Dissecting the Kindle Scout Contract

This is the eighth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

*Edit: It seems that Kindle Scout has been around for a while, but I can't really figure out when it started. Regardless, this is the first I heard of it, and Amazon is still billing it as "new."

Early this morning, I received an email from Amazon regarding their new publishing program called "Kindle Scout." Basically, they accept open submissions of unpublished material for this new program, offering you a chance to get paid an advance for something you were probably going to self-publish anyway.

Sensing danger, my writey senses began to tingle and I decided to take a closer look at the contract for their Kindle Press. I found that it has some good stuff, a bunch of bad stuff, and that I should generally do a point-by-point look at it in a public place. ie, here.

First, a disclaimer: I could be wrong about my interpretation of any of this data because I'm not a lawyer or an agent. I'm just an author trying to figure this stuff out for people like myself. Please let me know in the comments if I'm wildly wrong about something. I'm going to comment on the content of each of the bullet points as shown in their contract. You can follow along with my analysis by looking at the contract HERE.

Let's get started at the top:


These are all just basic submission guidelines that seem fairly familiar to anyone who's submitted a book or short story anywhere before. There's one big change: normally, you submit a self-polished draft of your work to a publisher for consideration. Kindle Scout, on the other hand, expect your to turn in a fully-copyedited manuscript as well as cover art. This means they're going to publish what you send them. No more, no less. They'll either accept it or reject it at face value, with no interest in helping you polish a good book or hooking you up with awesome cover art. In this way, you're basically self-publishing. Remember that properly copy-editing and providing cover art for a manuscript requires you to either be well-connected or spend several thousand dollars.

5. Rights You Grant to Us.

World rights always make me nervous because it means they reserve the right to sell stuff in other languages. I trust my agent to sell foreign rights better than my publisher (and I keep more money in the case of the former), and I certainly would not trust Amazon's relationships with foreign publishers based on their relationships with those in the US and UK. We'll look more at this a little later.

The "develop, license, sublicense" bit makes me super nervous. Does this mean movie deals, merchandising, etc? Huge red flag, and a good reason to have an agent look at this (which many self-pubbers don't have).

I also think it's interesting that they skip print edition rights.

6. Term; Reversion.
6.1 Term; Minimum Royalties. 

Amazon basically gives themselves five years to make you $25K before rights revert. Interesting way to handle the alternative to "out of print" clauses in traditional contracts.

6.2.1 Initial Publication.

A "we have to print this within a certain amount of time" clause is standard. Six months for Amazon seems long, because they literally just have to push a button to make it happen.

6.2.2 Withdrawal from Publication.

If Amazon isn't making you at least $500/year within the first two years, you can get your rights back early. This seems fair.

6.2.3 Digital Audio Rights.

Two years to put out an audio book seems an awfully long time to me.

6.2.4 Language Rights.

Giving themselves two years to unload foreign editions makes way more sense than two years to get an audiobook out.


Reversion legalese that an agent should look at.

7. Publication. 

This gives you 30 days to clean up your manuscript post-acceptance. Again, remember that this is all on you. They've clearly stated they won't edit or provide cover art or anything else a traditional publisher does to make the book more presentable. The "Other than changes or revisions we deem necessary for publication" clause makes me a bit nervous, because it's really vague.

8. Advance; Pricing; Royalties; Payment.
8.1 Advance.

Like a said before, $1500 is a tiny advance; the equivalent to what you'd probably get from a small press. The fact that they pay you within 30 days of acceptance is nice and can be compared to either on-signing or on-delivery payments with a traditional publisher. When I sign a contract with my publisher it takes around 3-4 months to get paid. When I turn in a book, it takes around 3-4 weeks to get paid.

8.2 Pricing

Amazon choosing the price is totally normal for a publisher, but is a step back from Amazon's normal self-publishing contract where you choose it yourself. On one hand, they have all the data and experience. On the other hand, it's another bit of control you relinquish for such a tiny advance.

8.3 Royalties from Direct Sales.

Another loss from self-publishing is the 50% royalty rate for ebooks versus their 70% for normal self-publishers. Remember, you're losing that 20% in return for the advance and the vague weight of their marketing wing. 25% for audiobook is 5% more than what you'll currently get matching with a reader through their audio program (ACX).

A red flag here is the fact you won't get any royalties from promotional copies (which is standard), but I have no idea if this includes people who get free copies for having flagged your work during the initial Scout program. This is a huge deal for an author like myself with an established fanbase. If 1000 people see and flag the book then get it for free, will I lose all those sales from my biggest fans?

8.4 Share of Proceeds from Third Party Sublicenses.

This is a big sticking point for me, because you make foreign money off of royalties, rather than advances. In traditional publishing, either your agent (if you just sold a single set of rights, like English) or your publisher (if you sold World rights), will get you lump sums from foreign publishers. The ten foreign rights sales I've had of The Powder Mage Trilogy over the last three years have been a not-insignificant source of income for me.

50% of "sub-licensed formats" sounds to me like movies, comics, TV, merchandise. But again, you'd have to ask an agent about that stuff. Regardless, it's a big red flag. I recently agreed to license Powder Mage jewelry with Badali - something I did on my own, because I still had the rights, and which I won't have to share the profit from.

8.5 Royalty Reports and Payments.

Finally. Something awesome. Royalty statements every month, as well as payments made within sixty days of the statement. I get both statements and payments from Orbit every six months and it drives me a little nuts. One of the best things about self-publishing my short fiction is having a constant, tangible stream of income that gets delivered to my bank by the end of each month from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.

8.6 Offset; Repayment.
8.7 Taxes.

This is all money stuff that you need to read through. Looks standard to me.

