Part III How Things Work – Digital

Okay so on to digital publishing, which will be a bit shorter as the process is, in general less complicated because there are less steps. (not a value judgement, just a statement of fact)

As I said in part II, I’ve written for the two largest and most financially successful epublishers as well as some smaller ones so this is based on my experiences with contracts. This is strictly about how money is delivered as that’s pretty much what I addressed in part II. I do plan to talk about the epublishing process when it comes to submitting and getting the book out, but that’ll be later.

You don’t need an agent to submit a manuscript to an epublisher. I have an agent, but I’ve never used her for my digital deals. I have a great relationship with Samhain and I don’t forsee a need to have her negotiate at this point. But essentially the process is similar.

You submit your manuscript and wait. Sometimes weeks, sometimes months. If the editor likes your book, they offer you a contract.

Depending on the publisher, you’ll get a release date and a deadline to turn in the final manuscript or you’ll receive a release date after your “final” is turned in. In either case, even if you get an advance, it’s going to be small and you won’t see any “real” money until your book releases.

Book releases and a month afterward (in the case of the two big pubs I’ve written for, some pubs go quarterly) you’ll see royalties if your book sold any copies. You will continue to see royalties monthly until the book does not sell anymore or you get your rights back.

These royalties will range between 35 and 40% of cover price.

Print from Digital Publishers:

I’ve got several epublished books in print. Samhain does hold a reserve against return (which I think is a good idea for any publisher) and releases after a certain time period. Samhain pays print royalties twice yearly. The royalty rate for these books is FAR lower than the royalty rate on digital books, just FYI, and pretty much what the average NY author makes on print.

Distribution is very dependent on the publisher. And distribution is important when we’re talking about money. The more places your books are, the more readers will be exposed to them and your chances of selling your books are higher. This equals more royalties. Some publishers are very good at it, some are not. Your books may end up on shelves in the big chains, or only via the publisher site (speaking from experience, the difference between the two situations is an order of magnitude when royalties arrive.)

However, understand the print runs are not the same, they are much smaller in most cases. Still, there is no advance to earn through so the process is different and royalties flow to the author differently because of that.

Other epublishers have print programs that are disorganized, pay very irregularly and/or poorly and I can’t really address many of them since I don’t write for them and I can’t give any specifics. Any author should ask questions on this before signing a contract. The money is not so insignificant that I’d ignore this issue.

Digital books don’t go out of print. I’m still making excellent royalties on books that came out in 2005. However, because of this, be extra attentive to the rights clause in the contract as rights reversion is different with digital books when they don’t go out of print.

Where you sell your book means something. Different houses are going to do a better or worse job and you’ll see that in your monthly royalties. Writers need to put time and thought into who they contract a book with. Authors need to make better choices and they’ll see better results. (yes, this sounds harsh, but come on folks, help yourselves here)

There are major differences between the two models. Some of these might be a deal breaker for an author either way. In any case, the information should be out there so writers can make the choice themselves, based on as much info as they can get.

I’m not going to editoralize here. Your choices are your own, you make them for your own reasons.

12 comments to “Part III How Things Work – Digital”

  1. Bree
    June 15th, 2009 at 5:28 pm · Link

    Where you sell your book means something. Different houses are going to do a better or worse job and you’ll see that in your monthly royalties.

    I think this is the biggest thing that people might not realize. Or realize HOW big a deal it is. When you’re talking about the difference between making less than $10 or over $1000 in your first month (and I’ve done both) then it’s not an issue that you can shrug off when considering the digital model.

  2. Vivi Anna
    June 15th, 2009 at 6:42 pm · Link

    Great posts Lauren.

  3. Juliana Stone
    June 15th, 2009 at 7:04 pm · Link

    Lauren, as always you are very forthcoming with your sage advice and knowledge.

  4. azteclady
    June 15th, 2009 at 7:07 pm · Link

    come on folks, help yourselves here

    This should be stamped on everyone’s hands, so they see it every time they look at their hands on the keyboard, or while they cook, or pick up, drive, etc etc etc.

  5. N.J. Walters
    June 16th, 2009 at 5:24 am · Link

    I’ve enjoyed this three-part series. As always, you are the voice of reason and make perfect sense.

    Like any business, you have to educate yourself and know what you want out of it. It’s different for everyone. Whether you go the traditional publishing route, e-publisher or a combination of both. The important thing is to be happy with your choices.

  6. Joy Roach
    June 16th, 2009 at 5:51 am · Link

    What NJ said.

  7. Nancy
    June 16th, 2009 at 11:48 am · Link

    Thanks so much for all this information!

  8. Leslie Dicken
    June 17th, 2009 at 7:47 am · Link

    THANK YOU for doing what RWA SHOULD be doing! It is highly appreciated!

    These articles should get printed in the RWR *snicker*.

  9. Jess
    June 18th, 2009 at 2:43 am · Link


    I have found this very interesting and informative 🙂

  10. Lise Horton
    June 18th, 2009 at 10:32 am · Link

    Yet another fact-filled and clearly presented post, Lauren. I would like to add, however, when it comes to the distribution issue, the publishers (be they traditional print houses or epublishers doing print editions) can only distribute to stores that want to sell those books. As the economy has bottomed out, and as bookstores have taken a huge hit (witness Borders near-death experience), they are cutting back on the titles they are ordering and we can all acknowledge that the cold cruel fact is that they will be buying the ones they KNOW will sell (i.e., NYT bestsellers). So assuming that simply because you are going to a print house your book will therefore be on oodles more shelves than an e-publisher who has a print edition option, may not actually be the case. Depends on which stores, whether it can also sell in non-bookstore venues (i.e., WalMart) and so forth. And, as you said, if the distribution machine for the e-publisher is up to snuff.

  11. laurendane
    June 18th, 2009 at 10:48 am · Link

    Lise – sure, that’s a big reality for midlisters – chains carry way less stock and what they do carry, a lot of it isn’t reordered once it’s sold so visibility is not what it used to be. It’s a reality that the chain stores are paring down their stock and it impacts a lot of authors in a big way.

    That said, of the epublishers I’ve worked with, only one has a decent print program when it comes to scheduling and distribution. My Samhain titles *do* end up on shelves at Borders and BN, not all titles, but they have a relationship.

    You want your publisher to make attempts to create relationships with bookstores, not alienate them. If your publisher only sells from the website and then can’t get the books to readers even then, in a reasonable period of time, that’s a red flag, IMO.

    Traditional publishing knows its distribution. that’s been my experience hands down. My books get on shelves by release dates, they’re stocked regularly. Only Samhain comes close to that.

  12. laurendane
    June 18th, 2009 at 10:52 am · Link

    Bree – that’s a biggie for me and I wish people would do their homework. But part of it is the refusal to address it and another is our unwillingness to call anyone out. We know how harshly epubs get judged and we dont’ want to add to it.

    But truly, there are many fly by night, shitty epublishers and to take a quick offer might mean you end up selling 4 copies instead of 400 or 1000 or whatever.