As I begin working on my second book I’ve gone back and realized that there’s a lot of things that I wish I knew before I started writing my first book way back in March of 2006. One of the big ones was the volume of book sales and the amount of profit made. Namely: Programming books (by-and-large) are poor sellers, thus, don’t expect to be buying a new mansion anytime soon.
I recently received my quarterly update from Apress for the 3rd quarter of 2007 (the fourth quarter of the book’s existence). This was the first quarter in which I actually broke a profit (received money in excess of my advance) so I was quite pleased. Here’s a scan for those that are interested.
Here’s some things that I learned about book profits, in no particular order:
- When you negotiate a contract with a publisher, and you receive an advance, that’s an advance of your future profits. I had no idea why I never realized this until after I received my first statement and saw -$3000 listed as my payout. It makes a lot of sense, in retrospect – but it was just a silly thing that never quite clicked with me.
- Advances are distributed in even chunks based upon milestones. (Finish X number of chapters, get 1/4 of the advance – get the last 1/4 when the book is complete.) I negotiated a higher advance than what’s typical as I wanted to use it to live off of post-college, Apress was nice and accommodating.
- Advances are usually pretty low (I think Apress’ typical one was $5000 for a first-time author). In talking with authors at other publishers you can usually expect something in that range – maybe slightly higher.
- Ever wonder how an author tracks how many books they’re selling? Guess what, he dosen’t! It’s a massive mystery! When I chatted with my editor, on a number of occasions, most of the conversations just ended with him making a sad face and saying “just watch your Amazon numbers.” So that’s what you do – you watch your Amazon page like a hawk, trying to divine some special meaning from the crazy fluctuations in your sales rank.
- The vast majority of technical books will never sell more than 4000 copies. Unless you’ve really tapped into something good, are targeting a huge audience, or have done a really outstanding job, it’s likely that your book will sell around the same amount.
- Publishers do very little promotion of your work. I guess, unless, you’re going with a real powerhouse like O’Reilly (where they can rope you into conferences and all sorts of promotions) most technical publishers have little leeway outside of “sending free books to influential people and praying that they’ll blog about them.”
- I really like the tiered payout structure that Apress provides – it rewards authors who put a lot of work into the promotion, and quality, of their work.
- Releasing your book before Christmas is awesome. Geeks love to add books to their Christmas lists (they’re cheaper than gadgets and safe for family members to acquire). The book was released December 11th and yet it still sold over 2,000 copies in the remaining 20 days of the quarter, in 2006.
- Don’t force your friends to buy your book, authors always get a massive pile of their book to give away at user groups, etc. – hang on to some and save your friends $30.
- I’m not 100% sure what the “licensed rights” are, mentioned in the printout above, but I think it relates to translated copies of the book (I’ve been told that there’s a Chinese version – there may be others).
- When you go over a certain amount of profit publishers will hold some in “reserve” as a measure to counter-act returned copies, from the distributors. I’m not sure how much of a real concern this is, but it seems sketchy to me.
I’m not sure how useful all of this will be for would-be-authors but I wish I knew these tips back before I got started, so very long ago. I hope to drop some more of these tid-bits, as I remember them, throughout the rest of the authoring process.
Brian Smith (January 21, 2008 at 2:38 am)
How do the royalties work, especially regarding E-books vs. printed books?
Also, why are only non-Book-club sales counted? You don’t get royalties for book club sales?
By the way, I guess I am one of the few suckers that actually has purchased his E-books. I will purchase E-books more frequently in the future, once a cheap version (
Remy Sharp (January 21, 2008 at 3:39 am)
John – thanks for the tips. I always imagined writing a book would make a good advertising tool for bringing in new work, but if they’re only selling 4,000 copies…well – I can imagine there’s more people bookmarking your blog.
It would be interesting to be able to track the number of ‘dodgy’ downloads of your e-book to see how that compared.
