What he want to know was this:
My first impulse upon reading this wasn't to reply--it was to applaud... genuflect... give the guy a hug, and a noogie, and offer him a place on my couch if he's ever in NYC. Some of us on the publishing side have been doing this for so long, and have so often had guns held to our head regarding advances for high-profile authors, that we forget that the vast majority of writers (especially in their early days) are often deeply anxious about "earning their way." The simple explanation is that authors whose books don't sell have a hard time getting published again--but I'm convinced that Alan's question reflects that, at a more profound level, many writers have an old-fashioned (some will say naive) desire that the deal be a good one for both parties. I've worked hard on this, and I want to get paid as well as possible, but it's important that you come out of this more or less as well off as I do.
"How will I know when they [Hyperion] feel good about their return on investment in me? My advance for this this three-book deal (it's the first in a planned urban trilogy) was quite fiscally responsible and fair from the publisher's perspective - and by that I mean nowhere close to quit-my-day-job numbers but solid in my eyes.(Then again, I am a teacher, so any dollars look like big dollars... LOL!)
"What I want to know is, HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN THEY FEEL LIKE I WAS A GOOD BUSINESS PARTNER? Is it sales and dollars? Is it cachet* and awesome publicity for the publishing house? Good reviews? What is the yardstick an author such as myself should be using?"
And this, folks, is one of the reasons that editors sometimes love writers, and love (despite the difficulty of doing so) publishing first-time authors. Because they (the writers) aren't jaded yet (some never become so) and actually want you (the editors) to benefit from this joint endeavor; for their book(s) to be checkmarks on the good side of the corporate ledger that somebody in finace is keeping on each and every editor. Above all, I think, it's that they really want this experience to be a good one, and a shared one--and that, at the end of the day, you the editor are really proud of, satisfied by, and stand to benefit from, the fruits of your author's creative blood sweat & tears.
So: God bless you, Alan Lawrence Sitomer; may THE HOOPSTER and its two sequels (the first of which is written and called HIP-HOP HIGH SCHOOL) bring you and your publisher great riches and great success. Now to your questions:
"HOW TO GAUGE PERFORMANCE BASED ON SALES & DOLLARS"
The simplist formula for assessing your book's performance is whether or not it "earns out" its advance. Your book retails for $16.95; assuming that YA book royalties are structured the same way adult books are, we'll average your royalties at 12.5% per copy sold; $16.95 x 12.5% means your royalty account "earns" $2.12 for every net copy sold. Thus if your advance for this book were $35,000 [Alan admitted that agent Al Zuckerman had secured him a three-book, six-figure deal], you'd need to sell 16,509 copies to reach $35,000 in royalty income. Do that--earn your advance back on the hardcover alone--and everybody's going to be very, very happy.
But let's say you only net 10,000 hardcovers--now you've "earned" $21,200, so to break even you'll need to earn $13,800 in paperback sales. A $10.00 trade paperback x 7.5% royalties= .75 per copy sold; so in this scenario you'd need to sell another 18,400 copies in trade paperback. You'd then have "earned out" the original $35,000 advance; any additional sales would then start to accrue to you in the form of royalties. (For the record, there are other pieces that can contribute to the royalty "pool," such as foreign rights income, book club sales, etc.)
"HOW REVIEWS & CACHET* FACTOR INTO THE EQUATION"
This is a two part answer. The simplest view is that great reviews and cache matter to the extent that they wind up generating sales. If your sales have been mediocre but you get great reviews (like the positive Kirkus review and the numerous 5-Star raves on Amazon HOOPSTER has already garnered, for instance!), perhaps that will translate into being nominated for a Prize. And if winning that *rize means selling more books, terrific. [I don't know if there's a Newbery Award for YA fiction--but if there is, and you win it, I suspect the Los Angeles public school system will be looking to hire someone to replace you right quick.] And--yes--this, too, will generate terrific publicity for your publisher.
The fact that you have a three-book contract with Hyperion, though, means that the reviews and accolades you accumulate for HOOPSTER, even if they don't immediately translate to sales, gives Hyperion ammo to use for the next book, and the one after that. This is one of the advantages to a multi-book deal--it gives you some reasonable sense that your publisher is going to stick by you, just as it gives your publisher additional incentive--and addition time--to recoup its investment.
Keep in touch, Alan. I'm running a pool for who plays you in the movie... My money's on Topher Grace...
Special thanks to the (anonymous) eagle-eyed etymologist who both intuited that our use of the word "cache" instead of "cachet" wasn't a simple typo, AND who so generously explained the difference between the two! Next time, don't be so shy about your identity--we'd like celebrate the important work you do, pointedly policing petty-minded mediocrity whereever it raises its ugly, ungrammatical head.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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