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The Book Writing Business, part 2

Third, the money is about the same which ever publishing house you land with.  You'll usually have little ability to negotiate your contract on your first book.  But if it's successful, you will have a bit more wiggle room on subsequent releases or when you write new books.  Here are a couple tips when looking at the money end of things:


  1. Don't get into book writing for the money.  On an hour by hour basis, you could do one hundred other things that pay better.  The main benefits are a limited amount of ego boost, prestige, and better consulting rates.  It can also help you in job searches.

  2. If you have co-authors, you'll have to split the royalties and advances with them.

  3. There are two main approaches to royalties in the tech book business:

    1. Sliding royalties:  The more you sell, the better your royalties.  For example, you might get 8% up to the first 5,000 books sold, 9% from 5,001 to 10,000 sold, and 10% for 10,000 or more.  This can be bad because some publishers don't put any marketing into their books.  It's not uncommon for a tech book to sell far less than 10,000 copies and, usually, 10,000 copies is the rule of thumb for a book that's done pretty well.  Don't get suckered into a sliding scale that starts getting better at 30,000 copies.

    2. Flat royalties:  This is a simple flat royalty rate of x% no matter how many books you sell.  I prefer this because it's easier math and, at the end of the day, it usually works out as well (or better) than sliding royalties. 

  4. There may be variations in royalty for international sales, but usually all books get the same royalty.  The only gotcha on royalties is that you should check to see that your contract includes most types of books as 'royalty-paying'.  For example, some publishers won't pay royalties on book club, book of the month, or discounted books.  That can really hurt the pocket book.

  5. For new authors, the 'advance' is often the most important consideration.  An advance is basically pre-paid royalties to encourage you to get the book written.  The advance is subtracted from your royalties.  So it's possible that a book that sells poorly will never pay more than the advance.  Typically, the advance is paid in three or four portions while the book is written with each part of the advance given out as the section of writing is completed.  

  6. Watch out for some publishers who will penalize your advance and/or royalties when you miss a deliverable date.  A small penalty is reasonable to ensure you finish the project.  A big penalty is not reasonable.  Some publishers will even carry a penalty forward to any subsequent books you write.  I refuse to write for anyone who has a contract clause like that.

  7. Also, be sure to negotiate a reasonable number of free copies of your book.  You'll want to give them to your relatives and friends.  So make sure you have enough and that you don't have to buy them.

  8. Finally, read your contract!  Make sure you know what it says and don't be afraid to ask for changes that don't suit you.


Once you get the contract in place, you'll have to start writing.  For most technical book authors, this means at the end of the work day and on weekends.  Welcome to No-life-ville.  You will have no time for just about anything outside of work, dinner with the family, and writing.  Note that SLEEP is not on the list of things you'll have time for.  This would be a terrible time to take on anything requiring free time, such as planning a wedding, having a baby, changing jobs, etc.  I know plenty of authors who've done those things while writing a book - and you can survive it.  It just makes things a LOT more complicated.

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