Nicholas C. Zakas (January 21, 2008 at 3:40 am)
John – you should realize that all of this varies widely based on the publisher you’re using. Apress is one of the smaller technical book publishers, so the numbers and such that you give for them are smaller thatn for other publishers. So, most Apress technical books sell around 4,000, but that doesn’t generalize out across the entire technical book industry. There are very few small technical book publishers that make much of a dent with technical books; most of the good ones are larger companies or imprints of larger companies such as Manning or Wrox. Most of these also do some serious promotions involving conferences and other opportunities. Basically, the smaller the publisher, the less promotions they do – but it is a graduated scale, not a cliff.
Licensing rights almost always mean book translations. Since the publisher itself doesn’t have the means to translate the book, overseas publishers can license your content and then translate it themselves. This can result in great sales for you since translations often sell for around double the English language version.
The hold back seems shady, but if you think about how the book industry works, it makes sense. Book stores buy the books from publishers at a certain price and then sell it at the recommended price, usually netting a tremendous gain (>35%) on each book (this is why Amazon can sell for so much less, they’re taking less of a profit on each book in the hope that they’ll sell more). If the book stops selling, the book stores return the remaining books they have in stock. The publisher essentially has to buy these back. This also happens when a new edition of a book comes out: the book stores need to return all copies of the previous edition.
I think the big lesson I learned from writing technical books can be summed up in a single sentence: You won’t get rich writing technical books. As long as you understand that, you know all you need to know.
Gavin Brogan (January 21, 2008 at 3:43 am)
Still, You’re #32 on Amazon under Java books which is got to be good if not a little surprising.
Joost de Valk (January 21, 2008 at 3:51 am)
Really helpful post John! I’m negotiating doing a book right now with a publisher and it seems I should mail around a bit for another one ;)
J Daniel PihlstrÃ¶m (January 21, 2008 at 3:56 am)
There go my dreams of owning a mansion. :/
Nice write-up, it seems about like I’d expected really.
Eddie Welker (January 21, 2008 at 3:59 am)
Great insight into the process. Don’t plan on writing anything soon, but I would like to at some point. Thanks. Here’s hoping we can promote your next one with these points in mind. I’ll do what I can.
Paul M. Watson (January 21, 2008 at 4:14 am)
Obviously you will not say anything disparaging about Apress but I do wonder how many extra books you sell through using Apress opposed to going it alone and selling through your site and the many programmers who know of you. For more mainstream topics like Java a publisher makes sense but does it make sense for more niche topics where those will hear about, and buy, a good, new book will hear about it with or without a publisher promoting it.
(I assume a publisher offers more than just cash advance and promotion… right?)
Chris Green (January 21, 2008 at 5:49 am)
Given you have a niche following from your blog and JQuery I wonder if you would make much more money by self-publishing, e.g, http://www.lulu.com. You would then not have to share the profits with the publishing company. I notice 37 signals have put Getting Real on Lulu and I was happy to buy it from there.
Obviously you could potentially lose out on Amazon sales and wider circulation, but I would imagine there is some way to market a book on Amazon and then supply the goods through the self publisher.
shuron (January 21, 2008 at 6:39 am)
Tank you for your openness about this. Its very interesting to read how such thing’s are accomplished. @Chris Green. You may of cause publish it at lulu. But i don’t think you will get the correct book with right ISBN. And you have to deal with the distribution of the book at your self. Or did i miss the point?
w-g (January 21, 2008 at 6:53 am)
Well… In my country (Brazil) authors also don’t know how the books are selling. AND my father (who is a writer) says that publishers will usually pay you much less than they should. He once got a quarterly report: he supposedely sold 10 books in that quarter… But he knew from bookstores managers that it would have to have been more. He didn’t seem to think that switching to another publisher would help (he actually did that a number of times).
I do hope you’re situation is better than this.
Dan (January 21, 2008 at 7:16 am)
Hey, that check still looks like a pretty good deal compared to most other (i.e. non-technical) sectors of the book market. Tell a novelist that you got a $5000 advance and s/he’ll probably want to punch you.
tzBooks (January 21, 2008 at 7:36 am)
Thanks for the insights John.