9. Copyright; Rights Protection.

Again, this looks standard but another good reason to have an agent.

10. Promotion.

This is a small paragraph but probably shouldn't be ignored. Amazon has vast reach, and the ability to put your work in front of millions of eyes on a daily basis, which is absolutely huge. The problem I have with it being so vague is that I don't know what, exactly, promotion means. Now, this is a normal state of affairs for any publisher that promises to promote your work, but in the case of Amazon you are intentionally giving up 20% royalty and control from self-publishing, or chance at a bigger advance from trad publishing, specifically in return for Amazon's ability to market the hell out of your book. The fact that it's so vague makes me nervous.

I'm also curious about you not being able to use their name without prior consent. Will they come after you for saying "My new book, The Fliberdyjibbet of Woompa Land" is out not exclusively from Amazon!"


The rest of the contract looks like standard legal stuff to me, but again, I'm not a lawyer or agent. It need to be looked over by someone with more experience.

To sum up, I'm not a huge fan of this contract. There's some great stuff here that I'd love all publishers to get on board with, like monthly royalty statements for all digital sales, but I'm not a fan of their purchasing World Rights when the average person has no idea if Amazon can even sell their books in other countries (lets remember that many of the publishing and bookselling businesses out there have blacklisted Amazon's publishing arm).

The contract itself is aimed at new authors, rather than established ones (which I'd kind of hoped for when I opened the email this morning, because I do like seeing Amazon light a fire under the old-fashioned nature of trad publishers). I feel like most agents would outright reject such a contract in it's current form. While it's not outright predatory, it leans just a bit too much in that direction for comfort.

Event - August 29th, 2015

For my Chicago friends out there, I'll be joining the awesome Wesley Chu at his local launch party for his new book Time Salvager on August 29th, 2015 from 6-9PM at the Geek Bar in Chicago, IL. Along with Wes I'll be signing books and hanging out playing games and having a drink or three. They'll have both of our books available for purchase, or bring your own! Hope to see you there!

Details on the event can be found here.

Attending a Convention as an Author: Panels

This is the seventh of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

I recently had the pleasure to attend the Gen Con Writer's Symposium. Gen Con, as some of you might know, is one of the bigger tabletop gaming conventions out there, consisting of four days of just about anything involving board games, card games, pen & paper roleplaying games, and more. The Writer's Symposium is the little corner of Gen Con that focuses on writing—a fitting match because so many authors both play and work in the gaming community. It has paneling, presentations, author signings, meet-and-greets, and all sorts of other fun things for the participants. This was my second year of attendance and I highly recommend going for both readers and authors.

I could go on and on for hours talking about the Writer's Symposium, Gen Con, or just conventions in general because there is a ton of ground to cover (I've talked about them before). But this essay is going to focus specifically on one aspect of the convention-going author experience that tends to be pretty similar where ever you go—panels.

Not sure what a panel is? Go to youtube and type in something like "Comic Con Marvel Movie Announcement." You'll get a video of a group of actors sitting on a stage in front of a thousand screaming fans while they give out tantalizing details about their next movie. Have that image firmly in your mind? Good. Now scale it down a lot. Excellent. Scale it down some more. A leeeeeettle more. And now you have a good idea of what an author panel looks like at the average convention.

Unless the panel involves GRRM, Brandon Sanderson, or Pat Rothfuss. Then you can scale that image back up.

Author panels are not likely to be limited to the panelists talking about their next projects (unless the panel is run by a publisher, or does involve one of the aforementioned rockstar authors). Instead, it's probably going to be geared toward amateur authors. The panelists will discuss a particular topic like "Writing Action Scenes" or "Plot Design." They'll play a game of round robin, directed by the moderator, each panelist taking stabs at the topic from different angles until they run out of things to say or the moderator calls for questions from the audience. Panelists slip in anecdotes, or relate the topic from the perspective of their own works (both of which are fine in moderation), and just generally try to sound intelligent and interesting in the hopes that the attendees will run out of the room and straight to the bookstore to buy their stuff.

That last sentence may have sounded sarcastic or bratty. I didn't mean it as either. Authors are real people with limited time and we sign up for panels for a purpose; to support the convention, meet other pros we might not have otherwise, get a free ticket into said convention and maybe access to the green room (if they have one), or even just because we like hearing ourselves talk. But most of all (in my opinion), we're here to reach an audience.

Panels are a way for new or midlist authors to reach a small but dedicated group of book-buyers. As mentioned, the panels are often directed as amateur authors, who are almost always voracious readers and fans themselves, making this sort of thing a symbiotic relationship. "I'll impart my wisdom to you and you, even subconsciously, consider buying my books." I rarely sell enough books at a convention to pay for the trip, but never underestimate the value of making a fan out of a convention-goer.

The actual size of the audience varies. I've been on panels where there are more people on the panel than in the audience. I've also sat in front of 400 convention-goers (but one of my fellow panelists was Brandon Sanderson). As an author, you never really know what your audience is going to be like and you do the small ones in the hopes that you'll wind up on the big ones.

This is a good place to talk about pitfalls of paneling. Panels are, at best, an interesting hour where everyone, including the panelists themselves, learns something new. Jokes are told, time is shared, the moderator is on top of things. Yay for those panels! But panels can also be a rough time, and here are a few ways they can go down hill:

First, you might wind up on a panel with a talker. The talker will spend all their speaking time, as well as most of yours, droning on about something only tangentially related to the panel. They might cut you off to make their own interjections, or ignore the moderator when they try to go to questions from the audience. They'll rant about politics or sex, or just start telling stories about famous people they know. Talkers come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, but old men seem to be the worst of them. Nobody likes a talker.

