Erotica Readers & Writers Association
Home | Erotic Books | Authors Resources | Inside The Erotic Mind | Erotica Gallery
Adult Movies | Sex Toys | Erotic Music | Email Discussion List | Links

'08 Authors Insider Tips

Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Epublishing: A Different Way
Choosing an Epublisher
Your Milage May Vary
Understand Your Contract!
Reasonable Expectations

by Louisa Burton
The Publishing Biz
Critiquing: To Give and ...
Commerical vs. Literary...
Antiformalism for Fun &...
So You Want to Write a Novel
The Story Idea
Planning Your Novel...

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
5 Steps to Success
Opening Passages
Let's Get Critical
Writer's Block
Learning Lessons

Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Be a Finisher ...
Listen to Your Characters
Conferences: Act Now ...
Starting an Erotic Story
Exercises & Writing Prompts
Revising & Rewriting
Copy Editing
The Manuscript Critique
How to Submit Your Work
Reading as Craft

Guest Appearances

Adventures in e-Publishing
by Lisabet Sarai

For the Love of Man
by Laura Baumbach

How to...Influence Editors
by Alison Tyler

Marketing your e-Book
by Brenna Lyons

2008 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
Role Play
Busy Doing Nothing
Picture of a Fish & Chip...
What I Did With My Summer

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
Naughty Cookies...
Tie Me Up, Please …
The Smut-Writer’s Holiday
Never Trust the Narrator ...
Compare and Contrast
Following the Pen
Naked at the Farmers Market
Iím Easy, But Iím No Slut
Good Girl Gone Bad
Pleasures of the Dark Side
Slow, Spare and Sexy

Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Raising Daughters
Jamie Lynn
The Good Old Days
Election '08
Traditional Marriage
Campaign 2008
Free Will

Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Masturbating on SSRIs
Sex and Disability
Besides Ourselves
Adjusting our Contrast

Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Sex Is All Metaphors
Turn-ons and Squicks
Sexual Truth
Fickle Muse
Porn, Erotica & Romance

Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Alison Tyler
Ashley Lister
Debra Hyde
Donna George Storey
Jeremy Edwards
Kristina Wright
Rachel Kramer Bussel

Erotic Hot Spots
by William S. Dean
Interview with Tilly Greene
Interview with Devyn Quinn

Getting Graphic
with William S. Dean
New Times for Readers...
The Future in Words ...
Interview with Fantagraphics

On Writing Erotica

The Accidental Pornographer
by Lisabet Sarai

The End of Innocence
by Lisabet Sarai

Get Them Off in High Style
Helena Settimana

So, You Want To Write Erotica?
by Hanne Blank

Web Gems
Hot Movies For Her

By Louisa Burton

Everything You Always Wanted to Know
About the Publishing Biz
But Were Afraid to Ask

Authors wear two hats, that of the artist and that of the business person. Most of us don’t like that second hat one little bit. We don’t like the look or feel of it. It never seems to fit quite right. Most of all, it’s just so freakin tacky. Tacky and scary.

Dollar signs. Decimal points. Numbers. If we could look at numbers without getting the shakes, would there have been that vexatiously ignominious—that downright opprobrious—two-hundred point gap between our math SATs and our verbal SATs?

As I pointed out in last month’s column, From “The Call” to the Published Book, the big problem for most of us when we finally—Hallelujah!—score that first book contract is that we find ourselves hurled headfirst into an industry we know very little about. They shove a twenty-page contract under your nose and say sign all three copies and send it back, and you say, “Um... What’s the human translation of all this pub-speak, anyway?”

“Pub-speak.” Just made it up. What do you think? I’m referring to publishing jargon here, obviously, not saloon slang, in which most writers are already fairly conversant.

And it’s not just jargon. There are business conventions that are unique to the publishing industry. It’s a really good idea, even if you already have an agent (and if you haven’t at least been trolling for one, you need a spanking) to have a passing acquaintance with these conventions before The Call actually comes.

Standard caveat: This article isn’t about electronic publishing, which I wish I knew all about, but don’t. It isn’t about publishing short stories or poems or magazine articles. It’s about traditional book publishing—specifically the publication of novels, although nonfiction authors will find nuggets of usable info herein.

Caveat #2: There are many, many book publishers in the world, although they are increasingly being subsumed by larger corporations, such as Time Warner, The Pearson Group, Rupert Murdoch, Bertelsmann, and Holtzbrinck. Each of these publishers has its own unique business practices. My aim isn’t to cover all the possible permutations in this one short article, but rather to explain the most generally accepted practices.
Also: In last month’s column, I discussed the pre-publication process as it relates to the author: the role of the literary agent, revisions, the editing and proofreading process, cover art, cover copy, etc. This piece is going to focus more on the economics of publishing and what you’re likely to find in your contract.

When people find out I’m a novelist, they sometimes ask, “What publishing company do you work for?” Actually, we working writers are in the enviable position of being sole proprietors of our own creative businesses; we make something which another company manufactures and sells. More specifically, we produce a written product in which we own the various rights of reproduction, derivation, translation, and so forth, those rights as a whole being known as our copyright. When we go to contract with a book publisher, we’re licensing certain of those rights—those specified in the contract—to the publisher in return for remuneration in the form of royalties.