Total sales of the book and eBook are at roughly 4,300 then, that’s quite a few geeks buying the book.
I wonder if you would of done better at lulu.com then?
The thing is a major publisher like Apress, with it’s connections to actual brick-and-mortar bookstores, has to be a huge plus to you. In terms of getting the jQuery library “out there” as a legitimate contender to the js library niche market.
Many a developer already knew jQuery was a no-brainer, win/win!
Tony (January 21, 2008 at 7:56 am)
819 copies give you 250 bucks. That’s less that I’d make through amazon associates by promoting the same book. Sad.
Jonno (January 21, 2008 at 8:40 am)
I am very surprised people don’t by ebooks. Sure they can be pirated, but software and music can be just as easily. I buy music, software and ebooks online. I have stopped buying paper programming books and only buy DRM free PDFs.
Buford Twain (January 21, 2008 at 8:45 am)
I read an article once that said the author gets a couple of dollars for each book that they sell, so you are basically buying them a drink by buying their book. That seems to be confirmed by the numbers that you posted. So, as someone who bought your book from amazon, I hope you enjoy your drink! :)
Mark (January 21, 2008 at 8:54 am)
Excellent writeup, and it matches my experience with “Dive Into Python” (published by Apress) — except for one thing. After about two years (!), my e-book sales started skyrocketing. No kidding. I have no idea why, since in my case, people can LEGALLY download a PDF of the book from diveintopython.org. Doesn’t matter, people buy it from Apress instead. Best I can tell, they’re just two mutually exclusive markets. It’s really weird.
My experience with O’Reilly (“Greasemonkey Hacks”) was similar, except I got a larger advance because they were really desperate to be first-to-market with a Greasemonkey book. That book hasn’t earned out yet and probably never will, but it’s done OK. I did not notice any significant difference in the amount of marketing clout O’Reilly had over Apress. Sure they give conferences and have their own shelves at bookstores, but my book was never one of the chosen ones that got premium space, so I never really benefited from their brand name. Oh well, maybe next time…
Bill (January 21, 2008 at 9:01 am)
Great to see someone honestly talking about this, John. I wish I had known some of those things back on 99 when I started – only experience teaches you some things, ya know?
One thing – when I wrote for Wrox, before Wiley bought the name, I learned that all tech books are not created equal. My Visual Studio book sold 17,500 copies. My Windows Services book sold 1,700 copies. Why the discrepancy? Same as anything else – there are a lot more people using Visual Studio than there are people writing Windows Services. Popular topics get more sales. The guys writing Windows for Dummies and Office for Dummies have that mansion you mentioned.
On that topic – not all publishers are created equal either. That same Visual Studio book, once it went to APress and was versioned for 2003, did poorly. It wasn’t because the book was worse – if anything the group of authors made it better, but APress just doesn’t have the marketing power that Wrox had then, or that Wiley has. On the other hand, they are willing to print books on topics that the big houses won’t touch, and often they hit a home run.
The licensed rights are a great way to make $$$ if the topic becomes popular. Parts of my VB book ended up in textbooks, and I get a cut of every one of those that sells, for practically no extra work on my part. Nice stuff.
Oh, and Tony – you miseread the article. That 250 is AFTER the advance, which was $5000. So, he made $5250, which ain’t bad. One nice thing about APress is that they give you a comparatively huge chunk of the profits.
Good post though. Thanks for being so honest – maybe it will bring more authors to the fold.
Xavier Cazin (January 21, 2008 at 9:20 am)
No one buys eBooks., you deduce from the 166 copies sold in one year. A question comes to mind: where were digital copies of the book sold? If they were only sold on the APress site, maybe you should compare 166 to the total number of copies sold on this particular site, not to the grand total. If this ratio was, say, 30% or more on the APress site, it may mean that there are not enough PDF retailers out there, not necessarily that free books are unbeatable competitors.
Peter Cooper (January 21, 2008 at 9:21 am)
I’m a fellow Apress author with almost the same deal and the same level(ish) of sales. My Amazon rank is often below 10,000 but on “average” is probably about 11-12k. Congrats on posting this!