Another type of talker is the person who has absolutely no qualifications and no wit or charm to cover up the fact. They're basically an audience member who signed up for programming and got put on a panel because the convention didn't check credentials or desperately needed to fill out the roster. This is, to be frank, super annoying, but it usually only happens at small conventions.

Second, you could end up with a crumby audience member, like the guy who answered his phone right as the panel began and talked loudly on it for the next several minutes, or the lady with the enormous hat that insists on sitting in the front row and puts everyone behind her in a bad mood. You'll also get audience members who are the aforementioned "talkers." The moderator will ask for questions, and instead of posing a question this person will start in on their own musings because they think they should have been on the panel, or they'll proceed to tell you the plot of their unfinished novel. Both of those will earn the lifelong hatred of everyone on the panel and probably the audience.

Third, you could just have a boring topic. These are topics that deal with very shallow questions or generally-understood aspects of writing that only take five minutes to answer. I was once on a panel where we had to go to audience questions after fifteen minutes because there was just nothing else to say on the topic. Now, a good slew of panelists will come up with something else to say, or lead the discussion into a related, more interesting topic, but sometimes you get a boring panel at 9AM with four attendees and look let's all just go get a muffin or something.

Finally, there might be something wrong entirely out of your, or anyone else's, control. The AC in that room might be broken. There might be a wicked terrible smell. You might be next door to the convention's zombie maze, and constantly interrupted by real and electronic screams, shouting, music, etc. Best you can do in these situations is send someone to find the nearest con volunteer and hope something can be done.

Most of the worst panel pitfalls can be fixed or prevented by a good, strong moderator. The moderator is a third party assigned to the panel who, in theory, will do very little talking themselves and focus their attention on making the panel as smooth as possible. They'll introduce the panelists, pose questions, wrangle hecklers, shut down talkers, watch the clock, and give a closing statement. I'm a huge fan of the Myke Cole version of moderating, where he makes it clear to the audience and panelists ahead of time that he won't abide talkers and then follows through with that in a firm, polite way.

Because really, talkers are the worst.

My best panels have had the kind of ideal moderator I mentioned above. But in all honesty, a decent moderator just needs to foment discussion and watch the clock. So if you get an email from the con ahead of time asking you to moderate, or see an (M) next to your name in the programming, don't sweat it to much.

Let's say it's your first panel at your first convention. You're not a moderator and you feel good about the topic. What can you do to be a good panelist? Simple:

  • Don't drone.
  • Share the time.
  • Listen to the other panelists so you don't repeat what they said.
  • Ask to not be scheduled for a time when you'll be cranky (for me that's before 11AM).
  • Come prepared, either with a couple minutes of forethought on the topic or a notebook full of ideas, per your preference.
  • Be polite.
  • Pee and eat before a three-panel stretch.
  • Don't be afraid to let programming know you don't feel qualified for a certain panel.

Really, it's just a list of basic etiquette. My first panel was at a tiny but well-run convention in Detroit and my first book wasn't even out yet. I was terrified, my voice and hands shook, and I was sweating up a storm. There were eight people in the audience. It was, shall we say, anticlimactic, even to someone like me with a huge fear of public speaking. It was also great practice, and I'm happy to say I handle panels much better these days.

All-in-all, panels are a bit of a crap shoot but they can be enormously fun learning experiences that may even net you a group of new fans. They're a staple of the convention-going author's experience and if you go in prepared, you'll usually have a good time.

"Missed Brian at Gen Con" Sale

Hey guys! I'm back from Gen Con and recovering both physically and mentally. It was, again, a fantastic convention where I got to meet new and interesting people, hang out with friends, and shake hands with fans. I had an amazingly fun time.

I sold a bunch of books at Gen Con, which was very cool, but not only was I unable to sell my novellas there, but I'm also aware that not everyone can make it to Gen Con to get books signed. So: I'm having a sale from now until Sunday night (the 9th), in which you can get 25% off anything in my bookstore with the code GENCON2015. I'll also throw in some extra incentives.

  • Spend $9.99 or more (before applying the coupon) and get a free Audible code for Servant of the Crown.
  • Spend $100 and get free Audible codes for all six of my self-published powder mage stories.

Promise of Blood is a Kindle Daily Deal, July 19th

Just an FYI, Promise of Blood is a Kindle Daily Deal at $1.99. If you've been hoping to pick up the ebook for yourself or as a gift for a friend or family member, now is a perfect time!

So far, a couple other stores have price-matched the $1.99 price point. If you're a Nook reader you may want to check in with them later today to see if they've gotten on the ball.


Brian at Gen Con!

Two weeks from now, Gen Con in Indianapolis is going to be in full swing, and I'm going to be there for the Gen Con Writer's Symposium. I'll be hanging out talking to fans, attending panels, signing books, and will have books for sale at the Indy Reads Bookstore in the Exhibit Hall. You can check out the full Writer's Symposium schedule here, and find my specific schedule below:

Thursday, July 30th, 11AM: Book Signing in Author's Avenue in Exhibit Hall.

Thursday July 30th, 2PM: Defining Genres and Why it Matters room 244

Thursday July 30th, 3PM: Writing Action Scenes room 245

Friday July 31st, 11AM: Writing Dialogue and Dialogue Tags room 244

Friday July 31st, 12PM: Plot Design room 244

Friday July 31st, 2PM: Book Signing in Author's Avenue in Exhibit Hall.

Saturday August 1st, 12PM: Heroic Pairs room 245

Saturday August 1st, 2PM: Book Signing in Author's Avenue in Exhibit Hall.


