150 books as Royalty Payment

Well, sort of.

But first, my apologies – I have not posted on this blog for nearly a fortnight. But yesterday, a phone conversation prompted me to write this post.

I had a very interesting discussion with Dr. Sujata Niyogi, author of seven books on numerology. She is also a consultant, advisor and an expert on all things numbers. She got her PhD at the very young age of 70 (yes, you read that correctly), and published her first book when she was nearly 75. She is working on her eighth book. I am proud to add that she happens to be my aunt.

The reason I am writing about her is twofold. First of all, I am amazed by the amount of effort she puts into research. She spends several hours in the library every day researching. Now some may say- reading books in a library in order to write books: Isn’t that a dying art? Isn’t that old school? Why not simply google it up? But as she told me,

“I am not that technology savvy. I prefer going to the library every day, taking notes, and then compiling this information into the first draft. Then, I have someone type it out for me in Marathi. Following a few rounds of reviews, I send the manuscript off to publishers.”

Marathi, my native language, is spoken largely in the state of Maharashtra in India. With 73  million speakers, there are more Marathi speakers than the entire population of United Kingdom.  Marathi happens to be one of the most vibrant markets for publishing in India, with several bestselling authors who have evoked interested in the printed word for generations.I will write more about the  Marathi book publishing industry in a later post.

Coming back to the topic: 150 books as Royalty.

Dr. Niyogi asked me about what sort of royalty I was expecting for my novel, and then went on to tell me her experience with traditional publishing. For example, her publisher took nearly two years  to publish her first book after she had submitted her manuscript. And the first royalty check came a year after the book was released. Three years to see the first check is a long time. She also mentioned that there was very little transparency in the process. For example, one had to rely solely on the publishers’ sales figures, and it was difficult to verify them independently. Moreover, the author has no control on the reprints. And then one has to follow up with the publishers multiple times to get the money. In other words, the system is heavily leaning in favor of the publisher. Some of this may obviously be known to many of you, so no surprises here.

But to counter this problem, Dr. Niyogi summed up in one line:

“Ask your publisher for a check up front for an amount that is equal to the selling price of 150 books.”

In other words, if the selling price (MRP) is Rs. 100, you ask for a royalty check of Rs. 15,000. If the MRP is Rs. 200, you ask for Rs. 30,000 and so forth. While these are very small amounts, and will hardly enable writing as a career option, her method will make sure that the writer does not lose money in the process.

Dr. Niyogi spends nearly 2 months per book on research. A visit to the library costs her Rs. 200 in commuting costs. Assuming 20 visits to the library every month, the cost of commute amounts to: 200*20*2 = Rs. 8,000

The person who types out the first draft charges nearly Rs. 6,000. In other words, the amount of money Dr. Niyogi spends up front for every book is:

8,000 + 6,000 = Rs. 14,000.

If one relies on the royalty received from sale of books for recovering this investment, one may have to wait for three years or even longer. But remember, it may take more than three years to recover the up front investment, because the royalty depends on the sales of the books, and sometimes the books may not sell at all.

Then we must also re-visit what we learnt in our financial literacy classes. Had this money been invested at say at 10 percent interest rate compounded annually for three years, the 14,000 rupees would have become nearly Rs. 18,600.

For a first print run of 1,000 books, and a MRP of Rs. 200, you get your 30,000 Rupees, and you don’t have to worry about the timelines, follow ups, compound interest or any other issue related to royalty payments. So while you wait for your book sales to take off, the 150 book principle can come to your rescue.

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