One thing I find rather odd is in that our contract it says they can only take 25% of the royalties due for “that period” as a reserve.. and they took over 40% of mine for the latest period, and it seems like they took a whopping 76% of your 3rd quarter 2007 royalties in reserve! I have asked them about this a couple of times but am waiting a reply. Check your contract about this, because it doesn’t make any sense to me why they’re taking more than it supposedly says they can. Of course, I could be misunderstanding it.
Other commenters should also note that the advance in John’s case was $7500 (I got less, but more than $5000).
@Mark: You’ll benefit because you can say to people you wrote a book for O’Reilly, and that people have actually heard of them. I get a lot of “Who?” when I say I wrote for Apress. This is a shame though as Apress’s quality is generally rather good and they are a good publisher.
The real lesson here is that if you can build up the market instead, you should self-publish. You can make a lot more money. Here’s one such example.
Ned Batchelder (January 21, 2008 at 9:38 am)
My wife wrote a book, and I agree, it is fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes of this business, and try to reverse-engineer their arcane methods.
And we had exactly the same experience when asking about sales numbers: “Don’t know, can’t really tell, hard to get an exact number, look at your amazon sales rank”. So I wrote a tool to make it easier to watch the amazon stats: http://nedbatchelder.com/text/whoa.html (Writer’s Homepage for Obsessing about Amazon).
Jason Dunne (January 21, 2008 at 9:44 am)
I’m a publisher for the For Dummies brand in Europe (though not for tech books, it must be said). My congrats to John for a fair and restrained take on what can be a very contentious issue.
In a nutshell, writing a book is a lot like starting your own business. Start-ups tend to produce three levels of success: the majority don’t go as well as hoped, a smaller group do OK and a select few go stratospheric. Each group gets the same potential exposure to the publisher’s distribution facilities, but a lot of the marketing spend goes to the latter group. It’s sometimes a circular thing, but you can’t blame them for backing the winners.
The only way to find out which group your work will belong to is to give it a go. Sure, it’s in the publisher’s interest to commission titles which make money for all, but the snag is that no-one knows what works for sure – a bit like making movies. How do you go about deciding whether more people are interested in Titanic vs Lord of the Rings? It’s a similar problem for books. There are no professional qualifications, though again, some are better at it than others.
Should you try to write one too? It’s all about your attitude to risk and to the prospect of failure. Bill was right to say that some tech authors have mansions (no editors have mansions, but we’re all cool with that, right!?), but, mansions or not, I have the utmost respect for anyone with the discipline and the spirit to try their hand at writing. As with any starting any other business, it helps if you love to do it anyway.
Two final observations:
1)authors are covered on the downside but the publisher is exposed. If you’ve ever seen 10 trucks full of unsold books you’ll know what it means to be exposed to the downside. Top marks to Mr Zakas for pointing this out.
2) some publisher’s contracts might be tougher than others but I have personally never come across a case where a publisher knowingly withheld or otherwise finessed a writer out of royalties. You’d be fired for that at Wiley, and good riddance too. More to the point, it would be *hard* to stage such a scam at most large companies, because everything is automated. In my experience, editors want their writers to earn out. Indeed, giving someone a large royalty cheque is one of the best parts of the job, when it happens. That it doesn’t happen often enough says far more about life in general, and the risks of guessing the public’s tastes, than it says about publishers in particular.
Karl Swedberg (January 21, 2008 at 9:57 am)
Bill: from the scan above, it looks like John’s advance was $7000, not the typical $5000 for APress.
John: my experience with Packt has been similar to yours. One difference is that Packt does print on demand. Booksellers buy it in smaller quantities, but they don’t get to send unsold copies back to the publisher. The marketing, as far as I can tell, has been limited to sending bloggers a free copy. Fortunately, their reviews have been universally positive. And it doesn’t hurt to have the book prominently displayed on the home page of jquery.com.
One really cool thing about Packt is that, for books about open-source projects, they give a certain percentage of the sales $ to the project. They aren’t the perfect publisher, that’s for sure, but this one little feature alone makes me happy to have gone with them. Not that I knew any better when I signed the contract; I was terribly naive about the technical book publishing world.
My one piece of advice for anyone who has been contacted by a publisher is to shop around before you jump in. If one publisher has asked you to write a book, chances are that other publishers will be interested as well. If all else appears roughly equal, going with the publisher that made the initial inquiry seems the decent thing to do, but it doesn’t hurt to know what the options are.
Peter Cooper (January 21, 2008 at 10:16 am)
Perhaps one thing to keep in mind is why we write the books.. not for the money (although that’s nice), but the prestige and experience. And, of course, seeing your book in a bookshop randomly (only happened to me twice so far, but hey).
Dave Thomas (January 21, 2008 at 10:23 am)
You’ll find that publishers vary. For example, at Pragmatic Bookshelf, we give 50% royalties, but don’t pay advances. We sell a good volume of PDFs for many of our titles, often as “combo-packs” along with the paper book. We also do better than most publishers in terms of direct sales. We don’t hold reserves against returns. And you can get online sales stats for your book from our site (in real time for direct sales, and whenever we receive the figures from the channel sales). The majority of our authors make five figures in total royalty payments, and some make six figures. Book writing is hard.
We feel it’s important that authors get treated fairly for all that they do.
Tonya (January 21, 2008 at 10:49 am)
I buy ebooks. Love them! I’m tired of lugging 500+ page books around that don’t lay flat and go out of date quickly. Plus, with two monitors I can have the book open on one and my IDE open on the other. Wonderful.
I like books because they have all the necessary content wrapped up in a nice package…kind of like, err, a book! Books have a nice ways of focusing your attention too.
I hope ebooks become more popular! I love that APress sells every book as an ebook without having to buy a subscription.
Peter Cooper (January 21, 2008 at 10:50 am)
Thought I’d follow in your brave footsteps and post my own Apress statement.. hopefully you’ve started a trend and everyone will do it, but I’m guessing not.
Pankaj Kumar (January 21, 2008 at 11:49 am)
Interesting observation about the Amazon Sales Rank. Also thanks for publishing the actual numbers of sales. Not many people would do that.
As a published author I used to be crazy about it during the first year of publication.
It would have been great if the chart was there for previous year. That way it would have been possible to correlate the sales volume with rank on a quarterly basis.
Philo (January 21, 2008 at 12:11 pm)
I’m another APress author (Pro InfoPath 2007), and I echo all of John’s thoughts. Two overriding pieces of advice from my perspective:
1) Don’t write for the money. I wrote Pro InfoPath because I had all these bits of information about how to use InfoPath I was always sharing and I basically wanted to package it. However, what I’ve found after the fact is that having a book in print with your name on it does an incredible thing for your credibility. So if you want to make a “career” in an area you’re interested in, writing a book helps vault you up in notoriety.
2) Blog, blog, blog. Every time I post a blog article (which is too few and far between) may sales rank pops. For those truly dedicated individuals who are consistent bloggers and have a following – *that* will sell more books than anything else.
As for “how to write a book” – the #1 piece of advice is write an hour every day. You will finish far faster that way than any death march of “I’m going to work on my book this weekend” or allnighters.
Toes (January 21, 2008 at 12:35 pm)
You missed the glory days. I wrote a computer book in the 80s and made tens of thousands relatively quickly. That was mostly before the glut of books, and before people realized how fast computer books became worthless.
I once met a guy who said, “Oh you wrote that book? Cool! I loved that book. It props up a corner of my washing machine now where a wheel broke off.”
Unless you’re writing a Dummy’s book or a missing manual, forget about money. It’s hopeless. You have to do it for love.
Peter Michaux (January 21, 2008 at 1:12 pm)
Thanks for such an open representation of the book writing business. I’m sure this post and the comments will be valuable to many considering writing a book.
Sam Tregar (January 21, 2008 at 1:37 pm)
Interesting post. I wonder what Apress will think of authors posting usually confidential sales information.
