I have a non-fiction book in print, Lament for a First Nation. It was a revamping of my PhD thesis from my doctorate in law.

Now, a doctorate in law is one of those completely useless degrees that not only retards your job prospects but designates you as a major league twit, since most LLDs are handed out honorarily to retired politicians at university convocations. You don’t need one to teach, only an LLM (except in Europe), and most people in the legal profession raise their eyebrows a little at someone who has wasted perfectly good billable time getting a degree that adds nothing to your c.v.

As “Dr.” Peggy,  however, I do get pretty good airline seats although I’m not much use in a medical emergency. (You can imagine my response when an airplane passenger collapses: “Sorry, can’t help.” *shrugs* “Insurance…”) But I digress.

Every year I get a royalty cheque from UBC Press. I haven’t paid much attention to the amount– it’s always miniscule –but this year they provided me with a breakdown of revenues since the book was published.

I was gobsmacked to find out that UBC Press earned gross revenues of over $ 14,000 on hardcover sales ($14,111.47) and another approximately $ 3,500 on paperback ($3,530.63). There was another $ 122.96 in e-book sales which is interesting, since my contract doesn’t specify e-books at all (back in 2006, they weren’t even on the radar).

My share of the take? $ 3.74 on the hard cover,$ 65.60 on the paperback and $ 1.23 on the e-books for a grand total this year of $70.47. Apparently, this is because my royalties are based on “net,” not gross.

Now, I’ll have to talk to UBC Press about the e-book issue, since all our correspondence dealt with hardcover and paperback publication. I had no idea, frankly, that they’d even published an e-book version; it wasn’t part of our negotiations. The contract mentions royalties for hardcover and paperback or bound copy, but not e-books.

It seems pretty clear to me that the right to publish an e-book has to have a corresponding agreed upon royalty, or that part of the contract is void for lack of consideration (the legal term, not the polite one).

But it’s the amount of royalties that have me shocked, and is the reason why I won’t ever write non-fiction again, academic or not.

Overall, I received approximately 1% of the take from the proceeds of my labour. And that just seems wrong. It’s the reason we need agents, I guess. But even then, it’s impossible for even an agented writer to know how much a publisher’s net will be when they agree to a royalty. What expenses come off the top?

Maybe it’s time to write a sex column instead. Dr. Peggy. Hmmm….

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9 Responses to Royalties

  1. Debbie says:

    I believe that textbooks on Intelligent Design are really good money-spinners. But not sure they count as non-fiction…


  2. Clive says:

    I truly do not mean this to come off as critical, but as a lawyer, did you not read the contract you had with the publishing company? With those kinds of sales you should be receiving more royalties than that….


  3. A lesson, certainly–but it still seems highly unfair. Can your agent help sort this out?

    If you write a Dr. Peggy sex column, I’m there (assume it will include bald speznas).


    • Peggy Blair says:

      My agents aren’t involved in this, unfortunately. It’s a pretty good press. I’m going to assume that we can work something out that’s reasonable. But quite apart from the e-books, I’m still reeling at how little I’ve received after years of work. Hope fiction turns out to be better!


  4. I hope you get the e-rights stuff figured out, Peggy. When I read it was UBC Press, it was kinda cool (my alma mater). Then I got to the royalties. Oy.


  5. Hi Peggy:
    Very interesting, but disheartening post. You should have a look at this site: The blogger is a former IP lawyer who has recently decided to hang out his shingle again, this time as a publishing contract consultant. There is a whole category about contracts.


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