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I Tripled My Royalties, and You Can Too

15 November 2012

From author Tucker Max on The Huffington Post:

I know how an author can triple their effective royalty. This is on the same sales, with nothing else substantively changing in any other aspect of their book. Same books (print and ebooks both), same bookstores, same placement, same customer experience, even the same publisher (sort of).

I’m sure you’re skeptical. I know you think this can’t be done. You’re wrong.

I know an author can triple his royalties on the same sales, because I’ve already done it.

. . . .

After two very successful books, I realized the weird paradox of the publishing business that every author eventually learns: It’s terribly exploitive of authors (paying them a very small royalty on sales), yet it doesn’t even do a good job maximizing overall revenue from book sales. Publishing companies are like schoolyard bullies that can’t even fight well.

In preparation for my third book, Hilarity Ensues, I stepped back and tried to figure out a different approach. Frankly, I wanted to keep more of the money my books made, and I wanted more control over the publishing process, but I didn’t want to deal with the problems that come from being in the “self-publishing ghetto.”

. . . .

I expected the publishing industry to act like a real business. When that didn’t happen, I was well-equipped to figure out why, having come to writing by accident from an educational background of economics and law. I read everything I could about the publishing business, compared it to other similar businesses, saw how those were disrupted, applied my experiences with publishing and came to a key realization:

I could replicate everything that a publishing house did — except for distribution. So what I needed was a distribution deal, not a book deal.

. . . .

Distribution deals themselves aren’t unusual. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of publishing companies in America. How many of them have trucks and warehouses and sales teams? Almost none. You didn’t think Harvard University Press handles book logistics or sends people to B&N buyer meetings, did you? Of course not. They use a Big 6 publisher to do their distribution. In fact, there are really only about eight major book distributors, and each of the Big 6 has a separate distribution division that handles the distribution services for other publishing houses.

Well, why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be a publishing company and just cut a deal directly with a distributor, do everything else, and keep all the profit of my writing for myself? Yeah, I’ll have to take a risk by skipping my advance on my third book, and it’ll require some more work on my part — but I am more than happy to hire freelancers if it means by royalty checks triple in size.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Jennifer for the tip.


31 Comments to “I Tripled My Royalties, and You Can Too”

  1. This seems a bit puzzling to me. Having seen what goes on in those meetings with distributors, I’m not convinced the distribution sales team is actually where it’s at. They go with a catalog of thousands of books and say, What do you want? If a book or an author is quite big they might push it, but they can’t push everything. An indie writer who gets their own distributor is going to have to do A LOT more work than a writer who has a publisher. Plus who can afford to have books printed in the numbers needed? Who wants to take the risk of getting big print runs done and warehoused? Who has the money for that sort of thing?

  2. Isn’t this exactly the deal that self-publishers have with, say, Amazon?

    • More specifically, Createspace.

    • Right, those.

      • If I understand correctly, the major difference would be that Createspace’s Expanded distribution only gets your publishing company’s books onto a list from which you can be ordered.

        A distribution deal through S&S, however, means that your books are offered on the returns system. No matter how wise the returns system may be as a long-term business-health process, a bookstore is more likely to gamble shelf space alone than shelf space and eating the full cost of unsold books.

  3. It’s interesting that he thinks that’s somehow not self-publishing. If you become a publisher in order to publish your own work, getting a good distribution deal doesn’t make you less of a self-publisher. It just means you managed the last step of publishing in a way that unproven authors have more trouble doing.

  4. This is awesome!! What a smart guy!

    Although I sort of wish people would stop dealing with the Big Six out of principle, I also understand that if you want to do things this way, especially if you want your book in print, having one of the Big Six distribute your books makes alot of sense.

    This would only work for authors who have successfully sold alot of books, because Publishers wouldn’t agree to it otherwise. But when faced with the choice of being cut out of the deal altogether, Publishers might agree to do what they did here – serve as a distribution center for print. They may not, but it will be interesting to see if they’ll let other authors negotiate the same deal.

    I think he is being generous – offering to guide people through this without charge. I agree with him that the system is exploitive and broken, and think it was terrific that he found a new way to work around that, not just for digital, but for print. And raising his royalties from $3 to $12 for a hardcover is pretty awesome.

    • Don’t think too highly of him; if you’ve ever read any of his books, you’d see one of the biggest a-holes on the planet.

      • I kinda suspected that from the title, “I tripled my royalties and you can too”. It sounds like an infomercial, & even after I got past it my BS meter remained in the red zone.

        An important advantage his approach has is that it avoids tying oneself to the Amazon brand. Otherwise, to quote Dr. Johnson in part, much of what he says that is good is not original.

        • No, I mean he’s truly a bad person. I read “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” and, while I admit I did laugh a lot, I was ashmed that I did. By the end, I was appalled at how such a person can succeed by virtue of being a complete lowlife.