Book Formats and You

This is the sixth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

When an author first sells their books, one of the things outlined in their contract is format rights as well as the royalties that they'll make on said formats. Now, we talked about those different royalties in a previous essay, discussing how much money an author can expect to make off of each individual book they sell depending on if it's a physical copy, audiobook, or ebook. What we did not talk about is how many of each of those formats you can expect to sell.

I'm not talking about the number of books sold, obviously, because no one has any idea how many will sell; not you, your agent, the bookstores, or even your publisher. What I'm talking about is the percentage of overall sales that will wind up coming from each of the formats published. This may seem like a trivial topic, but as we outlined in that previous essay authors make vastly different amounts of money off the sale of a mass market versus, say, an audiobook or hardcover.

To keep things simple, I'm going to ignore stuff like C-format, foreign copies, or library copies and focus on the big ones: hardcover, ebook, audiobook, mass market, and trade paperback. This is where it starts to get complicated so pay attention, because all of this is going to make your head hurt a little bit.

As I alluded before, different contracts may include different rights being sold at different times, perhaps even to different companies. This is mostly divided between physical books and ebooks being sold together, with audiobooks maybe or maybe not getting picked up at the same time (it used to be divided even further, because ebooks used to not be a thing and when they first were, some publishers didn't bother with them, but I don't think that happens much any more). In addition, publishers don't put out every book in all three physical formats. My books, for instance, came out in hardcover and trade paperback in the US and hardcover and mass market in the UK. Many of my author friends are out in trade paperback and mass market without hardcover, or mass market alone.

This means that getting any real solid data on this kind of thing when you don't have access to the databases of a publisher is really difficult. When I decided to do this essay I sent emails off to a handful of my author friends asking if they'd be willing to share their format percentages. The first thing I learned is that most authors don't keep track of these numbers with the same obsessive zeal that I do. For some, looking at number sales causes anxiety, for others, they're just not interested.

The second thing I learned was, as mentioned above, I'm not going to be able to give you a solid spread of consistent formats. Let's get into the numbers so I can show you what I mean. First we'll look at some of my friends who were able to give me sales percentage data:

Wesley Chu's Lives of Tao sold 40% ebook, 60% mass market. No info on audio.

Myke Cole's Control Point sold 49% ebook, 51% mass market. No info on audio.

Stephen Blackmoore's Dead Things sold 53% ebook, 47% mass market. Audio sold separately and will be out later this year.

Jason Hough's Darwin Elevator sold 70% ebook, 20% mass market, and 10% audio.

I like this data because it's all from book one in a new series with different audiences that may overlap a bit, and all concerning the same formats. Just from these four, you can see a 30% spread on format sales—wowza. However, this data also makes it look like it'll be simple to analyze this kind of stuff over multiple authors. To disabuse you of this notion, let's take a look at a few more:

Django Wexler's Thousand Names sold 62% ebooks, 38% hardcover/mass market, and no data on audio.

Django's middle grade (8-12 years) Forbidden Library sold 93% hardcover and 7% ebook in the UK.

Michael Sullivan's Theft of Swords sold 45% ebooks, 26% trade paperback, and 29% audiobooks.

Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns sold 55% ebooks, 45% everything else.

Missing data! Different formats! Murky reports! Various audiences! This way surely lies madness. Mark commented that his ebook percentage has climbed across all five of his books ending with 78% of sales for his latest, while Myke said his was steady across the three books and then the mass market leapt up for the fourth. Even trying to figure out how sales will go within a single series seems anyone's guess.

Okay, so I've offered up a bunch of other people's numbers. To further illustrate that point about a series, here are some of my own:

Promise of Blood

  • US hardcovers:           10.31%
  • US ebooks:                 63.21%
  • US audio:                    13.31%
  • US trade paperback    13.17%

Crimson Campaign

  • US hardcovers:           20.59%
  • US ebooks:                 55.92%
  • US audio:                    15.15%
  • US trade paperback    8.33%

Autumn Republic

  • US hardcovers:           18.53%
  • US ebooks:                 62.76%
  • US audio:                    18.71%

You can easily see the first problem with looking at this data even across my own series: the trade paperback of each book came out eight months or so after the other formats, so the data is skewed against that format and in the case of Autumn Republic, it isn't even out yet. It would be far more accurate to look back at this in, say, five years.

(One interesting thing to note is that the system is built that way so that people who buy the trade of an earlier book will hopefully buy hardcover of the newest release. The big jump in hardback percentage from books one to two reflect this. I only have about half the sales data for hardcovers of Autumn Republic, so I suspect you'll see another large jump there once I do get that data.)

If you compare my data with the data from my author friends above, you can see the problem. The differing formats means that we're comparing apples to something vaguely but not entirely apple-like. If you decide to get fancy and throw in other rights, even just the World English ones, things get even more crazy.

Let's toss another set of numbers in there for fun: John Scalzi publicly posted the numbers for his book Redshirts about seven months after it came out. They were 45% ebook, 34% hardcover, and 21% audio.

Because I keep obsessive spreadsheets on these things I was able to go back and check and see what the US numbers for Promise of Blood were after seven months. They were 68% ebook, 24% hardcover, and 8% audio. You can see the significant difference between Scalzi's numbers and my own. The problem with trying to interpret the reason for those differences is it's all conjecture: it was not his first book, so he had more people buying hardcover; for part of that time my ebook was on sale for $1.99; his audiobook had been pushed hard by Audible; etc. It's going to be a combination of all of the above, of course, but how much of each.

