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received a message from "Mexico Mike" Nelson,
an author specializing on Mexico, asking my opinion
of a book deal he had been offered. His
questions and the responses might be helpful
to other authors.
perhaps you'd be willing to help me with a good "problem".
I've been offered a chance to do a book on Mexico
(a travel guide) by [a travel guide series]. They
have guides to Hawaii, Australia and that part of
the world, but nothing on Mexico. I'd be starting
from scratch. Length is to be 300-500 pages. They
offered me a royalty 10% for the first 7,500, 12%
next 7,500 etc. with an advance of $10,000 over 4
payments. $2,500 upon signing contract, $2,500 when
half manuscript is finished etc. Royalties are based
on "actual monies received", so that's
the wholesale price less returns as I read it.
I think it is a low offer. Frankly, I figured that
something of that magnitude would be worth about $60,000,
considering the expenses involved. On the other hand,
I have done most of the traveling and will do the rest
this year. What I don't have is a lot of the details
like taxi prices, bus schedules etc.
One friend said I should do the book as a vehicle to
get my name known. I don't know if guidebooks are the
way to do that or not. You certainly have quite a name
in the field. Another said that writing articles would
be more lucrative and a better vehicle.
Is their offer ok? Any observations you can give me
will be most gratefully appreciated. My idea before
this offer was to write small books and self-publish,
but I need an investment of about $6,000 to get the
cost per book down to where it is reasonable.
Thanks, "Mexico" Mike.
1. A $10,000 advance is average, but
I would hold out for at least 40% of it (better,
50%) before you start the work. You may need
the capital. It is common for publishers to
pay out the rest as the work progresses, particularly
with a first-time author.
2. The royalty rates offered to you are average (10%
with an escalator to 12%) for percentage of net.
However, your contract should determine very
precisely what constitutes "net," and
how the books will be sold. If the publisher
decides after a year to sell off the guides at
cost, you get nothing, whereas if your contract
had stipulated cover price you would have to
be paid full royalty. "Net" is a slippery
term. "Cover price" is an indisputable
amount of money. And all royalties are based
on sales less returns.
It's instructive to know the publisher's returns
policy, and how long they will be permitted.
Also, will the publisher withhold a "reserve
against returns?" For how long, and when
will the reserves be released to you? Find out.
3. I can't tell if this is a low offer or
not. In a sense, only time will tell. It
depends upon how good a book you write, the market,
the way the publisher promotes the book, whether
or not there are any bad headlines which dissuade
travelers from going to Mexico, etc. On the face
of it, these terms sound normal, but one bad
clause in the contract can change that. Publishers
do all sorts of things these days, some of them
4. Writing a book makes you an instant expert, particularly
if the book is in a respected series. It promotes
your reputation far faster and farther than a
series of newspaper or magazine articles. The
very big magazines pay better (I've earned $2
per six-character word), but they only give the
work out to writers they know and trust--writers
who have already made names for themselves by,
say, writing a guidebook!
5. Bottom line: If you like detail, like
writing, like Mexico, trust the publisher, get
a good contract, and plan to do the revisions
to the guide, it can be a pretty good deal. The
first edition won't make you much money (if any);
succeeding editions may make decent money (but
see No 3 above) because you don't have to do
all of the writing again, and you'll know where
a lot of the info is.
6. Self-publishing can be quite lucrative. Richard
Bloomgarten made a good living on his simple
self-published books to Mexico because he very
smartly set up his own distribution network.
But that's another subject entirely.
Hope this helps.