Why KY is on staff at Snark Central

Dear Miss Snark,

Do publishers ever "lose track " of a book?

I have had some of my books translated into foreign languages. My ex-agent's assistant says that my second book has not earned out with one of its European publishers. Unfortunately, I cannot find that book's royalty statement for December 2004: I may have lost it, but I'm wondering if I never received one, and just haven't noticed till now? (I've been a bit lax with checking statements, as I don't always understand them. I simply trusted my ex-agent.) It's just weird. The book earned €6985 in hardback in 2003, just €17 short of its €7000 advance. It only needed a few copies sold to earn out in 2004.
I asked my ex-agent to re-send the 2004 royalty statement; she's ignored my mail.

Meanwhile, my first book continues to sell decently (for a hardback) in that country; 2005's royalties amount to over €2000, according to ex-agent's assistant. My ex-agent herself doesn't seem to be replying to my mails or checking the stuff I ask her to.

Isn't it strange that one book should continue to sell well even after four years, and the other should abruptly stop selling after one year's good sales? That's why I asked if publishers can ever lose track of books.

I am a member of the Society of Authors in the UK and I could get free legal help but I don't want to make a fuss over a minor matter. I just want a copy of the 2004 royalty statement so I can check sales for myself.

Another question: what do you think of the fact that this publisher doesn't pay out royalties till October or November following the December they are due - almost a year later? Is this normal? Shouldn't I at least get interest for late royalty payments?

I am not a very businesslike person, as you can see; but I've learnt my lesson and promise to pay more attention to the paperwork in future. Thanks for all your help and the time you spend on us.

It's not so much they lose track of things as this is one of those "on my list but no one is screaming bloody murder and she's not a client anymore" things.

Publishers screw up royalty statements ALL the time. There is a woman whose job is sniffing out royalty statement errors. She only gets paid if there is an error she collects for you. She has a very successful business, and has had for years. Frightening isn't it.

Of course you need to avail yourself of your help from the Society of Authors. You don't have an agent, they aren't returning your emails, you're not screaming bloody murder. They're going to ignore you until someone puts a flaming bag of dog poop on their front stoop. I know how to staff that out here in New York of course, but you'll need someone there who knows how to ring and run. Get busy. It's your money. Go get it.


Knitty Yas said...

maybe thats why people recommend accountants to keep track of that stuff. hmm... scary thoughts. I couldnt imagine letting that stuff slide.

This may sound greedy/selfish etc but damn im not about to let people mess with my money. I absolutely hate that. "Don't Screw With My Mula!" just another mantra for the day.

Michael Reynolds said...

Can we have the name of the woman who checks out royalty statements? I'm a likin' that idea.

Anonymous said...

"There is a woman whose job is sniffing out royalty statement errors. She only gets paid if there is an error she collects for you."

Who hires her, authors or agents?

Sharon Maas said...

m. takhallus,
I found this on google:


I don't know if she's the same one Miss Snark is talking about but she sounds good!

Miss Snark, thanks a million for the encouragement. I'll give the Society of Authors a call the moment they open today.

And here's an interesting article by agent Richard Curtis on the whole business of royalty statements:

Dave Fragments said...

We all joke about "anal retentive" people but when it comes down to money and statements - BE ANAL RETENTIVE.
Track those documents scrupulously and carefully. It's the money you earned for all those lonely hours you beat the novel or story into a quality piece of literature.

Sharon Maas said...

Thanks again to everyone - I called the Society of Authors and spoke to a very nice lawyer chap. He told me to write my ex-agent and complain about their non-response - and to threaten to write the SOA if they don't. As no agent wants to get complaints with the SOA they'll surely respond this time. And if they don't, talk to him again.
But he thinks it;s going to be very difficult to find out if there has been a mistake due to the fact that they are based in Spain, and the Mediterannean countries can be quite sloppy when it comes to late payments, etc. Hopefully if it is a mistake it was an honest one (most likely, as it's a repuitable company) and that they'll rectify it.
I remember that there was some kind of merger during the first two years; maybe somehow my book got lost during the changeover.

