The Hint Fiction anthology came out in November of 2010. It got some really great reviews and sold very well. In fact, it quickly earned out its advance, which should be noted because not many books actually earn out their advances, or if they do it can take many, many years. In many ways, it was a great novelty gift, and with Christmas right around the corner, the book would make a wonderful stocking stuffer. Unfortunately, a second printing could not make it into the market fast enough, and I remember there being a shortage of copies at Amazon of all places come Christmastime. How many potential sales were lost from that, I haven't a clue, but it seemed when the extra copies became available it was way after the fact. Anyway, when the whole project first came about, it was important to me that the contributors were paid, and if possible paid well for their time and effort. It still seems to be an ongoing trend in the "literary" community that exposure is payment enough for work appearing in journals, but that's because it seems the majority of those in the "literary" community are trying to build their CV for when they go on teaching jobs, and the more writing credits, the better. For the rest of us schlubs, money is so much sweeter.
My agent was able to negotiate a nice advance, though the majority of it went to the authors. Typically in a project like this, an editor receives an advance and splits it 50/50 with the contributors (the editor keeps the 50, then metes out the other 50 among the contributors). From there, if there are any royalties, the editor does the same thing -- retains their 50%, and metes out whatever 50% is left.
I knew from the start that this book was going to have a lot of contributors, and while it wouldn't have hundreds and hundreds like the SMITH six-word essay anthologies (which, from what I understand, only offered a contributor's copy), it would have at least one hundred. Which meant that, if I wanted to do the typical royalty thing, every two years (assuming the anthology even earned out), I would waste a day or two sending out tiny royalty checks to over one hundred people all over the world.
While that sounded like a lot of fun, I decided instead to pay the contributors a lot of money up front as a one-time fee. This way if the book earned out, cool for me. If the book didn't earn out, oh well. The payment worked out to a dollar a word (or more if the tiny story was very short), which is how much The New Yorker pays, baby. It wasn't a lot, but it was something, and nobody seemed to complain. And then, so, the book came out and, like I said, earned out pretty quickly. In fact, from my first statement from the publisher (which went from October 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011, and which I received in September of 2011 -- publishing works slow, in case you didn't know), the anthology sold just over 12,500 copies, with only 780 copies being returned, and 441 digital sales.
Ain't too shabby, though you have to remember that I don't earn any royalties until the advance is earned back.
Now here's the important part: bookstore shelf life is finite. Every week more books are being released, which means the bookstores need to return the old for the new. This is, of course, the publishing business model.
So let's fast-forward another six months to March of 2012. I receive another statement from my agent (who was sent it from the publisher). This statement goes from April 1, 2011 to September 30, 2011. By this time the anthology has been released for practically a year.
And in that time, how many copies did it sell?
But wait -- remember how I said shelf life is finite, and the bookstores need to return the old for the new? Well, here's how many returns there were during that six-month period:
So do the math -- if 900 copies were sold, and 3,000 copies were returned, that puts us in the red for 2,100 copies.
Which means even though the anthology had previously earned out its advance and sold 900 additional copies, I get nothing.
But wait again -- there were some ebook sales, too. Not a lot, mind you. This isn't really a book that translates well to digital, and besides, the ebook price is pretty high considering there isn't much wordage in the book. Still, how many digital copies were sold in that six-month period?
And guess what -- no returns.
Which means I actually receive a royalty on those sales!
Except, well, I don't receive that much, since the royalty for digital is only 25%, but still it's something.
And in another six months, how sales will there be then? Even if there are more sales of the print edition, remember how many returns there had been previously. That means it'll be a long time before I start making anything on the print. But the digital, with infinite shelf life and no worry of returns? Sure, I'll keep making some money off that, though it will very minimal.
Or let me put this in a different perspective: the royalty I received off those 121 digital copies in a six-month period?
I made about the same amount yesterday alone on my own.