Tips from an Industry Insider | Advances, royalties and other publishing terms

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This month I define some common but little understood terms that frequently cause confusion for people who don’t work in a publisher’s office.


Contract: the agreement drawn up between the publisher and the author to confirm payment terms and respective responsibilities etc at the point of acquisition.

Advance: a non-returnable payment to authors by publishers. It is usually paid on signature of contract but depending on the terms of the contract, it can be paid in instalments against key dates such as provision of final manuscript and release day. Literary agents typically ask for an advance and earn a percentage of it from the author. Most ebook publishers and imprints do not pay advances, only royalties.

Royalty: the payment made by publishers to authors. It is usually a fixed percentage of the recommended retail price meaning royalties are paid on every sale. Sometimes the royalty is calculated on net profit after expenses. Royalties are set off against advances, meaning if you are paid an advance, you will not earn any additional money until your royalties exceed the amount of the advance. Traditional publishers account for and pay royalties in six-month cycles. Newer publishing houses, especially those primarily interested in ebook sales, often pay on a three-month cycle or even monthly.

Copyright: the right of an author, artist, publisher etc to retain ownership of works and to produce or contract others to produce copies. In the European Union, copyright is 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. Prior to 1996, the copyright term in the UK was 50 years. It is not clear yet if Brexit will impact on copyright laws. In the US, THE

In 1996, the full term of copyright was extended throughout the European Union to 70 years the duration of copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter (unless the author’s identity is later revealed in Copyright Office records, in which case the term becomes the author’s life plus 70 years).

Public Lending Right (PLR): the right of an author in the UK or Australia to receive from the public purse a payment for the loan of works from public libraries. Usually, you have to be a resident of the said country to be eligible for the payment. In Australia, authors are also entitled to Education Lending Rights (ELR), which is a payment for the use of works, or parts thereof, in education institutions. A book does not have to be a textbook in order to qualify for ELR.

Sales and Promotion

ISBN: universal abbreviation for International Standard Book Number, a unique 13-digit numerical identifier for each title published. It used to be that all books published had to have an ISBN. This is no longer the case with self-publishing but having an ISBN is still best practice. The number is made up of a language prefix (0 or 1 for the English language), followed by a publisher prefix, then a number relating to the individual title, and finally a check digit (used to validate the remainder of the code). It usually appears in the bibliographical details on the copyright page. On printed books, it is encoded in a bar code printed on the back of the book. In Australia,  authors can buy an ISBN from Thorpe-Bowker.

Bar code: the machine-readable image of lines of varying thicknesses which encodes a book’s ISBN and is printed on the back cover. When ‘read’ by electronic equipment, it plays a vital part in publishers’ and booksellers’ systems for sales monitoring and stock control.

Recommended Retail Price (RRP): the price the publisher recommends that a book be sold out. Retailers are not required to use the RRP. Online booksellers usually discount the price. Once a book goes out of print, second-hand and antiquarian booksellers often charge more than the RRP.

Sale or return (SOR): the arrangement whereby books supplied by publishers to booksellers may be returned for credit if subsequently unsold. Returns are taken off an author’s sales, negatively impacting royalties.

Advance Information (Sheet), often abbreviated to AI (or AIS): a document produced by publishers for new titles to provide information for the purpose of subscription to book buyers and initiating promotional opportunities. Typical contents would include a blurb, author biography, review of the author’s previous works, advance praise by notable independent parties, provisional specification, ISBN, publication date and price. Usually no longer than an A4 page in length.

Blad: a term used to describe various forms of advance sales material, most commonly consisting of a selection of pages of text and illustration wrapped inside a replication of the book cover. Often A3 folding to four A4 pages in size.

Proof/book proof/page proofs: a specially produced advance copy of the uncorrected text of a title, used by publishers’ sales teams and as early review copies. Sometimes still known by the obsolete term of galley proof. Galleys were a particular stage of pre-digital printing.

Point of Sale (POS): merchandising display material provided by publishers to bookshops in order to promote particular titles. Types of POS include:

  • Dumpbin:presentation stand, usually containing some 20-40 copies of a book, used for point of sale merchandising in bookshops.
  • Shelf talkers/ shelf wobblers: small printed tickets attached to a retail shelf and promoting a particular book.
  • Posters: not used as often anymore as there is not much free wall space in modern bookshops.

Face Out: a book shelved in such a way that the front cover is facing the customer.

Spine Out: a book shelved such that only the spine of the book is immediately visible to customers.

Next week: format and print-related terms.

Laura Boon Russell

Laura is a bookaholic

and tennis tragic. She became entangled in publishing after reading Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and ‘stealing’ The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss from her father’s bookshelves as a teenager. She has worked as a bookseller, sales rep, publicist and freelance editor. In 2006, Frontrunner Publishing released her DIY guide to publicity for small business, Make the Media Work for You. However, she is forever indebted to the RWA for giving her the courage and the tools to write the stories she wants to tell. The Wild Rose Press will publish her first romance in 2018.

Visit Laura’s website, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, or find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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