Dave Fragments said...

I learned this lesson a long time ago and I learned it twice.

When you need a lawyer for contracts, disputes, deals, estates, and all that, don't hesitate to call on one and pay for their services.

I didn't seek legal advice on a business deal and I PAID for it.

I did seek a legal advice (or professional advice) when I had to be executor on an estate and I SAVED more than I paid the lawyer.

As much as we like to abuse lawyers, when you need them, use them and when you enter into a contract you need a lawyer.

And when you need an accountant, get one. It's worth the money.

Anonymous said...

Talent is the beautiful whore that spawns publisher contracts and royalty statements.

Dragonet2 said...

What Pennyoz said.

I had a wonderful short story published in 1988 that made really good money for a long time, in Germany and Italy as well as U.S. Got bootlegged in the Soviet bloc countries as well, got a fan letter from there. (!!!) Not much point in pursuing it because by the time I found out about it all the governments had changed and there was no one to pursue (plus no way to figure out the amount of money in any way, shape or form).

My editor had a wonderful accounting system that did us all good, as well as a very efficient royalty counter (I sold several stories to her anthologies and the magazine she published).

I understand that I am spoiled and now that I'm working on long fiction (I took a hiatus for public relations writing... long story, short pier) I am going to be setting up my own system once I get something that I've sold to track royalties/contracts.

Just chiming in.

Anonymous said...

that's all very well but your US or UK accountant isn't going to be much help recovering late (or missing)royalties from Romania; and can you really arrange for and afford an audit there?
All this I should think is an agent's work; foreign publishers with bad records should be exposed and talked about so that good authors in future avoid them.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a UK author who has had endless grief over foreign royalty payments. Because the department selling the rights didn't see it as their job to check if the money and subsequent royalty statements ever came in while the finance department didn't see it as their job to know what money was due and when and to go chasing it. If it appeared they'd pay it through but that was as far as they went.

My editor reassured me that it wasn't a problem as foreign advances pretty much equalled the total royalty returns over a three/five year licence so I shouldn't worry.

Fine for him to say. It's my book/money/career and I wanted to see the numbers to see if this was true.

I and my agent spent months asking politely, asking firmly and ultimately threatening legal action and eventually came away with figures and the not inconsiderable sums of money I was owed since in several countries the books had in fact earned appreciably more than the advances.

My name is now Mud at that publishing house, I've been told I have no editor there as our current contract is now completed. It seems I am considered an unreasonable troublemaker. Of the kind who has consistently delivered books on time, to length, requiring very little by way of copy editing over the past ten years.

So be warned.

Am I bitter? Hell, yes.

Am I currently working on the plan that success elsewhere is going to be the best revenge? Most certainly.

Anonymous said...

I recently attended a class on legal issues for writers and the attorney who taught it says -- make sure there's a clause in the contract that gives you the right to audit once a year.

Seems likely they'll be all prepared and cooperative if they know that's your routine, you're not accusing them of being scoundrels. Or, if they say they can't live with anything like that, you'll know to publish elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I used to process royalty statements. An editor with no interest or affinity for math who had to process royalties--it wasn't pretty. There were plenty of mistakes. I hope most of them were corrected in the end, but if I'm honest, they probably weren't. And I always did it 6 months to a year late--not because of any malicious intent, just because of scheduling.

Anonymous said...

Mud here again - yes, I have the contractual right to audit but only at my own expense. And it ain't cheap. Trust me, I looked into that option.

The Society of Authors can help here, in the longer term. If enough memnber-authors complain about the accounting practises of a particular publisher, they will send the attack-accountants in and pick up the bills.

But I don't know how long it will be before a critical mass of complaints is reached. It probably takes a while when every individual author is presumably told by the publisher, as I was, that no-one else is making any fuss and oh, the system has just happened to fall down in this one particular instance, this is soooo unusual.