Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bundling Advances for Revised Editions

My friend "Bob" wrote a book for a publisher that earned out his substantial advance and eventually sold tens of thousands of copies. After two years of sales, the book needed to be updated; the subject matter was topical and recent events meant that the first edition was no longer current. The publisher offered a significant advance, a fifth of the original advance, for a new chapter and touch work that would constitute a revised second edition. He agreed and finished the work in just less than a month.

Their original agreement stated that "Bob" would be paid royalties in January for books sold the previous January-June. He did his re-writes for the second edition in September. When his January royalties payment came, he discovered that his "advance" for the revised edition had been subtracted from the royalties he had earned January to June. In effect, his advance was not an advance against future earnings but an advance taken from money he was already owed. His net gain for a month's effort was being paid in late September rather than in January.

Bob was furious. His agent told him this was "standard industry practice." Is Bob silly for being angry with publisher and agent?

I think Bob is silly for not having paid attention to the contract for the revised edition when he signed it. But what’s done is done. Yes, it is “standard industry practice” to bundle together a revised edition with the original. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s essentially the same book. However, “standard industry practice” can always be changed. I have negotiated a number of revised editions and in some cases, with some publishers, I have been able to get them separately accounted from the original edition, essentially accounting them as if they were two different books. With other publishers, however, I wasn’t so lucky. They were adamant that the books be accounted jointly.

What Bob should also be aware of, and what is probably of a greater concern than the advance being deducted from royalties of the original, is that it is very likely his royalties, if he had an escalating royalty schedule, will start again from the beginning. This is the most frustrating issue for me and my authors. Just when you finally reach that break and are earning a higher royalty percentage, the publisher asks for a revision (usually needed) and the royalties start over again at zero (zero copies, not dollars).

Essentially, though, Bob has not lost any money, he just didn’t gain like he thought he would. Remember, the advance is just that, an advance against royalties. So while Bob saw a decrease in his most recent royalty statement it’s not like he didn’t get the money anyway. And sadly, I think Bob is silly for being angry at his publisher and agent. I assume the agent negotiated to the best of her ability and the publisher is not out to benefit the author, the publisher is only working to benefit itself. Bob should be angry at himself for not carefully reading contracts before he signs them.