, I know how frustrating it can be for me to have a term bandied about like everyone knows what it means.  Sorry, ladies (and the gentleman who attended too), sometimes when you’re in a business, you forget that not everyone knows terms that you think are obvious.

So for those of you not in the biz, here are the explanation of some of the terms that you may have heard yesterday. (or on this blog, or other authors’ blogs.)  It’s turned into a much longer post than I prefer (I know you do have other things to do today after all) so I’m going to post more terms over the next couple of days.  If there are any terms you’ve read that you’d like to ask about, just leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to address it in the future posts.

Backlist: the list of books the author has already published. I have three books in my backlist, one of yesterday’s panel members (and this week’s guest blogger–who got no comments on her guest post I’m sorry to say!!!!), Christine d’Abo has twelve!.

The importance of a backlist, especially for an author whose books are released as ebooks, becomes apparent when a new book is released. Often times a new reader will discover your book and if they like you they’ll visit your website to find out what else you’ve written. Then they go and buy some (or all) of those books. For an author, it’s sort of like free advertising for a book you’ve written last year, or five years ago. To use myself as an example, when Texas Tangle was released and the buzz started building, I gained a lot of new readers. As a result, I saw a surge in my sales of Private Property, and then more recently of Personal Protection.Those books were written back in 2008. My work was finished on them when they were edited and released in 2009. So when I see my royalty cheques go up because my older book sales are spiking, it’s like Christmas!

Advance: A lot of people outside the industry think of this as a “signing bonus” like athletes get for signing with a new team. It’s not. An advance is literally an advance of an agreed amount of money that will be advanced (read deducted) from your future royalties, which are a percentage of the sales of your book. Get that? It’s like your boss at your day job giving you a thousand dollar advance in your pay. He WILL deduct it from your next paycheque, it’s not a Christmas bonus. Say in making the contract offer, the publisher offers the author a $5,000 advance. The author does not get that money as soon as they sign the contract. Usually it is divided into two or three payments. The first part may be upon signing the contract. (Then there is usually a long period of time between when the editor sends the note to the accounting office to say “hey, cut her a cheque for a third of that $5K we agreed to pay her” and you actually receiving your payment of $1,666.)  The second installment may be paid when the author turns in her final edits (which may be anywhere up to a year after the contract was signed.)  Again there’s another wait before you actually receive the cheque.  And the final payment is usually made upon the book’s release. Which may be 18 months or more from the time the offer was made by the editor.

Then the publisher gathers all the data from the sales of the books–usually twice a year and they may not report this half-year until the end of the next half year. In other words, say their year runs May 1st to October 31st, and November 1st to April 30th. If your book released June 2010, you may not see a royalty report until the April 30th 2011 report comes out. 

Anyway, back to that advance money. Let’s say the book sells for $5 and the author is entitled to 5% of that as part of their royalties (the actual %s vary, but I’m using that amount as it’s easier to calculate–math is NOT my forte.) That means the author gets only 25 cents per book per sale. That means 20,000 copies of that book have to be sold before the author sees another cent. But, what happens if the booksellers sales reports come back and  the book sold only 10,000 copies? Well, the publisher’s out of pocket and the author never sees any more money. (And possibly doesn’t see another contract.)

There’s a lot more to it of course, including a clause in your contract if you’re signing a multi-book deal where you may not see another cent on your subsequent books until you’ve earned out the advance money. But that’s probably already got your head spinning for now. And agents like Kristin Nelson have explained it so much better than I ever could. Especially since most epubbed authors never receive an advance.

Print Run: Given the above, I wasn’t surprised that people were obsessed about numbers. A question I heard several times yesterday, and heard at conferences as well was “What’s your print run?” Very simply, the print run is the number of books your publisher prints. It is important to the publisher because they need to make back their advance (see above). But and here’s the big point: the author has no control over the print run. It’s determined by how many orders the publisher’s received from the booksellers such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, or Chapters. You don’t want to print 10,000 copies of a book if there are only orders for 1,000 books. That means they’re going to have to pay the printer for the ink and paper of 9,000 books that are going to sit on the shelves in a warehouse (which they also have to pay for) gathering dust. Those sales numbers are also used to determine if they want to contract another book by that author. (Which is why it’s SO important you BUY the book, not pirate it! If you pirate it, the publisher isn’t making any money with that series. If they’re not making money, it’s not worth it to them to buy the next in the series. And the readers who love the series end up losing out.) Anyway, a lot of new authors are obsessed about how big their print run will be. But they need to understand that while it is important to an author’s career, I repeat, the author has absolutely no control over the size of the print run. That is completely out of their hands. That doesn’t stop the author from bugging their editor or scouring their royalties to try to determine what their print run is, of course.

Another variation of this question yesterday was “What are the numbers your publisher expects?” Even for us e-pubbed authors. I was asked by several people what my publisher expected from my books in sales. Well, every author (and every publisher) hopes they’ll hit a home run and sell thousands and thousands of books. Why write otherwise? But is there a magic number? For my publisher yes, there would have to be. After all, they have to recoup the amount of money they’ve invested in my book by paying, the editor who read it as a submission and subsequently did developmental edits, and the grammar nazi copy editor who went through it with a fine toothed comb and killed all those extra commas and em-dashes I’m addicted to as they whipped my manuscript into its best possible shape. They also have to pay the cover artist who has to interpret the form I filled out spouting all sorts of nonsense and imagine something that will tell the reader who picks it up what the book is about without using a single word. The publisher also has to pay the person who formats the manuscript into the proper formats for printing and/or download, as well as the website manager who put the book up on their site. Let’s not forget they have to pay the IT folks who keep their website running, and the folks in accounting who cut my royalty cheques. How much is that? I haven’t a clue. Do I want to know? Probably not. I obsess about enough stuff already, worrying about this type of thing would drive me crazy.

Does my publisher look at that magic number when I sent in the third book in the Hauberk series? Possibly. Probably. Is there anything in my contract or have I ever heard anything from my publisher that they expect me to sell X number of books? Nope. BUT I also remind myself that publishing is a business and that after paying all those people in the paragraph above, the publisher still needs make a profit to stay in business to print my next book. So if my editor has to choose between three submissions that she loves for the one slot available to her in a particular month, does she look at those numbers and perhaps go with the author who is likely to bring the company the most money? Possibly. Or perhaps editors develop special spidey senses that say a manuscript by a previously unpubbed author might sell better than the next book in a series by one of her regular authors. I don’t know. Again, I don’t know if I want to even think about that end of it. I like living in my fantasy world.

Anyway, you can drive yourself nuts worrying about numbers. What you have to do write the best damned book you can, polish it, make it shine before you submit it. Because really? After that it’s out of your hands.

As I said above, this turned into a much longer post than I expected, so I’m going to break it up into other posts. I’m planning to write a post about the submission process, what happens once you get “the call” (the contract and its clauses), the subsequent editing process….anything else you’d like explained?

What did she say? Backlist? What’s that?
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3 thoughts on “What did she say? Backlist? What’s that?

  • October 17, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Great informative post, Leah! Wish there was a local RWA chapter within a normal distance so I could go. 🙁

  • October 17, 2010 at 9:55 am

    great stuff…would love to attend such a meeting.

    And as an English teacher, I always tell my students there is no such thing as a stupid question!!!

    in Germany

  • October 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks, Leah!

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