This is (one of) the times of the year when royalty statements from publishers arrive, and I just received mine.

I don’t intend this post to imply any moral condemnation of publishers themselves or of people who choose (for a variety of legitimate reasons) to publish with them. What I want to do is lay out two royalty statements: one for This Wicked Gift, my 2009 Christmas novella which was published by Harlequin, and one for Unlocked, my self-published novella released at the end of May in 2011. This is for informational purposes only.

This Wicked Gift was part of an anthology released with Mary Balogh and Nicola Cornick. Both the Balogh and the Cornick had been released earlier, but Balogh is a perennially popular author, and she’s particularly known for her Christmas tales. The anthology spent two weeks on the USA Today list and sold a bunch of copies. Since then, it has been translated into three other languages and released in both the UK and Australia

In other words, for a relatively new author–and this was my first published work–this story had an amazing run.

Between 2009 and December of 2011–in other words, a little bit more than two years–my novella made me $23,593.78. Which–don’t get me wrong–is totally awesome. (I also want to make one thing clear: Different countries didn’t always pair the same stories together, so my earnings on this are not the same as Mary Balogh’s and Nicola Cornick’s. I’m okay with sharing numbers; the other authors who have been part of this may not be, so please don’t make any judgments as to them.)

Unlocked also had a pretty freaking amazing run for a novella. It spent three weeks on the USA Today list. It’s been translated into one other language (that would be German). And in the last 11 months, it has made a total of $46,970.03–almost exactly twice as much, in half the time.

Now some of you are thinking, “Sure, Courtney, but you have to compare apples to oranges. You had to bear the costs of production for Unlocked. That can’t be cheap.”


So to make this accounting more clear, I have to include costs.

I spent a total of $4143.48 on Unlocked. A good chunk of that went to producing the German version–I wanted a great translator, and that doesn’t come cheap. Also, I can’t proofread German, so the proofreading expense was higher for the German version. The rest went to covers, editing, advertising, proofreading, and a proportional amount of capital expenditures (computer costs, software costs, and the costs of various e-readers) that I charge to all my books in my internal accounting. (As a note: as I’ve self-published, my costs have gone down, as I figure out what’s necessary and what isn’t.)

But to make this fair, we also need to think about what I spent on This Wicked Gift, because there are expenditures involved with a book release. My accounting wasn’t nearly as good back then–today, I track every penny I spend. But I went back through my tax records and have reconstructed what I’ve spent. Ready?

I spent $6289.07. A decent portion of that is advertising. I also did a mailing to a large number of bookstores–around 800 or 900–which cost me postage, supplies, and printing. I gave away more than a hundred copies of the anthology (something that, by the way, I do not regret at all) on a variety of venues, which necessitated (a) buying more copies of the anthology, and (b) shipping them. I’ve also apportioned to the novella its costs for the excerpt book that I produced. But a good proportion of that expense is the cost of my agent, who gets 15% of the take. (And she’s earned it–and more. Really. One of the costs of traditional publishing is that it pays to have someone who will navigate the adversarial side of the relationship, leaving you to be friendly. And people can quibble over whether that is necessary, but it’s certainly necessary for me.)

So I spent more on my traditionally-published novella than I did on my self-published one.

Now the place it doesn’t even out is my time. I spent more time producing Unlocked than I did on This Wicked Gift. But it’s not a matter of zero to one: there are some things I had to do for This Wicked Gift that I never had to do for Unlocked. (From a personal perspective, I traded doing things that I hated doing–like remembering to do bookstore mailings–for things that I enjoyed doing–like organizing covers and the like.)

(Now, to be fair, there are some places where I simply didn’t have to spend as much money for Unlocked: by the time Unlocked came out, a handful of people had already heard of me, and so the promotional costs were by necessity not as large.)

I don’t want to imply that anyone who chooses Column A is making a bad choice. The fact that I had a traditionally published novella in an anthology that did very well absolutely contributed to my success when I went into self-publishing. And Unlocked benefited from a confluence of random series of lightning, striking often and repeatedly.

But for those who are looking for information, the bottom line is this: As an author, I spent 50% more on a traditionally-published novella. And I made half as much in twice the time.

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Published on May 09, 2012 08:43 • 185 views
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message 1: by Angela (new)

Angela I really love and appreciate how open you are about this whole subject. I think it opens up a lot of doors to good conversations on the subject.

message 2: by Walt (new)

Walt Expecting my first royalty statement this week from a Christmas anthology that included four other authors. Don't know what to expect yet.

Anna (Bobs Her Hair) Interesting. I'm hoping a favorite series that was nixed by the publisher will get self-pubbed by the author. :o)

message 4: by Diana (new)

Diana That was a really interesting read. Thanks for being so open about the business side of self-pub versus trad. When I was doing design, I hated that the whole business side of designing was murky and cloudy. It made it difficult to know whether I was getting paid what I was worth. The financial side of creative careers needs to be more open, not more cloudy. It's hard to know how you're supposed to be paid for something when you have no idea what the usual pay is.

LIke I said, Thank you! This was eye-opening and quite insightful to read.

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