The conclusion I come to, presented with all this data, is that there's no "rule of thumb" that can cover all of publishing. Keep in mind, most of the numbers I gave you above are from genre authors writing to an adult crowd. Numbers change dramatically across YA, middle grade, romance, westerns, etc. I'm not saying it's hopeless. If a new author were to ask me what they can expect, I'd probably tell them they'd sell around 50% in ebooks—and I might be close. But some authors gather giant followings among audiobook listeners or hardback collectors that skew the numbers.

I don't really envy the people who have to sort through this mess for a living, even if I do find it fascinating.

June Sale + Book Update

Hey guys! Been awfully busy around the McClellan house lately, what with Phoenix Comicon and trying to get book one of the new trilogy finished. I'm just popping in now to let you know I have a special sale on the website bookstore. With the code JUNESALE you can get 15% off all orders until Thursday night, June 11th. In addition, everyone who orders until the end of the sale will be emailed an Audible code for the audiobook of Murder at the Kinnen Hotel, which is normally $6.95 on Audible.

I've been getting a lot of questions about the next book lately, so here's a quick check-in: I'm working on the first book in a sequel trilogy that takes place ten years after the end of The Autumn Republic. It does not have a title yet. I should have it done in the next couple months, and you can expect it out sometime next year. I'll let you guys know as soon as I have a firm release date!

Phoenix Comicon Schedule

This coming week (May 27th-31st), I'll be at Phoenix Comicon where you can find me signing books, speaking on panels, eating cake, and hanging out with friends and fans. It's shaping up to be a rousing good time. If you're in the Phoenix area but not attending Comicon, don't worry! I'll be at an offsite signing with a whole gaggle of awesome authors! Here's my panel schedule for the week. Click on the links to get panelist information and locations.

Poisoned Pen Signing Extravaganza: Wednesday, 7:00pm - 8:00pm at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ. I'll be available to sign books you bring and the store will have books for sale. Click on the link to check out the list of other authors present. There will be drinks, snacks, and giveaway prizes.

Magic Refresh: Thursday, 7:30pm - 8:30pm. Why does magic seem to withstand the test of time?  Panelists discuss the use of magic and how innovative ideas bring fresh new ways to use magic in literature. 

How Big Can It Get: Friday 3:00 - 4:00pm. They don't call it "epic" fantasy for nothin'. Share the glories and tragedies of writing big in epic fantasy: building massive worlds, creating huge casts of characters, and thinking the biggest ideas. Go big or go home (Don't go home, please come).

The Food of Fantasy: Friday 4:30pm - 5:30pm. Feast scenes are a staple of any fantasy author's diet, just as much as dragons and talking swords. But is there more to a feast scene than just disturbingly elaborate portrayals of roast duck? Digest this issue with our panelists!

Author Signing: Brian McClellan,Sam Sykes,Mur Lafferty,Max Gladstone,Margaret Dunlap : Friday 6:00pm - 7:00pm

Author Signing: Scott Sigler,Jason Hough,Brian Staveley,Brian McClellan,Django Wexler : Saturday 3:00pm - 4:00pm

Keep the Sorcery Lose the Sword: Saturday 6:00pm - 7:00pm. Panel of authors who write fantasy set in the Gun Powder era.

Signing:Beth Cato,Brian McClellan,Joseph Nassise,Peter V. Brett,Richard Kadrey,Viola Carr : Sunday 1:30pm - 2:30pm. Warning: I may not be able to make this one, as my flight out leaves at 4pm.

How an Author Gets Paid: The Big Picture

This is the fifth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

Last month I wrote an essay about how much money (depending on the format) a traditionally-published author makes off individual sales of their books, which you can check out here. I had several people ask me about the how and when of the money actually reaching the author and that, my friends, is a whole other thing.

When an author gets into a contract with a publisher, they are usually signing away the rights of publication in return for a set amount of the profits, or royalties, from the sales of the books. These royalties are the numbers I covered in that last essay but it's important to note that while yes, this is the amount of money the author makes off of those individual sales, it's not going to them directly. It has a bit of a path to take.

First off, authors don't just sell the publication rights for the royalties alone, otherwise I suspect royalties would be a bit higher than they are. They also sell them for something called an advance. The advance is a chunk of money, payable upon certain parameters, that the author gets for their rights. It basically constitutes a promise from the publisher that they're investing in you, the author, and they won't walk away from the contract they signed with you. The author will never have to repay this money regardless of how well the book does.

The size of an advance can vary wildly from a few hundred dollars for a tiny publisher or the sale of a foreign set of rights, to several million dollars for a book from an established mega-bestseller like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. A ton of effort goes into determining the size of an advance—marketability of the book, current reading trends, the author's fan base, the publisher's own agreements with distributors, etc—and it's a decision that involves input from the whole publishing team.

According to Tobias Buckell's survey of over a hundred SFF authors back in 2005, the median advance for a new author was $6000. I'd be interested in getting my hands on more recent data. In the meantime, it gives you an idea of what to expect. As an aside—no doubt I'll get a few people asking how much I was paid for the Powder Mage Trilogy. I'm not a fan of letting people know how much money I make but it is public knowledge that it was a six-figure deal for the three books. I was very fortunate for a first-time author.

Okay, so you or your agent has negotiated an advance and you're signed up with a new publisher. What next, you ask? The fun part; they send you a check.

Advances are usually broken down into smaller payments, depending on the publisher. The Powder Mage Trilogy was paid in seven installments: 33% upon signing and then 11% upon delivery and upon publication of each of the three books. Foreign rights may be a bit different—some may pay you everything up front and some may have a structure with several payments like the one I had with Orbit.

So what does all this junk about an advance have to do with royalties? Everything. Do you know why it's called an advance? Because it's an advance against future royalties. They've paid you up front for money that they expect to make back. Every time someone buys one of my books the money does not go to me directly, rather it goes toward paying out my advance in the publisher's ledgers. If someone has an advance of $10,000, and their hardback is sold at $24 with a 10% royalty, they'll have to sell 4167 hardcovers (or a larger mix of formats that don't pay quite as big of a royalty) in order to earn out.

Which brings us the finale of getting paid for your books. Earning out. You may have heard the term from your favorite author through social media. "I got my royalty statement today and earned out. Cheesecake for everyone!" Or something like that. Earning out means that an author has accrued enough royalties that they've paid for their advance in its entirely and that, from now on, they'll be receiving royalty payments from their publisher. Their books are now paying them passive income—a dream for any sane person and the golden goose of authordom.  This is an extra big deal because only a small percentage of books earn out their advances (I've heard 20%). It also means that your publisher is likely to pay you more for your next book because you've proven you can sell.

A quick word about royalty statements (the spreadsheet from your publisher telling you how many books you've sold)—statements are put out at least once a year, commonly twice a year, and are notoriously difficult to read. They're one of the many reasons a good agent is worth every penny. If you're owed royalties, this is when you'll get paid. Yes, getting paid only twice a year sucks. But as you've no doubt figured out by now, budgeting is an important part of being an author.

The whole royalty statement system is outdated in and in dire need of an overhaul. Hopefully we'll see that happen over the next few years but in the meantime, this is what we have. I could go on about the cost-benefits of the payment structures of a traditional publisher versus self-publishing, which is a whole different can of worms. I do both and I like different things about them. I encourage all authors to diversify to their ability.

As far as traditional publishing goes advances can be a huge boon for a new author. For me, an advance meant that I could quit my soul-crushing day job and focus on books two and three of the trilogy I had just sold (a reason you got Promise of Blood, Crimson Campaign, and Autumn Republic all in a two-year period instead of several years between each). I haven't yet earned out on the trilogy, though I suspect that I will in the very near future. I plan on doing a little jig when I do.

Unfettered II

In case you missed it over on Twitter, earlier this week I finished a new powder mage short story for the coming anthology Unfettered II. The story is called "The Siege of Tilpur," and is a stand-alone about a young Sergeant Tamas during the Gurlish Wars. It's the earliest thing to date that I've written in the chronology of the Powder Mage Universe and has a similar feel to "Hope's End."

Follow this link and you'll see the crazy big list of science fiction and fantasy authors who will have stories in the anthology. I'm hugely honored to be among them. Unfettered II will be out on October of 2015. I believe there will be a signed and numbered edition available from Grim Oak Press, and I will likely be selling copies off my website (signed on the title page of my story, of course). When I get more info I'll let you guys know.

Promise of Blood out in Poland!

Hey guys, I'm happy to announce that the Polish translation of Promise of Blood is now out in Poland! They did a beautiful rendition of the cover, as well as cool chapter header art.

Some interesting things: my name is larger than the title, which is usually reserved for best-selling authors. So unless they know something I don't, I'm curious why they ended up doing that. It could be that is a publishing standard that is different in Poland than in the US. Also, the cover quote is the one I got from Peter V. Brett rather than Brandon Sanderson, which I'm only assuming says something about how well Pete sells over in Poland (I'm guessing very well).

Every translation so far has used the digital photo-manipulation from the US release (which I'm fine with, because it's so dang good), but they've all made small changes that I find really interesting. In this one, I really like how they brightened up the cover with more orange and gold, as well as the font they used for my name.

If you'd like to pick up a Polish translation, I believe you can order it here or here, where you can also download the first couple chapters.

Ohioana Book Festival

The Ohioana Book Festival is a big book fair every year in Columbus, Ohio. This year I'll be in attendance with over a hundred other Ohio authors selling and signing books and participating in panels. The event is from 10AM to 4:30PM at the Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square on Saturday, April 25th. I'll be at table 40. My one panel is at 10:15 where we'll be talking about all things SFF.

If you're in the area, come on down to chat, get a book signed, or just say hi! More details here.

Powder Mage Lego

I've been picking up the latest Pirates Lego sets when I see them because, how cool is this, the soldiers in these sets are wearing Napoleonic-era blue uniforms. And what does that mean? It means the Adran army in Lego!

Yes, I'm a child. Get past it.

Yesterday I got out some of my sets and swapped out heads and torsos and hands (like ya do) and made some of our favorite Powder Mage characters into Lego guys. I'd love to do a Brickbook style thing someday, maybe building Shouldercrown Fortress or something like that, but for now I just have some of the guys and I thought I'd share them with you:

Tax Day Coupon

This month's Holy Taco Church Newsletter is out, and inside there's a coupon code for 15% off anything from my author store, as well as the author stores of my friends Kevin Hearne and Wesley Chu. So celebrate getting your stupid taxes done by picking up some rad science fiction and fantasy novels signed by the authors!

The coupon code is "TAXDAY" and is good through this coming Friday, 4/19.

How Much an Author Makes Off Their Books

This is the fourth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

One of the most common questions an author gets is "how can I buy your book to support you best?" It comes from readers who want to know what format (be it ebook, audio, or physical) authors make the most money from, or whether we get paid for secondhand purchases or other such considerations. It's a great question, and we love getting it because it means that reader is taking the time to consider the person behind their favorite books.

The standard answer is "however is most convenient for you" because, let's face it, the difference of a dollar or less coming to us is nothing compared to getting a lifelong fan who is reading our books in whatever format is most comfortable for them. But I have some fans who want to press a little further and make sure they get every penny they can into my hands and, not being one to argue, I thought I'd share the breakdown.

