Monday, May 21, 2007


Portion of The Sortie from Gibraltar,
John Trumbull,
oil on canvas, 1788.
Cincinnati Art Museum.

The Brits are the ones - to steal a line from Mercedes Lackey - in the red "oh-shoot-me-now" uniforms.

Reminds me that until you've seen a historical re-enactment of a concerted charge of yelling redcoats you don't truly appreciate the dry line in many histories: pushed home the attack at the point of the bayonet.
No wonder the enemy often broke.

One statistic mentioned of late in various places that seems to have writers beating themselves about the head and ears and gasping and moaning at the bottom of the trenches and behind their breastworks is: 80 percent of books don't earn out their advance.


I have the impression some writers conclude from this bare and bald figure that publishers lose money on 80 % of their issues.


I'll put on a red coat here and say I don't believe the statistic should be interpreted this way. I believe it means only they didn't make as much profit as they calculated in their initial profit-and-loss projections.

Fix bayonets!


Erik Ivan James said...


ORION said...

aloha bernita! I get to be commenter number two for the first time ever! Only because I am 6 hours ahead (in Norway!)

Bernita said...


God morgen, Pat.

Jaye Wells said...

I've also been told that a good figure to aim for is a fifty percent sell-through. If only selling half of the run is acceptable then your hypothesis sounds right to me.

Ric said...

See what happens when you don't post on the weekends?

You think about stuff - interesting stuff - and you're probably correct.

Intriguing post, Bernita.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, "pushed home at the point of a bayonet" is a real gotcha if you think about it.

Robyn said...

Have you heard what publishers say about that, Bernita? There has to be another way to take that stat- like yours or Jaye's- or pubs would be going out of business left and right.

Bernita said...

One has to consider that the average advance and royalty percentage for the author represents only a small amount of the monies accrued, Jaye.

This weekend I was messing with a WTF @#$%&##! synopsis for a request, Ric.

Seeing it on the ground - so to speak - really brings it home, Charles.

"Have you heard what publishers say about that"
No, I haven't, Robyn.

Ric said...

AWK! After spending weeks preparing the perfect query, the last thing one needs is a request for something not already in the packet. Hate that.

Hate synopsis writing as well.

Bernita said...

Exactly, Ric.
I write a good query - but synopsis requirements vary even more.
Besides, made me clean out from under the bed where I'd consigned the novel. I've decided there is such a thing as too much distance from an MS as well as too little.

kmfrontain said...

I read about that advance payment bust as well. My first reaction was: don't accept an advance. Being realistic, I then decided: well, maybe take half, at least consolidate all my debts, make some use of selling my soul to the publisher. ;-)

raine said...

You got a request! Yaayyy!!!

Fix bayonets and charge!

Rick said...

I'm reminded of the slightly earlier expression "at push of pike."

The truth behind the stats may be a bit more complicated. Experienced book marketers wouldn't be overestimating sales 80 percent of the time - if they were, they'd ratchet down their forecasts.

So I'd guess that earning out the advance is not the expectation but the target - if a book does earn out its advance, that's a sign for production and marketing to huddle and consider a second printing.

Truth to be told, whether most books earn a profit or not doesn't really matter; they don't earn much. The industry throws them at the wall hoping that some of them will stick, knowing that most will not. I suspect that it makes its money - to the extent it makes any - on two kinds of books: big sellers (not necessarily quite the same as "bestsellers") and steady sellers.

If a book earns out its advance it may be a potential big seller, or have the potential over time to become a steady seller. Either way the publisher will give it a second look, and possibly even if it just comes close.

Bernita said...

Karen, the trouble with these statistics is the lack of parameters. Does it mean during the first year? Over the lifetime the publisher has the rights to the book?

Hee, the query went out in January, Raine. I have no anticipation of further interest from the request for chapters and synopsis.

Yes, Rick, and publishers sometimes take a bath on the "best sellers" - and I wonder how that affects the statistics.
I like your terms big/steady sellers.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yea, but the really funny part is how many "nonwriters" think that to become a writer automatically means your rich! LOL

Bernita said...

Stereotypes always collide, Bonnie.
Opposite that misunderstanding is the one of the starving writer in the garret.

Steve G said...

In 1990 a few friends and I traveled to Belgium and watched the reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo. It was on a very small scale, but impressive all the same.

Bernita said...

Must have been impressive, indeed, Steve.
One of the best description of Waterloo I ever read was in An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer.
Have always been intrigued by the fact that some of the infantry went in clinging to the stirrups of the cavalry (the Scots Greys?) - because this was repeated in WW2 when infantry in a Belgium thrust rode on the sides of tanks (the North Nova Scotia Highlanders with the 8th Hussars, I believe.)

Scott from Oregon said...

I took it to mean they gambled and lost 80 percent of the time, but the twenty percent that did win made up the difference and more (or there would be no "business".

I like Rick's assessment as well...

I finished that little short story I started. Would you honor me with a read? It is short...

Bailey Stewart said...

You mean I can forget about the cute, half-nekkid cabana boys?

Bernita said...

I believe it's more complex than that, Scott.


Bailey honey, you don't need to sell a book to find those.

LadyBronco said...

Where money is concerned, it's all about the projections!

Take, for instance, the newspaper industry. (where I currently

You hear all the moaning and groaning about how newspapers are losing money left and right, but they are definitely still making money - just not as much as they thought they would.

( inner accountant came out on that one!)

Jeff said...

Makes sense to me. Bayonet fixed!

Bernita said...

Exactly, Lady B!

Jeff..."Once more into the breach, dear friends..."