My Book Agent

A Literary Agency Getting Authors Published Well

Do Publishers (and Agents) Need to Give More Info?

The South by South West Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, this month opened a can of worms.

Howey_Hugh_WoolWhile not every self-published author longs to be picked up by a traditional publisher, Hugh Howey’s Wool was picked up by Simon and Schuster. Howey, however, gave S&S only the print rights. He retained the ebook rights for himself.

When the question was raised as to what traditional publishers could do to solicit and retain authors, Howey was the best person in the room to answer. And he said:

Publishers need to start sending out royalty checks monthly—not quarterly or biannually, as the case may be. … publishers need to start showing authors their real-time data—the better to see the effects of a particular book’s marketing campaign, for instance.

One of my clients has been in direct communication with her publisher’s marketing staff to coordinate several publicity things. This is usual.

She is on her publisher’s author forum asking, along with many other authors, why the upward rankings on Amazon.com, for example, are reflected in some or more sales. I understand that she needs this data.

This author has been working quite hard to sell her first 1,000 copies and thereby get a tick-up in her escalations. Without any timely or accurate sales data, however, she cannot determine what is working best (or least) in her publicity activities.

Under the current system, I receive a six-month sales history, ninety days after that period closes. For many publishers, these six month seasons are Spring (January 1 through June 30) and Fall (July 1 through December 31). So I receive Spring sales data by September 30 and need to send out statements and royalty commissions to my authors by October 31. That’s ten months after the first sales occurred and four months after the last sales occurred.

The irony, of course, is that Hugh Howey is able to see the up-to-the-minute sales on his ebooks and other products. He can tell instantly whether a publicity event is yielding more buzz–and sales.

What a publisher can tell with certainty is how many units were printed and put into the warehouse system. Some of these were then sold through Ingram (the world’s largest book wholesaler) to independent bookstores. Others were sold to chain stores directly from the warehouse or distributor.

But, what is unknown is whether these have sold through to book buyers or whether the bookstores will return hundreds of unsold copies within a year of that sale and shipment.

Ebooks are different. How many, for example, are caught in the physical transfer systems? None. How many are returned? Not many, if any.  And that’s the problem in the physical book system–too much ambiguity as to what has sold when.


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