Reading Royalty Reports

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

Our agency just finished processing royalty statements from ten publishing houses, and we are expecting statements from ten more this month! Whew! :) We always check our clients’ statements for accuracy and are available to answer our clients’ questions about their statements as well. For those of you who aren’t yet published, you’ll want to keep this blog in mind for the future.

question-mark-285x300Royalty statements vary in readability–some publishing houses have very clear statements and others have statements that are so muddled that they’re nearly impossible to read. It’s important to figure them out so that you are sure that you are getting the money that is due to you. Your agent will be able to help, but here are three areas for you to look for on your report.

The first is your remaining advance or your balance. If this is a negative number, your advance hasn’t earned back. If it’s a positive number, you are most likely due a payment. If you think you should have a payment and you don’t, talk with your agent.  The account balance number can grow and shrink depending on book sales and returns.

The second area to look for is your cumulative sales number. This number tells you how many books have sold during the entire time your book has been published. If your statement does not have a cumulative sales number, you will want to track your own life-to-date sales starting when you receive your first royalty report. (Or ask if your agent already is keeping track.) You will need to add and subtract sales and returns from your number to keep track accurately. Even if your royalty report does have a cumulative sales section, it is still a good idea to keep track  by adding and subtracting all reported sales so you can easily see if your number and the publisher’s number match on future reports. Most of the reporting is done using computer equations, but these computer systems don’t always work perfectly.

The third thing you should be on the lookout for in your statement is if both physical and digital sales are being reported. Occasionally publishing houses will forget to send a report for one or the other, and this can affect your account balance. Not receiving a report doesn’t mean there weren’t sales. You should receive a report even if the book had zero sales for the royalty period.

Remember that your agent can help you if you are confused by a royalty statement. I wish I could go into all of the details of reading a statement here, but we would be here all night!

For those who are published, especially those who are self-published, how do you keep track of your life-to-date sales? Or would you rather leave that in your agent’s hands?

What would you do if you thought you spotted an error in your royalty statements?

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33 Comments

  • Rachel, thank you for this post. I received my first royalty statement in January. It broke the sales down into three categories: the hardcover, the softcover, and the e-book. It didn’t let me know how many were sold from Amazon, or B&N, etc. … where the books were sold from. How would I ever know how many were sold, say, on Amazon? I set up an Amazon author account, thinking that might help initially, but I’m not sure I’d actually ever know the amount (at least it didn’t show the last time I checked … I’ll double ck). Seems all I have to go by at this point is what the publisher shows on the royalty statement. It seems there is no way I’d know if there is an error or not.

    • Rachel, I did just take a peek at my Amazon author account, and it did list total sales … but it looks like it is excluding the e-books. Hm. I’ll have to dig a little deeper on that, I guess.

      • Laura Jackson says:

        Shelli, it doesn’t list e-books, which is frustrating, and I’m not sure how accurate it is….only say that because my publisher showed more sold on Amazon than what Amazon said.
        Weird!

      • Laura, thank you for that information. That is strange.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Not all royalty reports differentiate between the various venues for the sales–actually most statements don’t. I can think of one publishing house that lists out every way a book is distributed from the warehouse and online, but that is the only house.

      If there is some reason you’d need to know this information, the publishing house might tell you if you were to ask.

    • Lori Benton says:

      Shelli, I checked my Amazon author account and here’s what I found about total sales reported: “It is likely that not all your books’ sales are reflected here; BookScan estimates they report 75% of all retail print book sales.” So no ebooks and only 3/4 of the print book sales.

  • I’d prefer to leave as much of the royalty analysis with the agent as possible, though I’d probably track some numbers myself, out of curiosity.

    Part of a good agency relationship is that the author is freed up to concentrate on writing and platform-building – the things an agent can’t do. It only makes sense to leave the jobs the agent can do in her hands. (Michael Hyatt has made this point in a more general way when talking about outsourcing whatever can be done by another to concentrate on his core work.)

