Well, finally, we have an explanation. I found it, oddly enough, on Twitter. Not the explanation -- it’s definitely not something that can be deciphered in 140 characters or less. What I came across are links to two blogs, one by author Lynn Viehl and a follow-up by agent Jennifer Rappaport. (Thank you @Maya_Reynolds for sending out the links.)
You’ll want to go read both. I suggest you read Lynn Viehl’s first, then Jennifer Rappaport’s.
Viehl is a best-selling author. She had made a promise that if she ever hit the top 20 of the New York Times mass market bestseller list, she would share all the information about the book. And she does that, from the initial print run, to the (little) promotion she does, to her advance, to expenses, to how much her agent received, to her royalty statement.
Why did she do this?
In Publishing telling the truth about earnings smashes the illusions publishers and writers want you to believe and, like breaking mirrors, it never brings you good luck. Thing is, when I was a rookie I wanted to know exactly what it took to have a top twenty Times bestselling novel, because that was such a big deal to writers. Everyone I asked gave me a different answer, told me a bunch of nonsense, or couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me at all. For that reason I want you to see the hard figures, and know the reality, and the next time someone asks you what it takes, you can tell them the truth.Once you’ve finished reading her post, click over to Rappaport’s analysis of Viehl’s royalty statement. Jenny Rappaport is not Lynn Viehl’s agent, but she definitely knows how to dissect a statement. She tells us what is meant by US Regular Sales, discounted copies, US Regular Returns, Export Sales and Returns, Reverse Against Returns, and BOOKSPAN subsidiary right sale.
Bet you thought a royalty statement would be easy to untangle, didn’t you?
Here’s a snippet of her explanation about returned books:
For every book returned, as you can see on the royalty statement, the publisher did not pay Ms. Viehl any money. This makes sense from an accounting standpoint, since the publisher had to pay the booksellers back the money they had purchased the book with, and therefore didn't really "sell" it.If you want to see the actual royalty statement, click here.
Shoot, I’ll go buy Viehl’s latest book just to acknowledge her for posting her statement! And kudos to Rappaport for taking the time to explain the terminology and ins and outs of a statement.