A small caveat—a lot of people will be shocked at how small of a percentage an author makes from the books that are being sold. I'm not going to talk about why this is, or why I'm fairly satisfied with my cut, because I addressed it last year in my post on the Cost of a Good Book. I'm also talking strictly traditionally-published numbers here and not self-published.

Here's the short version ordered from the most monetarily-beneficial to least. This is based on my own experiences, which are pretty much industry standard for the big publishers but may vary depending on prices and contract terms:

  1. purchasing direct from the author
  2. hardcover
  3. audiobook
  4. ebook
  5. borrowing from libraries
  6. trade paperback
  7. mass market paperback
  8. secondhand
  9. piracy

The first thing you'll notice is that list is pretty much in order of how expensive the books are to the readers in first place. No big surprise there. But let's take a closer look at each of these and see what the author is getting paid.

Not every author offers books for sale from their own website. But for those that do, this is by far the best way to support them because it means they'll be acting as their own bookstore and taking that cut on top of their standard payment by way of royalties, whatever those might be. So, say you picked up a copy of Promise of Blood in hardcover from my store. I charge cover price of $24. I purchased the books in bulk from distributor for about $16 each, so I get that difference of $8. I also get my standard 10% royalty of $2.40. Of course, this means I also have to deal with stocking, customer service, packaging, shipping, and all that, but I've decided it's well worth the time and cost. Direct author cut on Promise of Blood in hardcover: $10.40

If an author doesn't sell their books themselves, the best way to support them is buying in hardcover (which, of course, not all authors have). As mentioned above, I make 10% off my hardcovers. But that's 10% off the cover price. Meaning if you get a new copy of Autumn Republic off Amazon for $18, I'm still going to make the full $2.60 off the $26 original price. Hardcover author cut on Promise of Blood: $2.40

Audiobooks are a weird thing because, while my contract says that I make 25% of net (meaning 25% of what my publisher is paid), the number is constantly going up and down depending on whether a reader bought it directly from Audible, or used an Audible credit, or bought it during a sale, or what have you. So all I can really give you is the average I make according to my royalty statement. Audio author cut from Promise of Blood: $2.15

I've put ebooks on the list above trade paperbacks and below audiobooks, but to be honest they could hold a different spot depending on pricing. Like audio, I make 25% of net on ebooks. So, 25% of what my publisher makes which is a number I'm not entirely clear on. It depends on the publisher and their deal with the ebook distributors. I've heard 70% of sale price thrown around as standard. Assuming 70%, that means I make 25% of 70% of whatever you paid for the ebook. If you paid $13, that means I got $2.28. If you got it on sale for $1.99, that means I made $.35. Promise of Blood was on sale for many months for $1.99 in a (successful) attempt to rack up sales before Crimson Campaign came out. That means the average amount of made from Promise of Blood in ebook is much, much lower than books two or three. For sake of simplicity, I'll use the $9.99 price point. Ebook author cut from Promise of Blood: $1.75

Putting library borrows in this spot, or rather any spot at all, is kind of arbitrary and I'm sure people can make a good argument for it being higher or lower. Libraries pay the same as anyone else for physical books, and a very large markup on ebooks and audiobooks, and then they lend them to an unknown number of patrons for free. So why is it here? Does this mean I'd rather someone borrow my books from a library than buy it in trade paperback? No... but I think a library patron's contribution to a writer's income is incredibly important and I have a soft spot for libraries. Every borrow gets my name out there and talked about for free (as far as the patrons are concerned), and still puts some money in my pocket. What's more, every borrow of my books in hardcover makes it more likely they'll have to replace it when it comes out in paperback, and/or they'll buy the hardcovers of the next two books as soon as they're out. Libraries are an author's best friend. Library borrow author cut from Promise of Blood: ?

Trade paperbacks have the same sort of deal as the hardcovers (percent of gross), but with a slightly lower percentage. Probably to account for the larger risk of the larger printings. For me, that means 7.5% of cover price goes into my pocket. Trade paperback author cut from Promise of Blood: $1.20

Same deal with the mass market paperbacks, except that they generally cost half as much as trade and a third as much as hardcovers so they're not making the author much money at all. To do very well in mass market, an author has to depend on very high volume. Now, my books have not been made into mass market and I'm not sure if they ever will, so my number will be an assumption based on an $8 price point and 8% royalty rate. Mass market paperback author cut from Promise of Blood: $.64

I've had a few people ask about secondhand books. An author makes no money off of books you buy from Half Price or the "used" section of Amazon. However, these books have already been sold once, which makes them good and paid for as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes I've made full price off the original sale ($2.40 on a hardcover) and sometimes I've been paid pennies on a bulk sale of remainders. But regardless, they've gone through the right channels. Would I prefer you buy my books new? Certainly. Would I be annoyed that you bought them used? Absolutely not. I love used books. For fiction I almost exclusively buy new, but I get most of my non-fiction from Half Price Books because it lets me try out things that may or may not be useful on the cheap. Secondhand author cut from Promise of Blood: $0

I'm not going to get into the whole piracy debate thing here, because it's kind of tiresome. Some argue that every book pirated is the same as a lost sale, while others argue that pirating helps get the word out and is used most often as a preview for things the person will buy in the future. Like I deal with most issues, I try to walk the middle of the road: I don't go all self-righteous on people who feel the need to pirate for whatever reason, but I absolutely will not condone a pirating of one of my books. If you want one of my books for free then please, please go get it from your local library. That's what they're there for. Piracy author cut of Promise of Blood: $0

All in all, the best "reader cost" to "author paid" ratio seems to be ebooks but, as I said, all these things vary depending on a variety of circumstances that include small clauses in an author's contract that changes how much they get paid depending on different circumstances, like remaindering or books sold internationally. In the end, though, making a living as an author depends largely on volume of sales after you've earned out your advance. I could talk about the way all of that works at greater length, but I think I'm going to save it for a future post.