For what it’s worth my experience with Apress was very similar. I did have one interesting conversation with my editor – I asked what would happen if my book never sold enough to cover the advance, would I have to pay it back? I never actually got an answer but he seemed very confident it wouldn’t happen, and thankfully he was right if only barely.
Chad (January 21, 2008 at 2:31 pm)
A long time ago I was chatting with Randal Schwartz. He mentioned you don’t get rich writing books. Books do help get consulting work.
I think he might have said he gets about 1.5% of a retail sale. Or maybe it was half of that. I don’t really remember but it was pretty low.
Years ago a prof said to not worry about buying the course textbook even though he wrote it. He said for each copy sold he could almost buy a beer.
Braintrove.com (January 21, 2008 at 2:34 pm)
Great article. Great comments. I had started writing an InfoPath book and due to various circumstances, never completed it. I thought if I ever did I would try going through one of those print-on-demand publishers. Anyone had experience with any of them?
Bearish About The Market (January 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm)
I’ve found that book writing is the thing I can do that pays the worst.
It certainly does wonders for your reputation and can help you get consulting work, the kind that pays north of $100/hr, but the pay is poot.
Successful genre writers like Piers Anthony and Danny Goodman turn out books by the hundred because they need to do that to draw down a decent income.
0271127D^2 (January 21, 2008 at 5:08 pm)
I would change the deal with Apress.
Let them sell the print and sell the eBook yourself, build a great community around, support us and ….. write your 3rd book.
If they donÂ´t agree, shit on them and sell the eBook only.
You made your name a brand … expand it …. use it.
Tyler (January 21, 2008 at 7:47 pm)
John, many thanks for sharing your publishing experience. I do wonder how many authors know what they’re “in for” when they sign a contract. (Also, it seems absurd to not receive sales figures upon request–your editor certainly has access to Bookscan, which tracks this, as well as access to figures for bookseller sales.)
@Dave Thomas: You say you offer 50% “royalty” figure here, comparing it directly to the 10% royalty offered by other publishers. Problem is, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Your “write for us” page subtracts “printing, copy edit, artwork, and a few other things” from the figure, unlike ALL other tech publishers, who calculate royalties based on gross sales minus returns.
Just what does “a few other things” entail? Developmental editing? Technical review? Distribution? Promotion? Nobody knows, save your authors themselves. These are not small costs.
It is dishonest to directly compare these very different calculations. Of course I’d want a 50% cut over a 10% cut any day. But given the costs subtracted out of the author’s pocket, the payment to authors is likely not so different in either case.
If it sounds too good to be true…
Dave Thomas (January 21, 2008 at 11:12 pm)
I have to say, I object to you calling me dishonest. Perhaps instead you might want to ask for clarification. Ask me, or ask one of our authors.
Direct costs are indexing, copy edit, layout, and then the per-book cost. We normally expect authors to create figures: if they want to use an artist, and we provide that artist, then that costs gets figured in, too (but that’s only happened once so far). We split all these costs with the author. No DE, promotion, etc etc. If anyone asks, we sent them our contract that sets it all out (including some example royalty calculations).
We start paying royalties once all the direct costs have been paid. That’s typically after about 200-300 units ship. We pay royalties quarterly.
On direct sales from out site, authors get 50% of the price we get minus the printing cost of the book (printing costs run typically to a few dollars). For PDF sales, there is no printing cost.
For channel sales, the amount is harder to calculate because there’s are more fingers in the pie. But we still end up paying a lot more than the 10% of gross. And, beware. When other publishers talk of gross, they actually mean pretty much what we mean anyway–they deduct the margin they pay the channel, which is normally over 50%.
The reason we can pay more is that we approach publishing as a software project, not as an industry with 100’s of years of legacy practices. So, for us, everything is automated. There’s no big back-office full of people copying numbers from one spreadsheet to another. For the longest time, it was just Andy and me. Now we have some editors, and a part time layout person, but we’re still very lean by industry standards.
