What does a traditional publishing offer look like?
Traditional publishing deals are confusing for the uninitiated but are actually very similar in structure. You may be offered a non-refundable advance payment, plus royalties on copies sold once the advance payment has been “earned out”. In return, the publisher will generally require world rights for the title.
While at the outset this may seem like a great deal, there are a few things the author needs to be aware of:
The advance payment is based on the publisher’s estimate of the royalties you would be expected to earn in the first year. It is an advance against future royalties rather than an additional payment. They would have paid you this anyway, although the payment is upfront and is generally non-refundable.
Out of that advance, you will be expected to fund the photography, food styling, recipe development and testing.
You won’t earn any royalties until your advance is “earned out”. In other words you won’t receive any royalties until your book sells sufficient numbers for your royalties to equal the advance amount.
While advance payments were once standard in any publishing offer, they are becoming less common.
As most royalties are around 7-10% of the cover price, this means you are essentially earning this amount for each copy of your book that sells. Of course, out of the remaining 90-93% the publisher has to pay for the book production (including editing and design) and printing, any marketing they might do and bookeller discounts.
Sometimes publishers offer much higher royalties, but generally these are net price royalties and are calculated differently. Net price royalties are calculated from the list price of the book less any distributor or bookstore discounts and are calculated after production costs for a print book.
It is common for book offers to require the author to purchase a set number of copies for resale within the first 12 months of publication. Many authors are happy to do this particularly if they already have a ready audience, eager to purchase their cookbook.
It is worth remembering if you are negotiating with a publisher that author buybacks also greatly reduce the risk they are taking in publishing your book, and sometimes will equal the full advance they are offering you. So essentially they don’t need to sell a single copy of your book in order to get back their advance.
Licencing and Intellectual Property
As an author you own the intellectual property in the work, but you are giving the licence to the publisher to sell and profit from the work. As mentioned earlier, publishers will generally (but not always) make their offer based on obtaining world rights and in all formats. They may carve off certain subsidiary rights for the author such as video or merchandising rights.
Option on your next cookbook
Publishing offers will generally require an option to publish your next book. This means when you want to do a second book they will have the first right of refusal to publish it themselves. The option is designed to tie you into publishing with them again (if they choose). And your next contract, if it eventuates, will also have an option clause so the cycle continues. You can negotiate the option clause but it is unlikely to be removed as publisher's view this as necessary for the risk they are taking, particularly if it is your first book.
Authors are often surprised about how long it takes for them to get paid their royalties. Traditional publishers pay authors royalty payments either quarterly, twice a year or even once a year. This means that once you have earned out your advance, you may still wait six months or more before you get a royalty payment.
There are pros and cons of accepting an offer from a traditional publisher. It really comes down to what your goals are in creating the book, whether you can fund the full cost of the book and how large your existing platform is. For more information on why people choose to self-publish, read "The top 4 reasons people choose to self publish their cookbook".