The economics of a ten-book contract

Before you read this examination of the whys and wherefores of a ginormous contract like this, please allow me to explain that I’m about as far from an economist – or even a solvent U.S. consumer – as one can get. So I might say some things in this post that have little to do with reality, but this is the way I understand them. This understanding has been my rationale behind getting SQUEEcited about the Permuted Press contract that will extract 10 books out of me in a little less than three years. I will also discuss why this is perfect for me.

The turnip chuckled bitterly when it was reminded that it had asked for this.

If you are an economist or other smarty-farty money person, your thoughts on my charts and such are mildly welcome in the comments. Until then, here’s my take on things:

Book sales as a function of Gaussian somethingsomething and … um … how about a picture?

So I was talking to Best Friend Unit Conner about the Magnificent Ten-Book Contract of Magnificence last week, and I thought I’d blow the dust off of some old analytical geometry knowledge by saying, “So the great thing about a large multi-book contract like this is that sales will follow a logarithmic curve, starting from zero, then jumping as the books get known and word of mouth happens, and finally tapering off according to a log(x)-type function and giving me a monthly (or any period) total of sales that will stabilize as it approaches the asymptote of whatever will be the usual sales.” (Actually, what I believe I said was, “It’ll be a logarithmic function.”) That kind of function would look something like this, and the period could be months, years, days, whatever:

I put the “ass” in “asymptote.”

See? This shows the books leaping off the shelves in the early days (one’s definition of “leaping” being somewhat tempered by having been a self-pub author for so long), and then, once the groupies and fanboys have gotten theirs, gently but inevitably sliding into a sakes rhythm that approaches, for the sake of this graph, five books per week. (Or day. Or month, unfortunately.) This graph — although it is about to be “Connerized,” meaning “brought back to reality with a herring slapped across one’s face” — shows how a contract for many books will eventually give the author a fairly constant royalty.

See, let’s say that five per week is the magic number, aka limit, aka asymptote, aka “I happen to know the word ‘asymptote’ and am going to obnoxiously use it at every opportunity.” Five books per week, resulting in, let’s say, R dollars in royalties per week (paid quarterly, but that’s another discussion). Here’s the great thing and why I am especially chuffed about having 10 books in the pipeline (that’s industry lingo, don’t feel bad because of my insider awesomeness). When the contract is fulfilled at the end of 2016 (and the books are all out sometime by the end of 2017 or so), my function will change from

y = log(x)


y = 10*log(x)

So if the asymptote (or final resting number, if you will) of the first function is R dollars, then that of the second function would be ten times R dollars! (This is assuming my backlist sells evenly for the sake of this discussion.) So let’s say I get $1.00 in royalties for a single book, so R = $1.00. Selling five books in a week would make R = $5.00 (I duz math) and when all the books are out, that would be 10*R, or $50.00 every week just from royalties, which means I don’t have to do any additional work to have that sweet coin rolling in. I’m very good at not doing more work than absolutely necessary.

Of course, there will be things I must do to keep sales up (things that just about every writer dreams of, like interviews, readings, and signings) and there could be money from audio sales, movie rights, and other ancillary wonders. But focusing just on the royalties as described here, $50.00 a week for doing nothing extra is a pretty sweet deal. (These numbers are all arbitrary, of course. I could sell one book a month, and that being to someone who buys it because he can carve it out and hide his .38 Special in there. Or I could sell 20 books a day. But I digress.)

This is all well and good, as they say, but then …

The Long Tail and a slight reality check courtesy of “Connerization”

Young Mister Conner took my suggestion that my sales would follow a logarithmic curve and very gently, very politely, laughed in my face. No, not really, but he pointed out that sales of books or other unique items available digitally (meaning both actual ebooks and books that are printed on demand rather than the traditional model of making a set number and selling them until they run out with no more available until another fixed press run) don’t follow y = log(x) but instead follow something along the lines of y = x½ + 5 (the constant that here is “5” being whatever one thinks the ultimate asymptote of book sales during a period will be):

Assuming that my sales start at infinity.

You can see here that “The Long Tail” is essentially the logarithmic function turned upside down, and it (perhaps obviously) assumes that sales start at a high number (or get to a high number very quickly) and then taper off precipitously, selling slightly fewer and fewer until the asymptote of five books per time period is approached for the rest of the book’s lifetime. This is, I must admit, more plausible than my original conception — in that it doesn’t hold that my books will rise to a certain high level and stay there, but instead that my book sales, like that of most unique consumer items, will start off high and then decrease as demand is satisfied except for the lower number of people who discover it later.

Still, the result is pretty much the same: With one book in an author’s backlist, s/he will receive royalties of R = y(x). But with a contract eventually swelling that backlist to ten books, it would be R = 10(y(x)). If you’re Stephen King and you have 50 books, not only would it be 50(y(x)), but your asymptote would be at more like 1,000. So if you possibly can, be Stephen King, I guess? Sorry, I got distracted thinking about royalties.

Uncle Scrooge had a hell of a backlist.

So there you have it. The best thing about having a contract for many books isn’t the small-but-still-OMG-appreciated advance on each book, but the very good chance that one will have royalties coming in every quarter that will support the writing of even more books. Also rent. Food is also a plus.

Until next time, amigos!


7 thoughts on “The economics of a ten-book contract

  1. You’re ahead of me in the techie department. I cannot figure out how to delete obsolete contacts from my email address list. They appear to be chiseled into the hard drive. Oh, Mac, sometimes I actually miss Windows. Not often, granted, but Mac is not user friendly.

    • Yeah, I hear you loud and clear. Not only are Macs too expensive for Yours Truly, they also lack some features that I’ve come to rely on in Windows. But I don’t do Windows 8. No, no, no. 🙂

      • Bunbun, that is entirely possible, but have you ever met an English major what don’t like to yap? (Note my ’30s gangster idiom and BE AMAZED.)

      • What’s this? What’s this? Are you implying that I tend to “prattle on?” I may bitch about grammar from time to time, but all the other stuff I’m on about is extremely important and relevant and on point! Prattle? Moi? Why, just ask Conman. Oh, wait, I’ll bet you already did… *reddens gracefully* Sigh… You men just don’t seem to understand that explication is necessary! (I was about to say man-units, but I was pretty sure I knew what I’d hear about that!)

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