The operative phrase in that sentence is “in return for remuneration.” The publisher pays us for the right to publish our book. We never, never, never pay the publisher. A real publisher will never ask you for a cent. Ever. If you pay a vanity press to “publish” your book, you’re forking over enough money for them to manufacture it (without editing it, by the way) and make a profit on it without actually selling it. Because they don’t sell it, not in any real sense. It is never properly disseminated to the public, which is the very definition of “publication.” It’s worth noting that vanity “publication” is not the same as self-publication, a legitimate process in which the author acts as his or her own publisher, contracting with various vendors to manufacture a book which he is then responsible for getting into the bookstores. For more excellent information on the scams to which aspiring authors are susceptible, go to Writer Beware.

Royalties. Okay, so what are they, exactly, and how are they calculated?

Royalties are a percentage of the cover price of your book. For every book that’s sold, you get that amount of money. For example, if the price on your book jacket is $25 and your royalties are 10%, you get $2.50 for every book sold. That’s the simple definition, but of course nothing’s ever that simple.

Royalty rate. First of all, what royalty percentage are you likely to get? That generally depends on which format your publisher chooses for your book. (And it’s entirely the publisher’s choice, based upon genre and potential sales; you have no say in this decision.) The three standard formats are:

  1. Hardcover. You’ll get 10% or more up to a certain number of copies, after which the rate will escalate.
  2. Trade paperback. These are the oversized paperbacks that usually sell in the $10-$15 range. The standard starting royalty (before escalation) is 7.5%.
  3. Mass market paperback, the small ones that fit the racks in mass market outlets like grocery stores and airports. A typical starting royalty would be 6% or 8%.

These percentages may seem unfairly low, but the profit margin in publishing is so slim that the publisher often ends up losing money on the deal. Sometimes, as with poetry and small literary novels, they actually know going into it that they won’t turn a profit.

The Advance. When you go to contract, you’ll be paid an advance right up front, regardless of whether you’re selling on the basis of a proposal or a completed manuscript. It could be $2,000 or $2 million, depending on the book and your publisher’s plans for it. (The advances for first sales of most mass market genre novels are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range per book, more for books deemed “bigger.”) This isn’t separate from your royalties; it’s actually an advance against royalties, which means you don’t start receiving royalty payments until you’ve “earned out” your advance.

Here’s how it works. When your book hits the shelves and starts selling, your publisher starts running a tally of how much you’re earning, based on your royalty rate. Let’s say you’re getting 10% of a $25 book, and your advance was $50,000. At $2.50 per book, you’d have to sell 20,000 books to earn out that $50,000. Once you’ve done so, every book sold represents $2.50 that must be paid to you, usually semiannually.

Did I say nothing is ever simple? Unfortunately, some of that money is going to be held back for a while, because the bookstores and other retail outlets get to return to the publisher any books that don’t sell (or in the case of paperbacks, the stripped covers). The royalties that are held back are called “reserves against returns,” and we hate them.

It would be great if the advance were paid in one nice lump sum upon signing the contract, but alas, it’s generally broken down into several separate payments, such as half on signing and half on acceptance of the completed ms., or 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on acceptance, and 1/3 on publication.

Most book contracts are for two or three books, with each book having its own advance amount. For example, if you sell a finished book, the publisher might include a book #2, which they’ll green-light based on a proposal you send in after book #1 is accepted.

Paying back the advance. Is it yours to keep, or could they ask for it back? Happily, it’s yours to keep unless you do something truly dumb, like not handing in the book, or handing in one that’s completely unacceptable and refusing to fix it. So go ahead and sign that mortgage. Or buy that Whopper, depending on the deal.

Standard Contract Clauses. As I emphasized last month, a publishing contract is written by the publisher’s lawyers for the sole benefit of the publisher. As with any legal contract, if you want what you’re entitled to, you’re best off having it negotiated by a professional who knows about that particular type of contract. If you don’t have a literary agent, I would advise hiring the services of a literary attorney.

A sampling of the clauses you can expect to find in your contract (some of which are negotiable and some of which are not) include:

●  The rights you’re granting to the publisher and the territories in which they may exploit those rights.

●  When you’re required to turn in the completed manuscript, and in what form (hard copy, electronic, etc).

●  Your obligation to provide an acceptable manuscript, and to edit it if it’s deemed unacceptable.

●  The publisher’s obligation to publish it within a certain time period and in a certain format.

●  Indemnity and insurance provisions in the event of legal actions.

●  Your warranties as regards the originality and legality of your book’s content.

●  What name you want the publisher to copyright the book in. (They generally register the copyright for you—in your name—with the Library of Congress.)

●  Their right of first refusal of your next project, or your next similar project (the “option clause.”)

●  Under what conditions the book will be declared out of print and the rights reverted to you.

●  And of course, how much you are to be paid, in terms of advance and royalties, and how often. Each of the rights you’re assigning to the publisher has its own rate of payment. The primary edition of the book is the one being manufactured and marketed by the publisher you’re going to contract with, and this is the edition I was referring to when I discussed royalty rates above. Payment for the “subsidiary rights,” in which the publisher grants a license to a third party, are often represented as a “split,” with the author and the publisher sharing in the proceeds. Paperback rights might be split 50/50, foreign translation 75/25 (in your favor), and so forth. Subsidiary rights can be a substantial source of future income for the author and the publisher, especially if the publisher aggressively solicits those rights. There’s nothing like getting a fat check in the mail for the Russian rights to a book you sold twelve years ago. Other subsidiary rights, besides reprint and foreign, include:

Direct to consumer
Book Club
Performance (as in movie options; we can always dream)
Merchandising (I’ve always wanted an action figure)
There are other, more obscure subsidiary rights, but those are the ones that tend to show up most often in our contracts. My favorite one, from my first-ever publishing contract, was Strip cartoon and picturization use. Just in case someone wanted to write a comic strip based on the characters from my latest scalding erotic romance. Somehow I don't think there’d be many parents reading that one to the kiddies on Sunday mornings.

That’s about it, although things being what they are, the one piece of information you really did want to know about the publishing biz is probably the one I didn’t cover. Never fear. There are lots of books out there that will tell you far more than you ever wanted to know. There’s also a good deal of information on the ‘Net, but beware; some of it is alarmingly wrong. I mean, just plain, no-two-way-about-it wrong. You’re best off “polling” the sites that seem most authoritative.

Next month I’ll be segueing from the business end of things to the creative, beginning with Critiquing: To Give and to Receive. Until then, happy trails...

Louisa Burton
January 2008

"FictionCraft" © 2008 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.

About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martinís. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at

  E-mail this page

Search ERWA Website:

Copyright 1996 and on, Erotica Readers Association, Inc.
All Rights Reserved World Wide. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or
medium without express written permission is prohibited.

'08 Movie Reviews

Almost Perfect
Review by Oranje

The Fold
Review by Ashley Lister

Review by Spooky

Review by Spooky

'08 Book Reviews


Best Bisexual Women's Erotica
Review by Ashley Lister

Best Fantastic Erotica
Review by Ashley Lister

Best Women's Erotica '08
Review by Ashley Lister

Bound Brits (ebook)
Review by Ashley Lister

Deep Inside: Extreme ...
Review by Cervo

Dirty Girls
Review by Rose B. Thorny

Hide and Seek
Review by Ashley Lister

Hurts So Good
Review by Ashley Lister

J is for Jealousy
Review by Ashley Lister

K is for Kink
Review by Ashley Lister

Lust Bites
Review by Ashley Lister

Open for Business
Review by Rose B. Thorny

Review by Lisabet Sarai

Rubber Sex
Review by Ashley Lister

Rubber Sex
Review by Victoria Blisse

Seriously Sexy
Review by Ashley Lister

Sex & Candy
Review by Ashley Lister

The Shadow of a... (poetry)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Review by Victoria Blisse

Tasting Her
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Tasting Him
Review by Ashley Lister

Tasting Him
Review by Kathleen Bradean

White Flames
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Yes, Ma'am: Male Submission
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Yes, Sir: Female Submission
Review by Angelika Devlyn


The Art of Melinoe
Review by Ashley Lister

Demon by Day
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Gemini Heat
Review by Ashley Lister

Gothic Heat
Review by Ashley Lister

The Hidden Grotto Series
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The House of Blood
Review by Lisabet Sarai

In Too Deep
Review by Ashley Lister

In Too Deep
Review by Victoria Blisse

Review by Donna George Storey

Review by Victoria Blisse

One Breath at a Time
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Out of the Shadows (ebook)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Review by Ashley Lister

Review by Rose B. Thorny

Seduce Me
Review by Ashley Lister

Seduced by the Storm
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Serve the People!
Review by Donna G. Storey

Signed, Sealed and Delivered
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Sunfire (eBook)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Templar Prize
Review by Angelika Devlyn

The Wicked Sex
Review by Ashley Lister

Wild Kingdom
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Gay Erotica

Review by Vincent Diamond

Best Gay Romance '08
Review by Vincent Diamond

Hard Hats
Review by Vincent Diamond

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Lesbian Erotica

Best Lesbian Erotica '08
Review by Donna George Storey

Best Lesbian Erotica '08
Review by Ashley Lister

The Night Watch
Review by Lisabet Sarai


America Unzipped
Review by Rob Hardy

Best Sex Writing '08
Review by Rob Hardy

Bonk: The Curious Coupling
Review by Rob Hardy

The Book of Love
Review by Rob Hardy

Casanova: Actor Lover ...
Review by Rob Hardy

Dishonorable Passions
Review by Rob Hardy

Flagrante Delicto (photos)
Review by Jack Gilbert

The Flesh Press
Review by Rob Hardy

Geisha, Harlot, Strangler, Star
Review by Donna G. Storey

The Humble Little Condom
Review by Rob Hardy

Instant Orgasm (sex guide)
Review by Ashley Lister

Man O Man! Writing M/M...
Review by Vincent Diamond

The Not So Invisible Woman
Review by Ashley Lister

Swingers: Female...
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Who's Been Sleeping in...
Review by Rob Hardy