          • His next book was “Assholes Finish First.” I feel like that’s fair warning to anyone thinking of doing business with him.

            • Dan, Geoff and Mary – I appreciate the information. Thanks.

              Well, he didn’t seem like an a-hole in the article. But I did overlook that indie-publishing ghetto thing. That’s not a nice thing to say. It’s actually a downright dumb thing to say, and insulting, too.

              Okay, I”m changing my mind. I still think it’s an interesting idea, to negotiate with Trad. Pub. for distribution in bookstores, but I don’t like that he’s insulting indies at the same time.

          • I wasn’t arguing with you, Dan. (I clicked thru to the Techcrunch interview, and in his profile he boasts about being an a******.)

            I was responding to the title of his article — which set off my BS meter, & the general tone of this article didn’t make me feel any more comfortable with him. I get a clear vibe off him that he is bad news; funny how certain things come across even over the Internet. Reading his article is about as close as I’m comfortable being to this guy.

            As I said, the article had an idea or two worth considering, but that doesn’t mean I would do business with him, want to be his friend, meet him in person, or even read one of his books.

            • Sorry, I didn’t mean to come across argumentative. I just reeeeeeaaaallllllyyyy don’t like him. 😀

          • He was interviewed recently on one of my favorite podcasts and I almost didn’t listen because I felt the same way just from knowing his reputation. I’m paraphrasing here, but he says the things he writes/wrote about in his books are all drawn from a few years in his young adult life. He realizes what a crappy human being he was. Now, a dozen or so years later, readers are frequently disappointed to meet him and discover he’s a grownup. (Not trying to excuse what he was like, just sharing information.)

  5. I self-publish, and upon reading this article I was surprised to learn that the author considers I am in a “ghetto.”

    According to Merriam-Webster a ghetto is:

    1) a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live
    2) a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure
    3) a : an isolated group b : a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity

    I guess only definition 3# would apply here.

    Should I feel insulted?

    • No, but the next word you should look up is “idiom.”

      • That was a rhetorical question Dave. I do know what idiom is. I know the meaning of a word can be context dependent. He is someone who takes great pains in stating he is not a self-publisher, and uses the term “ghetto” to refer to the group of those who publish using this modality. Do you really think this is a positive or at least a neutral term in this context?

  6. I once tweeted that someone should write a book titled ‘Hilarity Ensues’ as a joke. I had no idea someone actually did.

  7. His approach is nothing new, and it was the only way in the paper book world of yesterday. With Amazon/Createspace and POD it is just another alternative for a distribution channel. To take advantage of this method of distribution you need to be a salesperson and you’ll need capital to print the books. Even if you convince the distributor to take your books the financial risk is higher (books unsold,) but if you succeed so will the profits.

  8. Huh, so he did exactly the same thing a lot of self publishing authors do (set up a publishing company for his own books), and the only thing he was able to do differently was to snag a distribution deal from one of the big traditional publishers…but he’s not self-published, not living in the self-published ‘ghetto’.

    Right. Excuse me, I need a laugh break.

  9. Isn’t it weird that the kindle edition of Hiliarity Ensues is $12.99?

    Let’s see now, by cutting out his publisher, and self-publishing, yet still charging big six prices, I believe he almost tripled his royalties, (from something like $3.25 per book to something like $9.10) even without a distribution deal for the paper versions.

    • I don’t think he’s getting the 70% royalty though. For one thing, the book is listed as “sold by” S&S, so it looks like he had to give up some stake in the ebook distribution to get his print deal. And even if he was indie, Amazon pays indies a 35% royalty for ebooks over $10.

  10. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same thing that John Locke did with S&S? A distribution deal?

    • Yeah, but John Locke isn’t one of the cool-kid Gen Xers posting on the HuffPo…

    • And Bella Andre recently inked a print-only distribution deal with Harlequin. This isn’t a new idea, but you have to be a top seller to make it happen. 🙂

      Interesting that he gave up his ebook rights, though. I think that might have been a misstep on his part…

      • Woah, he gave up his e-book rights??? That’s crazy.

        I thought I read the article, but I missed that. Okay, anything where you give up your e-book rights is a bad deal. Period.

        Print is temporary. Digital is not.

        Well, no wonder Simon and Schuster did this. They got digital rights.

        • It’s conjecture, but based on the fact that the Kindle version is $12.99 and says “Sold by Simon & Schuster” I’d reckon he did.

          And yes, cake for S&S, they get a sweet cherry on top after working the print distribution. I wonder if that was a condition of the distribution. And I wonder if Tucker Max realizes the TRUE power authors (Locke and Andre so far that I know of) actually *keep* their digital distribution rights and ink a print-only deal. Heh.

          • If your conjecture is true, maybe the title of the article could use a change:

            ‘I Tripled My Royalties Like a Chump When I Could Have Quintupled Them Instead, and You Can Listen to Me Brag About It’

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