For comparison with John’s royalty statement above, I found one of our titles which had sold 4,482 units (comparable to the sales of John’s book). On those sales, we paid royalties to the author of $24,877. That’s about three times what John got. On another book with sales of 5,484 units, we paid the author over $50k (the latter had a higher ratio of direct to channel sales).
I didn’t cherry pick: these just happen to be two titles where the units sold were close to John’s. Clearly, the actual royalty we pay as a percentage of list is variable, but I still think it’s the best deal going.
I’m proud of what we do: we try to price our books lower, pay our authors better, and treat our readers with more respect. So, feel free to ask questions, and to disagree. But please–dishonest?
Shanti Braford (January 21, 2008 at 11:20 pm)
Thank you for posting this – I’ve always been intrigued about how much niche technical authors make.
It sounds like for the serious cash, one has to target a high-traffic industry with a lot of sex appeal.
I’m mulling writing up a guide about my current life strategy — “Reverse Offshoring” — the practice of moving overseas while maintaining US-based clients. A bit of geo-arbitraging a la 4HWW.
Tyler (January 21, 2008 at 11:57 pm)
@Dave Thomas: Thanks for the response and the numbers, and sincere apologies for the implication–I should have hedged my claim there with a “seems.”
Consider my comment a question about those costs to you, and I’ll consider it mostly answered.
“Dishonest” is indeed the wrong word–however, I do think there should be an asterisk attached to “royalties” when you use it, since it does significantly differ than how most others use and understand the word. I have to guess that distribution costs eat up a significant hunk of that 50% (but still, an interesting and compelling payment structure). And you may want to clarify these costs at the “write for us” URL.
Thanks again for shedding some light on the murk.
Dave Thomas (January 22, 2008 at 12:22 am)
I don’t see how our use of “royalty” needs an asterisk. We simply share the rewards with our authors. If we sell through the channel, then we pay the channel’s discounts. So does APress. So does O’Reilly. Look at the APress numbers: in Q1, there’s $44k on sales of 2,000 units of a book that lists for $45–they pay royalties on less that 50% of the cover price. We all pay the price for the lock that the channel has on distribution. But we pay our authors more of what’s left over and, because of our high direct sales, we avoid the channel tax on more of our books.
We’re totally up front about it all, and unlike most other publishers detail all costs in the contract, and provide real-time sales and royalty information on our site for all our authors. We’re as transparent as I know how to make us.
Jonno (January 22, 2008 at 4:51 am)
@Dave, I am a blog fan of your business and have bought many PDFs.
Tommy (January 22, 2008 at 7:10 am)
Consider making your next book available as donation-ware and accept donations via PayPal.
I bet you’ll 300 USD for that amount of readers your check said.
Michal KoÄer (January 22, 2008 at 11:03 am)
good to know what’s happening behind the scenes :) thx ;)
I’ve just got to your pages and to jQuery via Czech translation of your book:
I enjoyed it very much, thanks for writing it :)
I thought that author know (and has to give permission) for translation
of his book, so I’m rather surprised you’re not receiving these info from your publisher, do you?
BTW: the content of the book is excellent, but the translation to our language was not the best, the translator tried to translate also all the code and variable names, which is rather hard to have track which name is reserved for some kind of property or method and which one was just mentioned in chapter one of the book – so there’s rather bunch of funny mistakes ;)
Once again thx for the book and supercool jQuery :)
Eldon Alameda (January 22, 2008 at 2:14 pm)
I also just finished writing a book (on rails) for Apress this last fall.
However I had done a little research before I went in about the sales of computer books so I pretty much counted on the fact that all I’ll earn from it is simply the advance. If I happen to earn more after a few quarters – that’s nice but I’m not worried about it. From what I read back then a best selling computer book is one that’s over 10k copies. So considering the royalty rate – that’s not going to be buying you a nice new car anytime soon. I essentially just saved my advance and used it to help pay for a vacation once the book was done to “make it up” to my family for all the time that the book stole from them.
