Steve

Many Happy(?) Returns!

Every traditionally published author needs to understand the principle of “Reserves Against Returns” which is an integral part of publishing economics. It can reduce the amount of money an author receives in their royalty statement. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

Consequently book contracts have a clause allowing the publisher to establish “a reasonable reserve against returns.” By “reserve” they mean a pool of money withheld from the author…holding that money in “reserve.” The intention of the clause is to protect the publisher against paying the author for books that have been shipped and billed to a store but may eventually be returned to the publisher.

Imagine if Walmart purchased 10,000 copies of your book. Everyone celebrates. If you are earning $1.00 in royalty (on average) for every book sold, that means you will receive $10,000 from your publisher at some point. Hooray! Steak dinners for every one!

But wait.

What if Walmart doesn’t sell all the copies they purchased and returned 5,000 of them?

And what if your publisher had already paid you for all 10,000 sold copies? That means your publisher overpaid you by $5,000. Do you have to give that money back? You really don’t want their collections agent (his name is Guido) to come to your door to get their money back.

Instead, the publisher makes an estimate on every royalty statement and withholds a “reasonable reserve against returns.” In some situations it can seem like the publisher abuses the word “reasonable.” One author I know had 70% of their revenue withheld for a complete royalty cycle because their publisher had made a big sale to a big box chain. But is that really abuse?

The Big Box retailers are notorious for returning over half of what they purchase.

I don’t begrudge a publisher for holding a reserve. I’d rather they not demand the money back later!

But never fear! If the returns do not use up the reserve the difference is credited back to the author. Let’s watch the math in the following example:

  • Book sells 10,000 copies which generated $10,000 worth of author earnings in July-December. (This is assuming the author earned $1 in royalties for every book sold.)
  • Publisher creates a reserve of $5,000 in January in case there are returns after Christmas. This, in essence, means they hold back paying the royalties on 5,000 copies in case a truck full of that book suddenly appears at their warehouse. Meanwhile they send the author $5,000.
  • In Jan-June there are $3,000 worth of returns sent back which is charged against that reserve. So the publisher gives back to the author the $2,000 balance in their account.

Does this make sense? I hope so. The bottom line in this example is that the book sold 7,000 copies and the author earned $7,000.

By the way, lest you think I’m ignoring the E-elephant in the room? Ebooks technically do not have returns since there is no physical inventory on a shelf to handle. Consequently there should never be a reserve against returns on e-books. It can happen if a bunch of people return their ebook purchase, but it would be rare if it were thousands of copies.

 

[This is a heavily updated version of a post published in June 2011.]

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The Wild Pitch

In honor of the upcoming baseball season I thought it would be fun to explore the art of pitching.

A couple years ago I was watching a Major League baseball game and the pitcher unleashed a horrific throw that sailed about eight feet behind the batter. It floated to the backstop without a bounce and everyone in the stadium wonder what had just happened. It looked like the pitcher lost his grip and could not stop his delivery. In baseball terms this is classified as a wild pitch.

Unfortunately many writers unleash a pitch on an agent or an editor before it is ready to deliver. Let me list a few actual letters I have received.

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Gray Saturday

I wrote this many years ago and read it every Easter weekend as a reminder. May it speak to you in some small way.

Gray Saturday
by Steve Laube

Holy weekend is such a study in contrasts.

Friday is dark. Somber. Frightening in its hopelessness and pain.
I do not like Dark Fridays.
The nails bury themselves deep into my soul.
They become a singular stake through the heart of this sinner.
Piercing. Rending. Bloody.
Vanquishing this creature of the night who dares to follow his own way.
Christ’s death becomes mine.
The death I deserve.

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Dark Friday

I wrote this piece a few years ago and thought it appropriate to post every year on Dark Friday.

Take Me, Break Me
(a prayer)
by Steve Laube

Take my eyes Lord.

Strike me blind.

* * *

Then heal me Lord
That I may see with Your eyes.

 

Take my hands Lord.
Crush every bone.

* * *

Then heal me Lord
That I may touch with Your tenderness.

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Rumor Control

I was talking with an editor this week who asked me, “How are things going? I hear that your agency is barely making ends meet and that you’ve had to take on other type of work to survive.”

I must admit that I was so startled by this rumor that words nearly failed me.

“Where did you hear that?” I exclaimed.

“Oh it was at a recent writers conference and folks were talking, and your name came up.”

At the risk of sounding defensive, let me set the record straight.

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Marketing vs. Publicity

by Steve Laube

Recent I have run into a common misunderstanding. Some writers use the words “marketing” and “publicity” (or P.R. “public relations”) as synonyms when actually one is a subset of the other.

There are marketing departments that have a publicity division or a marketing department that outsources their publicity. The two go hand in hand and should compliment each other.

The best way I can define it is to say that:

Marketing is all about creating multiple impressions.

This can be through ad placement, in-store displays, banner ads, reviews, contests, etc.

Publicity is all about meeting the author.

This is done through radio and television as well as through all forms of social media.

The difference is that author “feels” publicity because they are involved. They do not “feel” marketing, per se.

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Writers Learn to Wait

Ours is a process industry. Good publishing takes time. Unfortunately time is another word for “waiting.” No one really likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Awhile ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved. Below are some of the things for which a writer must learn to wait.

Waiting for the Agent

We try our best to reply to submissions within 6-8 weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few short proposals.

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Give Thanks to God

http://www.gratisography.com/

There is a verse in scripture which sets out in bold relief the great besetting problem of the human race. It is Romans 1:21: ‘for even though we knew God…we did not give thanks.’ Astonishing! How can we actually know God and not give thanks? Scarcely a day passes in which we are not deluged by at least a hundred instances of God’s goodness to us. Thanksgiving ought to be the most natural of human reflexes, as spontaneous as drawing breath.

Doubtless there are a plethora of reasons why we do not feel thankful. Perhaps business is stressful, or marriage is disappointing, or parenting is unfulfilling, or health is deteriorating, or school is unrewarding. Or maybe we simply take for granted God’s goodness to us.

How important it is, then, to rehearse frequently all that God does for us. Only then will an unending torrent of thanksgiving be unleashed from our hearts. Nowhere is God’s goodness more compellingly set out in His word. Immerse yourself in what follows, luxuriate in the story of God’s grace to you. . . and be thankful!

__________

Who is like the Lord our God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth . . . and who stretches out the heavens like a curtain. How majestic is His name . . . When we consider His heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained, what are we that He should take thought of us?

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Bring the Books (What Steve Laube is Looking For)

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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Who Owns Whom in Publishing?

Updated February 3, 2018 For a comprehensive list check out The Christian Writers Market Guide. Available in print at your favorite retailer or as an online subscription (updated weekly) at www.ChristianWritersMarketGuide.com. Our emphasis in this post is the Christian publishing industry. There are many fine commercial publishers that do not publish …

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