    If I thought there was an error I’d ask my agent to look over it, first. If I were unagented, I’d politely go to the accounts payable person at the publisher…but only after pulling together all of the relevant numbers, and using highlighter liberally.

    My wife is a business analyst in the insurance industry, and she can attest to the frequency with which accounting departments change their spreadsheet templates, and how easily errors can creep in…and how hard it can be to track down their source.

    (Going off-topic…in a future blog, could one of you guys talk about what defines historical fiction…is it a setting beyond the physical memory of the reading audience, or is there another criterion? And to what degree do – or should – detail and setting play a larger role than in contemporary fiction? I’d love to know, and I suspect a lot of others would as well.)

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      When there is an error it usually is a mistake caused by some spreadsheet malfunction. We’ve had clients jump to the conclusion that the publishing house is trying to cheat them and it’s a good idea to give the publisher the benefit of a doubt because technology is fallible.

      I will email all of the agents with your blog idea right away to see if someone wants to tackle it!

  • Michelle Ule Michelle Ule says:

    Historical fiction, generally, is anything prior to 1950 (though some of us think anything before the Internet 25 years ago would be more germane!).

    Because it is often outside the reader’s experience, you do need to spend more time setting the scene–the differences between then and now are part of the illumination. That’s why historical novels are closer to 100K words in length–the assumption is you need more words to describe the former world.

    I’m sure one of the agents would love to write on this topic. :-)

  • Sarah Sundin says:

    I use a good old Excel spreadsheet to track my cumulative sales. Then I can sum up sales of individual books, sales within a series, and total sales. There are simple tutorials to help you learn the system. When I get my royalty statements, I just enter the current figures, and all my sums go through automatically. It’s beautiful. Of course, every time I see Excel in action, I think of how many more hours I could have slept in college if I’d had Excel for my giant tables o’ data from chem labs.

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Yikes! I guess there are good things about being unpublished. No confusing royalty statements. Yay!

  • Thanks for the informative post, Rachel. Royalties are one area I feel traditional publishers handle better than small indies. While Author Central tells me how many books I’ve sold through Amazon, I have absolutely no idea how many books are selling elsewhere. I must depend on the publisher’s honesty in sending my royalties to me. It’s frustrating.

  • Rachel, thanks for this post. I hope your fellow agents don’t ostracize you when their phones start ringing with questions by the authors they represent, especially those who (like me) don’t fully understand the maze of royalty statements.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      :D The main office here at Books & Such handles a lot of the royalty questions for all of the clients at the agency, so I’d say that Janet might be angry with me, but the blog topic was her idea so I’m safe.

  • For my self-published novella, I track it online, daily. Since I only published it at the end of last month, I haven’t received the paper statement yet. I think when I get the contract with the publishing house I’ll just let my agent take care of that. She seems to know what she’s doing ;o).

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      :) Sounds like a plan!

      I think that the statements you’ll receive for your novella will be pretty easy to read.

  • So timely! I just had this discussion with my wonderful agent a day or two ago. :)

    For a “words” person, looking at all those numbers made my head swim.

  • Sherry Kyle says:

    The nice thing about having organized friends is that they can help you understand the maze of royalty statements. (Sarah, please come over!!!) But first, I should start with a phone conversation with my agent. :) I’m baffled.

  • My dog Dinozzo has finally convinced me – I should donate all my future royalties – to the Royal Family, instead of spending it on myself.

    Randy and Rachel Royal live next door to me and Dinozzo has eyes for their Springer Spaniel named Daisy May.

    Of course I won’t be mentioning this to my cat Oreo – for obvious reasons.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      :) lol!

      This morning I was about ready to donate my dog to the next door neighbors because of all of the barking, but I don’t think they’d take him.

  • I’d love to have to worry about royalty statements!!!! :)

  • As self-pubbed, I’m realizing more and more how I need to printout some sort of monthly record. We do have Excel reports, but those are huge to printout. AND I just realized I need to include all my sales outlets when calculating all the units sold (now including audiobooks). Definitely something I’m learning as I go, but indies who’ve been in this longer are extremely savvy about such things. I try to learn from them!

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