I could have easily have made a significant amount more money doing a few freelance jobs on the side – but I wanted to write simply out of a love the technology. I should also note that the deadlines you get when you’re writing a book like this are often extremely hard to keep up with. And understanding just how stressful that process can be vs. the rewards should be factored into a person decision if considering writing a book
I’ll be writing another book simply because once I got into the groove – there were parts of the process of writing that I really enjoyed, and getting messages from people who enjoyed the book and feel it’s helped them has been rewarding on a personal level.
John (January 22, 2008 at 2:22 pm)
Two observations: first, there are often real advantages to using an agent to negotiate your contract for you. Some publishers use a standard contract that includes some apparently obscure sections with terms that can end up costing the author real money (things like subsdiary and foreign rights, cross-accounting and so forth). A decent agent will know how to convince the publisher to make changes in your favor.
And second, if you have evidence that the publisher is not reporting all of your sales, you have the right to conduct an audit. There’s at least one service that will perform an audit for you for a percentage of the added revenue they identify.
Dave McFarland (January 25, 2008 at 5:15 pm)
Thanks for the article…great read (especially all of the comments.)
I just wanted to clarify a point you made in your original post about publishing in December, It’s not so much that December was the big month; it’s that December was the first month your book came out. That 2000 copies sold doesn’t mean 2000 programmers bought your book. It means the BOOKSTORES bought 2000 copies to sell. Those actual books probably weren’t all sold to customers by the end of December.
Bruce (January 27, 2008 at 5:57 pm)
I’m curious if you’ve considered self-publishing instead? Lulu (for example) lets you manage both print and ebooks, including selling on-demand copies through Amazon. It would allow you to charge what you wanted (and reap what you wanted), instead of being at the short end of the publisher’s stick.
If nothing else, you’d profit more from self-promotion (and it’s not like many publishers promote the small author very well).
Mike Fook (January 27, 2008 at 9:59 pm)
Awesome post – thanks very much for this. I’ve written 2 books and not given either one to a publisher yet. Still researching what to do and how to do it. This post helps a lot. It was sent to me by a reader of my AimforAwesome blog – who knew I was writing a book… Thanks much, I learned a lot.
Joe South (February 13, 2008 at 8:52 pm)
Thanks for the post and all the informative comments.
As an experienced tech author, I’d second these points–
(1) Comparison-shop for a publisher… the deals offered vary
(2) Don’t be afraid to negotiate with publishers, just like you would on any other contract
(3) A few authors make big bucks, but 99+ percent don’t make much at all (probably no more than the advance)
(4) However writing can help your career, esp if you consult in the book topic. (My books make little but my contract programming fees make it worthwhile financially.
(5) If you’re some company’s tech employee, you won’t be able to financially leverage the name-recognition your book yields.
(6) If you can self-promote your book (through a popular blog, submissions to popular websites, whatever), you should definitely self-publish (use POD services). Don’t go through a “traditional publisher” if you do all the promotion anyway!
Best of luck, fellow authors.
Henrik Sarvell (February 20, 2008 at 2:19 pm)
I just wanted to improve your ebook stats by buying the ebook version on the apress site. 35 bucks? I simply do not understand why it’s only $10 cheaper than the print version as the cost of actually creating it is virtually zero compared to printing a physical copy. That combined with the fact that paper print is easier on the eyes IMHO just resulted in yet another print sale for you instead of an ebook sale.
Tanya (March 4, 2008 at 2:30 pm)
I’m Tanya and I work in sales/business development for Lulu.com, a premiere self publishing website. I enjoyed the blog and wanted to share that Lulu.com is a free service that allows the creator/writer to retain 80% of the profits. Check us out and if you would like, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ladislav (March 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm)
Good Luck with Ninja!
Code It Well (May 7, 2008 at 2:30 pm)
If you want to learn something, you need to read a book.
To read a book, you need to buy it.
You don’t want to be stupid, so you must to read books.
So, programming books will get you a good ammount of money, if you are a publisher.
Ross Young (May 29, 2008 at 1:28 pm)
I’m somewhat adicted to buy eBooks related to programming from Apress & Sitepoint so there are some of us out there. Obviously not enough!