Sad Reality For Mid-List Trad Authors

Last week I received my semi-annual royalty statement from my traditional publisher.

Usually every six months I get a bank deposit of around a thousand dollars or so that represents my royalties from the two books that I have with them over that time period and has, up until now, been fairly consistent, with some periods being lower and some higher (as you would expect).

But not this statement.

This statement shows that due to returns, they have actually overpaid me by $1,400.  Now I don’t have to pay this back (fortunately) but it was a surprise nonetheless (and means I won’t be buying that new dress I’ve had my eye on).

What happened?  Did hundreds of people suddenly return my book for some reason?  Nope …

To explain this I need to give a little history of how much the book industry has changed in the past few years in Australia (and is probably the same around the world).

As many Australians know, there are no longer any book stores left.  Where large chains like Borders and Angus&Robertson once dominated every shopping mall, now you’ll be lucky if you can find any small bookstore in your local shopping mall.

My book on the Big W bookshelf

The most common place to buy books now is in department stores like Big W and Target. (I was fortunate to be picked up by both with the second edition of Shopping for Shares as you can see from the pic on the right.)

But books only stay on those shelves while they are ‘fresh’.  And for most books (mine included) that is about four to six weeks before they send them back to the publisher so they can put newer ‘fresher’ books on the shelves.

Only insanely popular books such as the Fifty Shades trilogy stays at these department stores for longer than around six weeks now.

That’s reality.  With such limited shelf space, your book is quickly replaced with a ‘newer’ book so that the stores can keep their stock with the latest releases.

Before this change happened, bookstores all over the country would keep your book longer if it was a bigger store (I was on Borders shelves for years before they collapsed).

But now – no bookstores = no physical shelf space.  Hence the large number of returns from department stores looking to restock the newer releases.

This is bad news for mid-list authors like myself who have traditional contracts since it means it’s even harder to make a living this way.

But I haven’t told you the worst of it yet … Here’s the kicker …

Unless you were completely savvy and negotiating a better contract (I didn’t), any books you have with that publisher can be used to offset costs against other books.

My other trad book $0 to Rich has started doing reasonably well as an ebook.  I don’t have e-rights (sad face) but the royalties that I would have received for this book is being used to offset the cost of returns on Shopping for Shares.

So I won’t earn on EITHER book, until the $1,400 is paid back by BOTH book royalties.

And since there are no bookstores anymore to stock my book, only online purchases of the print and ebook – that could take a very long time.

Don’t get be wrong, I’m not angry about this.  It’s a fact of life for mid-list authors today which is unfortunate.  I’m just letting you know that this exists.  That most contracts for authors under traditional publishing houses do not favor said author.  And that does make me sad.

Is it any wonder that many authors, such as myself, are looking towards independent publishing now as a viable alternative to make a living from their writing?

Just sayin …


  1. says

    LOL did you sneak that photo in a shop – cool! It sounds like you are suffering from the “supermarket effect” which has been squeezing food producers for a while now. Even back in 2007 when we toured Australia, we were shocked at how few book shops there were, virtually none in outback Australia. I used to look forward to getting to a mega-Borders in Melbourne or Sydney – but I guess it’s Amazon and Bookdepository all the way now.

    I just ordered a Lonely Planet guidebook from the UK for about 1/2 the price my local bookstore could get it for me.

  2. Tracey says

    You’d be surprised how many photos of my own book I have sneakily taken 😉 I also used to always turn the cover out so it was sitting nice and visible rather than have the spine showing. Naughty author … LOL

  3. Jamie says

    Hi Tracey,

    It seems hard to imagine what traditional publishers could offer an author to make it worth their while. I wonder, if one had a successful ebook, whether one could get the books physically printed and shipped direct to amazon? Seems bookstores are a bust.

    I don’t know if you’ve answered this elsewhere but do you know what percentage of a books cost is actually taken up by production and distribution?


    • Tracey says

      @Jamie, Why not get printed books done through Createspace? I’ve done it for most of my independent books now, even some of the short stories. Doesn’t cost you anything unless you choose extended distribution and books are shipped directly to Amazon at no cost to the author. Although formatting for print is a whole new ball game from formatting for an e-reader!


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