At the end of the day you should buy books in the format you enjoy the most—but if you do change it up for my benefit, you have my eternal gratitude. And if you want to find out a little more about helping your favorite author, go read what my friend and fellow Orbit author Sam Sykes has to say about reviews and word of mouth.

Attending a Convention as an Author

This is the third of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

Most of my readers are probably at least somewhat aware of SFF (science fiction and fantasy) conventions. If you're not, here's the short version: conventions are where us nerdy types get together to geek out over our various fandoms. Imagine that conference your dentist went to over the summer with ten thousand other dentists, except instead of dentists going to lectures on hygiene and flossing we have people dressed up as Doctor Who going to panels on how to write epic fantasy novels. It's an oversimplification to be sure, but it works for the purposes of this essay. These SFF conventions vary from the 250,000-attendee San Diego Comic-Con all the way down to the local get-togethers in small mid-west cities that only sport a few hundred people.

Though some conventions focus almost entirely on literary SFF and others ignore it in favor of other medias, you'll have a good bet at finding at least a couple authors at every one of them.

Authors have a weird relationship with conventions. We're not B-list celebrities, making twenty grand off an appearance where we'll sign photos for $45 a pop and be whisked around by a volunteer handler. Nor are we (usually) vendors, there for the weekend mostly for business, to sit at our table of goods, expecting to take home a small profit. Nor are we the basic fan, showing up for the sole reason of taking in the spectacle.

Let's talk about money first because, to be honest, it's the primary thing on my mind when I try to plan out my convention attendance for the year and it's probably the reason your favorite author isn't going to be at your local convention. SFF conventions often have a budget to bring in celebrities. At Comic-cons, most of that budget will be spent on the Stan Lees or the Sarah Michelle Gellars. If there's a writer's track at the convention, or if the convention focuses on the literary, then money is set aside for bringing in Brandon Sanderson, Pat Rothfuss, or someone else with an immense global fanbase.

This means that when the average author attends a con, they have all the same expenses that you do. Flight, hotel, ground transportation, meals, snacks, souvenirs. When I decide I want to go to a convention, one of the first things I do is try to whittle those expenses down (and to be fair, I have more opportunities to do this than a regular person). I'll contact the convention organizers and see if they have any extra budget to pay for my hotel or my flight while I cover everything else. They usually don't. Next I'll check around with my author friends to see who wants to share a hotel room, or has a couch to crash on, or even look for someone who wants to share a cab to and from the airport.

For me, this kind of planning goes all the way through the convention—on Friday night I might see who wants to split a pizza for dinner so I don't have to pay $25 for some chicken tenders at the hotel bar. Finding out that a particular convention always has an amazing Green Room accessible by authors (and authors aren't always on the list) is a godsend, because it gives me someplace to grab breakfast and lunch for free. Basically what I'm saying is that myself, and most of your favorite authors, have to budget these things like regular people because even the moderately successful of us aren't making huge amounts of money.

So, you might ask after hearing all that, why would an author even bother attending a convention?

Most authors, like any of the artists out there in SFF, are fans. I'm there to see the cool displays and buy geeky jewelry for my wife or get a glimpse of Bruce Campbell's chin. I don't really attend panels any more unless some of my friends are on them but there's plenty of other stuff I want to see and do. This makes the weekend crazy hectic because when you're an author going to a convention, there's a good chance you're on the programming so you can justify to your accountant the convention as a write-off-able expense.

So you're not just there for yourself. You're there for all the rest of the fans, too. Over the course of three days you'll be on a number (anywhere from 4 to 10) of hour-long panels, a handful of signings, and perhaps a few other random events that pop up at these sorts of things. You're running around an enormous convention center, staying "on" for any fans that might come to your panels or ask you to sign their books, and still trying to be awake enough to hang out with the friends you only get to see once a year when you congregate in the hotel bar at 2AM.

Personally, I like to bring my own books to sell when I can because the profit can pay for all or part of my trip. Sometimes the books are left with a vendor who takes a cut and sometimes I'm sitting there for most of the day selling them myself. That makes me a fan, a (very) minor celebrity, and a vendor.

It's crazy. It's crazy fun, but it's also plain crazy.

I could go on at length about the psychological aspect of conventions, but at the end of the day they're emotionally and physically exhausting for the regular attendees—so I think you can imagine how draining it is for someone juggling all of the above. If you approach an author at the wrong moment and they give you a dirty look or seem dismissive, try to cut them a little slack. Most of us aren't huge jerks, just tuckered out.

As an aside, it's really weird referring to myself as a celebrity, even a very, very minor one, because writing is not a career that makes you feel terribly celebrity-ish. I've never had someone recognize me out in the wilds of the public, for instance. But I have had people recognize me at conventions which is a huge ego boost. Last year at Gen Con I had grabbed some burgers with a friend and we found a side hall where we could sit down and relax out of the noise. While we were talking I noticed a guy walk by holding one of my hardcovers—a fact which by itself was pretty amazing. I smiled and kept eating and a moment later the guy came back and very politely asked if I was Brian McClellan. I signed his book and chatted a little and was totally blown away that someone would recognize me at such an enormous convention where only the tiniest fraction of the attendees were there for the authors. It was a very surreal moment.

If you'd like to know what conventions I plan to be at this year you can check out my Event Page.