The Publishing Biz

Royalties

Well, I feel like a real writer now — I’ve received my first royalty statement! (And no, I won’t be reprinting it here. Sheesh!)

It’s sort of a strange feeling. For months now, friends, aquaintances, and even random strangers have been asking me, “So, how many copies have they sold?” To which I have shrugged and said, “Beats me.” Because that’s the truth. It’s not like I get phone calls from my publisher every day, shouting out, “Five copies just sold in a Barnes & Noble in Skokie! And a thirteen-year-old girl just bought a copy in Modesto!”

It’s a strange truism of this writing life, I’ve noticed, that the author is the last person to know anything. I was the last person to find out I had a two-book deal. I’m the last person to know how many copies my book has sold so far. When the time comes, I’ll be the last person to know that a movie deal has been hammered out.

I’m actually fine with all of that. It means I can focus on writing, which is the way I want it to be.

But what’s really weird is that even though I have this statement, I still don’t really know how many copies of my book have been sold!

Because first of all, this statement is up through September 30, 2006. My book’s official publication date was October 2, 2006. Which means that this statement takes into account those copies sold to stores before the book was available — there’s no way for me to know what sold after that point.

Second of all, this shows books sold to stores, not books sold by stores. So it’s possible that every copy on this statement is still sitting on a bookshelf in a store somewhere. (Probably not, but play along, OK?) Just as it’s possible that every copy on this statement sold to an eager reader. (Again, probably not, but again, play along.)

Third of all, stores can return books. For all I know, there are huge boxes of my book being shipped back to Houghton Mifflin as I type this.

So as cool as it is to have some numbers, I still can’t really answer the question, “How many copies have they sold?” At best, I can say, “Well, as of September 30 of last year, bookstores ordered X number of copies, some percentage of which have been sold to readers, another percentage of which may or may not be returned. And more copies may or may not have been reordered since and may or may not continue to be reordered in the future.”

Which, I admit, is still better than “Beats me.”

Publication Timeline

Following is a rough timeline on the progress of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl from the time I met my agent to its publication.

January 2005: Meet Kathy Anderson at San Diego State University’s annual writers’ conference.

February 2005: Kathy agrees to represent me on the strength of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl.

March 2005: Revisions to Astonishing Adventures completed and off to Kathy.

Mid-July 2005: Kathy informs me that she has sent the manuscript to five different editors. “If we’re not successful in this round, I will send out another in August.” I decide to take a little vacation to take my mind off of things.

July 28, 2005: As I am headed into the wilds of Maine (and no cell signal!), I get a call from Kathy, who’s in China, informing me that the first offer has been made on my book.

July 29, 2005: No cell signal in Maine, but internet access a-plenty! Kathy e-mails to tell me that one of the five editors has outright turned down the book. Two have made offers and one needs more time to put together an offer. The fifth is MIA. Kathy gives everyone until August 5 to send in their bids.

July 30, 2005: I get sick. Really, really sick. Lots of fun on vacation, but I have an impending book deal to keep me happy.

August 3, 2005: Kathy informs me that the fifth publisher has also declined. It’s down to three, now. I head home.

August 5, 2005: Kathy calls to tell me about the three offers. Houghton Mifflin is the best. I am in something like shock that this is actually happening

August 7, 2005: I talk to my editor, Houghton Mifflin Executive Editor Margaret Raymo, for the first time. It lasts five minutes – she’s about to go out of town on vacation. She promises to get her notes on the book to me when she returns after Labor Day. I decide to chill out for a while.

August 12, 2005: Margaret lied! Well, she changed her mind. She sends me her notes before her vacation. I immediately begin to stress about my first editorial letter.

August 13, 2005: Margaret’s notes are sensible, modest, and nothing to panic about, it turns out. I stop freaking out and turn around the corrections before she returns from vacation.

September 23, 2005: Margaret asks who I would like to have blurb the book, sending me into a flurry of blurb-hunting from a variety of professionals I know or “sorta, kinda” know.

October 11, 2005: I travel to Boston to meet with Margaret and the rest of the folks at Houghton Mifflin. We discuss marketing, promotion, and cover design.

October 21, 2005: Margaret and I hash out the flap copy for the book.

Early November, 2005: I get the copyedits for the novel. It’s pretty overwhelming to see how many mistakes I didn’t catch! I take a week to go through, double-checking myself and Margaret and the copyeditor. At the end of the week, I have a manuscript I’m happier with. I send it back.

Early December, 2005: Production begins on The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl.

December 24, 2005: The FedEx truck pulls up to my house. Last minute Christmas or Hanukkah gifts? Not a chance — the galley pages from Houghton Mifflin. “We need these back in a week,” Margaret tells me.

December 27, 2005: Margaret sends me cover designs for the book from none other than Jon Gray, the cover artist for such luminaries as Jonathan Safran Foer and Jonathan Lethem. I am thrilled that my book will bear his first YA cover and that he’s doing it even though my name isn’t Jonathan.

December 30, 2005: I return the proofed galley pages back to Houghton Mifflin.

January 10, 2006: We settle on one of Jon Gray’s seven cover designs.

February 2006: A “pre-pre-publication” advanced reading copy (ARC) of the novel is produced in a very limited (around 200 copies) run. This is specifically for giveaway at the inaugural New York Comic-Con at the end of the month. This is not the final, “real” ARC that will be given away to booksellers and reviewers later. It is based on pre-proofed pages and done so that we have something cool to give to comic book fans.

March 2006: Lull. This is the deadliest time for a writer, I’ve learned. Everyone at the publishing house is doing his or her job, but the writer is just not needed yet. At this point, I’ve done everything I need to do and I’m just extraneous to the process. I work on a new book and try not to think about the current one too much.

March 23, 2006: The lull is broken in wrenching fashion — an early reader has discovered highly disturbing bit of information in the book, something that I really wouldn’t want teenagers to read. Its inclusion was unintentional and so under-the-radar that no one noticed it until now, so I’m tempted to leave it as-is. But after much soul-searching and discussion with Margaret, I decide to change a few passages. The result is actually better than the original text, so I’m quite happy with it.

April 2006: Copies of the real ARC arrive and a friend promptly discovers a typo on the first page! I freak out and call Margaret. Fortunately, there’s an hour to spare before the book needs to be “set,” and they are able to correct my embarrassing gaffe.

May 18-19, 2006: I attend Book Expo America in Washington, D.C., where I meet booksellers and talk to them about the book. I also have an hour-long signing, during which I sign more than 100 copies of the book, much to my surprise and delight.

October 2, 2006: Publication of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl.