Today was the sort of awesome day that makes me a little wary of going up and down the stairs, because it seems so out of balance that I am undoubtedly bucking for a broken leg or something. I finished the art for Fairybreath (oh god yay!) hit another mental landmark in Bread Wizard (yay!) and unexpectedly got a royalty statement for Batbreath and Wurstbreath (double yay!) informing me that Batbreath had earned out. (Double-triple-quadruple uber-screamy YAY!)
Batbreath having come out in March, and the end of the sales period being in July, that means that it earned out in the first four months, which is fabulous. As of the end of July, we’ve moved about 35K copies of Batbreath and 46K Wurstbreath, which is pretty darn awesome. (Not including foreign/Scholastic book fair sales–I won’t see numbers on those for awhile.) Both had a jump in unit returns, most likely owing to the end of Borders, but that should smooth out long-term, and hey, that’s why there’s the reserve against returns, after all.
For non-authors out there, who are scratching their heads—”earning out” means that the book has sold enough copies that your share of the sales has exceeded the sum they paid you as an advance. I.E, if they give you ten thousand dollars and you get a dollar a book, your book has earned out when you have sold ten thousand copies. Everything after that is pretty much gravy—they sell another 3000 books, you get another 3000 dollars. Theoretically.
In actual fact the math is horrifyingly complicated and they send you a lot of sheets of paper—since a lot of my books sell through “discount” sellers (i.e. Wal-Mart and Amazon) where both the publisher and I get less cash, that’s on a different sheet than straightforward full-price sales through brick-and-mortar stores, and there’s always a page that has one single book sold on it that is somehow different and required another sheet of paper for some reason, but fortunately you get a nice little summary sheet in there somewhere that says “This is how many units you sold last time, this is how many you sold this time.” There is also a chunk of money called the “reserve against return” which is a chunk of cash they hang onto for a few years on the assumption that stores are going to send back X number of books. (There was a time I got grumpy about that, but now I’m kinda glad they take it out up front—that way it’s not real money in my head.)
It must be said that Batbreath only just earned out—it probably would have broken about even, except for aforementioned Scholastic and foreign rights, which tipped it over into an actual sum of money. This is also complicated, but the Cliff Notes version is that they give the publisher an advance, and depending on the sort of rights they buy, the publisher passes between 50 and 75% of that advance on to you. (Before anybody starts to rail at this, let me point out that they are buying the text from you, but the cover/layouts/design/etc from the publisher, rather than get their own art director to redo the whole kerfluffle. As my art director earns her paycheck every day she has to deal with me, and I get a correspondingly higher advance on the books to begin with for also being the illustrator, I begrudge them nothing.)
So, yeah, it’s complicated. The first time I got a royalty statement, I had to call Deb and go “And what does this mean? And what’s this number? Really? How about this number? No kiddin’…” Nevertheless, as I occasionally like to point out—say what you will about the death of traditional publishing, they can casually move nearly eighty thousand copies (in this case) for an author on the high end of kid’s mid-list without me lifting a finger, a success I couldn’t hope to duplicate with Kickstarter and enthusiasm. (And while this counts as “doing great” in the field, I am myself far eclipsed by things like Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries.)
So today has been fantastic. And I am going to be very very careful going to down the stairs tonight, just in case.