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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XXVI Terms for the Publication of Books

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XXVI Terms for the Publication of Books

THE business or contract relations between authors and reputable book publishers are substantially as follows:

First: The usual form of contract between the book publisher and the author requires the publisher to bear the entire expense of putting the book upon the market, including the setting of the type, the making of the electrotype plates, the binding, the advertising, and the expense of selling. The author contributes only his manuscript, and bears no part of the cost of publication.

The majority of books are published under this agreement. The author receives what is known as a royalty, in nearly every case based upon the retail or list price of the book, irrespective of what the publisher may receive for it. For example: if the book is listed and sells at retail at, say, one dollar and a half net, or one dollar and a half gross, the author receives ten per cent of a dollar and a half, or fifteen cents, for every copy sold. But no royalty or percentage is paid upon copies given away for advertising or selling purposes. The author receives ten or twelve copies free, and must pay the wholesale or trade price for additional ones. Books listed, say, at one dollar net, are sold to other publishers and to booksellers at seventy-five cents, or twenty-five per cent off the list price.

If the book is listed, say, at one dollar, without the word "net " following the price, the price is considered gross, and the trade may purchase this book at thirty-three and a third per cent off the list or retail price, sometimes at forty per cent discount. But the author, in most cases, receives his full ten per cent on the so-called list or retail price, whether it be net or gross.

If the author is unknown, the publisher may not pay him any royalty until a thousand or more copies have been sold, which will be sufficient to cover the expense of publication.

If the author has a reputation, he may make a contract with the publisher to receive ten per cent on all books sold, up to a specified number, say, from two to five thousand; and twelve and a half per cent on all copies sold in excess of that number.

A lower royalty is usually paid on copies sold out of the country.

Occasionally the publisher will pay as high as fifteen per cent royalty to a popular author after from ten to fifteen thousand copies have been sold.

Secondly: If the character of the book is such) that its sale would presumably be small, and probably not sufficient to pay the cost of publication and a fair profit to the publisher, or if the sale is largely problematical, the reputable publisher may refuse to publish the book unless the whole or part of the expenses of publication are guaranteed by the author.

Thousands of manuscripts of intrinsic value and merit are presented to publishers, and yet the subject-matter may not be sufficiently popular for an extensive sale, or the book may be of a historical or scientific character, appealing to only a limited class of readers.

The publisher, then, is justified in requiring a guarantee from the author, covering the whole or part of the expense of publication, the author agreeing to pay this sum before publication, or bind himself to purchase a specified number of books. In this case the publisher becomes virtually the agent of the author, and the publisher, in return, pays the author a royalty or percentage on the retail price of the book considerably larger than is given in the first instance.

The expense of publishing a book, including announcements and advertising of it, runs from five hundred to several thousand dollars, but the average story book or novel can be placed on the market for from seven hundred and fifty to a thousand dollars.

If the publisher feels that the book is going to sell readily, he is not likely to make an arrangement with the author other than on a purely royalty basis, the publisher to pay all of the expenses.

A reputable publisher will not publish a book which does not contain merit, even at the author's expense. If it is a work of value, and yet would meet probably with a limited scale, he may be willing to publish it, if the author pays the whole or part of the cost of publication. But the publisher will be very frank with the author, and fully explain the situation to him.

Practically all large sellers are published wholly at the expense of their publishers.

In another chapter I have warned the author against publishing charlatans, who feed upon credulous authors, and who obtain their profit entirely out of what the author pays as a guaranty, the publisher making little or no effort to sell the books.

Thirdly: Occasionally, but very infrequently, the publisher buys the manuscript outright, or pays the author a definite sum upon publication, with a small royalty.

Authors of books which are reasonably sure to become large sellers may obtain what is known as advance royalty upon delivering the manuscript, or at the publication of the book, the sum advanced to be deducted from future royalties.

If the right of translation is reserved, the author shares in the profits to the extent agreed upon. He also participates in the profits if the book is dramatized, unless an agreement is made to the contrary.

If the book appears after publication as syndicate matter in the newspapers, the author receives, as an extra remuneration, the amount agreed upon or to be agreed upon. He may, if agreeable to the publisher, retain the syndicate or dramatic rights.