Monday, December 28, 2009

Author Question: What Does It Mean That I'm in My Second Printing?

Got a little letter:

Dear Moonrat,

I'm a recently published author. I just got my first-ever royalty statement from my agent, and it turns out my book hasn't earned out yet. I was surprised, because I heard a couple months ago that the book went into a second printing only three weeks after publication. I did some math for myself, and I don't understand how the book couldn't have earned out if the first print run sold out. Can you explain? Should I be worried something fishy is going on?


First of all, my dear, you should be very happy about the second printing--that means that the performance of your book exceeded expectation (as expectation was established after sell-in).

But to answer your question, no, you shouldn't be worried about fishiness. There are many reasons a book goes back to press, and all of them have something to do with stock availability (while only some have to do with sell-through).

Two things to remember:

1) Publishers only expect (on average) a 60% sell-through (in the US--UK and Commonwealth are smarter about their stocking and tend to not get as many returns, although exactly how much smarter I'm not sure). However, almost 100% of the first printing is shipped out to stores. The other 40% is returned after 2 months or so (or the laydown period).

2) Books always sell more strongly in certain markets than others. If you write a book about cow farming, it is simply not going to sell as strongly in urban areas as it does in rural, even if it becomes a national bestseller. So certain vendors will return in a higher portion than others, depending on your particular book.


You say your second printing was only three weeks after the book came out--to me that says that the book was selling successfully in various accounts, who then proceeded to run out. But they ran out so close to the initial pub date, returns hadn't come in from other accounts yet, meaning there was no available stock to send to the placed that needed it. Your publisher needed to reprint in order to provide stock to the vendors that were selling it strongly.

Another reason your publisher may have to reprint without selling out is a surprise order. This may come from a book club sale--some book clubs buy finished copies instead of printing their own. It may also come from an unusual account. Some of the box stores like Walmart or Costco come in with last-minute very large orders, and your publisher may have already printed without enough run-off to accommodate these large orders.

This means that a second--or even a third, or even a fourth--printing doesn't necessarily indicate that the first printing sold out. What's a better indicator of whether your first printing has sold out is how much time has elapsed since your book came out combined with the number of reprints. After two months, accounts that were not selling your book will have returned it, and those returned copies will be recycled to accounts that are selling. So if you go back to press after that two-month mark, for example, that's probably a very good indicator that your first printing is gonesville (in a good way).

Does this help?


clindsay said...


Alli said...

Ooooh - this is a great post! Makes total sense. And yes, why are you working? But thanks for the post, anyway.

Charles Gramlich said...

Second printing. That sounds wonderful.

Gina Black said...

Is this how it works for both hardback and paperback? I thought that paperbacks had their covers stripped and therefore couldn't be resold. (And why are you working?)

Bernita said...

WHY are you working?

Lydia Sharp said...

Jeez-o-peets, people, some of us do work between Christmas and New Year's. :-/

Great post. I love reading this kind of stuff. Lydia = publishing nerd. But I'm in good company. ;)

Cakespy said...

Well, if I know moonrat, at least if she is working she's close by a good place to get cookies and/or brownies.

This is a fantastic post. Growing up with an illustrator mom, I witnessed firsthand how the royalties and all this sell-through business could affect how many Christmas presents we received, and now I see that she wasn't just lying about it all. :-) I am going to send this on to her!

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I'm working. Why are we reading? We love moonrat's work. Thanks, Simon.

Bernita said...

"Jeez-o-peets, people, some of us do work between Christmas and New Year's."

Of course, Lydia. It's just that some of us feel that MoonmouseDear deserves a break.

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moonrat said...

hahaha well, to be fair, i didn't look back at the comments all day. and i spent the evening playing internet scrabble. the very definition of vacation ;)

Rebecca Knight said...

Hooray for internet games and relaxing! :)

Seriously, though, thanks for this post. I didn't know you could go into a 2nd printing w/o selling through, so this is very helpful!

kanishk said...

this is a great post!

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Dave Cullen said...

Very informative to hear the details.

I knew a lot of that, but had no idea that most accounts gave you only two months of shelf space and then started (finished?) sending back the stock.

Yikes. Two months? But it it's selling, even modestly, they will keep restocking, right? Or no? Is a copy or two a week or a month enough for them to restock?

Mine has luckily stayed in the chains since April, but I'm noticing that some are now out.

(If you go to Borders or and click to see if a local store has it, you can plug in any zip code, and it will show you a dozen stores or more, and whether each one has it. You can get a really quick feel on a handful of big cities in two minutes.)

Does that mean they will probably never restock?

markdf said...

Two other factors might be in play for the lack of earn out:

How close to the end of the royalty period was the pub date? If it was close (and, really, if it wasn't), I'm betting the publisher put a reserve against returns on the advance to cover the event of returns.

But, yes, second printing, good stuff! They wouldn't have done it if they were expecting major returns on the first printing, so kudos.

Sara Reid said...

I'm sifting through my mail pile in Pleasantville this morning, and I find a letter from Will Hinton at Harper Eos saying that Year's Best SF 13 has just gone into a second printing. It is really great to get a letter from one's publisher that ends "Congratulations on your continued success!", especially in the current publishing environment.

laptop ram said...

Great post. Thanks for the very clear explanation.

Melissa Walker said...

Really great post. I believe my first book went into three print runs, but it's out of the chains now (released in 2007) and the earn out? Well, let's just say I'm close but not there yet.

Kelsey said...

Awesome question and really appreciate the answer. Any time I'm not sure what's going on with my writing career, I turn here first before pestering my agent or someone at my publisher. They probably think I'm a seasoned pro, not the anxious first-time author that I really am.

I just went into my 2nd printing!

Thanks Moonie!