Competitive Bids

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I’m on the Select Board in our town of 740 people, which means that I get to take care of a bunch of unpredictable things as they arise. For instance, there was a house fire last month next to the town’s library, and the heat from the fire broke a few library window panes and warped the plastic rain gutter. Our municipal insurance carrier needed repair estimates. I got two. On one, the windows were $515, and the gutter was $125. On the other, the windows were $535, and the gutter was $135. So aside from marginally different materials and practices, it’s clear that both of these repair shops were seeing the job in pretty similar terms, and willing to do it for pretty similar prices.

But let me put another industry on the table for you. I’ve been involved in negotiation for three book contracts, and it’s pretty clear that the three publishers saw the world in radically different ways.

  1. Publisher A set a hardback list price of $100 and a softcover list price of $40. The author’s royalties on either were 3% of the publisher’s net proceeds (after discounts, etc).
  2. Publisher B set a hardback list price of $60 and a softcover list price of $20. The author’s royalties on the hardcovers were 5% of the publisher’s net, and 2.5% of the publisher’s net on the softcovers after the sale of the first thousand.
  3. Publisher C set a hardback list price of $60 and a softcover list price of $20. The author’s royalties on the hardcovers were 10% of the publisher’s net, and the softcovers went from 8% of net on the first 5,000, to 10% on the next 5,000, and 12% on anything beyond.

This is why fiction writers hire agents. Any individual offer for a book is seen in isolation, and so you just don’t know what’s possible, what others do. Your agent does. But literary agents aren’t so interested in academic books—it’s not their market, and there’s not nearly as much chance for a big return. So you, scholar, are on your own, adrift in a black, informationless sea. But at least now you have three data points that you can use to compare your quotes.

You’re welcome. I live to serve.

In other news, there’s been another sighting of the book, this time in the Granite State.

Photo in the wild Granite State

I also tried to upload a picture I took of a mating pair perching side by side in our local bookstore (Northshire Books, Manchester VT!!!), but I can’t figure out how to get the picture from my (non-data-plan, non-smart) phone onto the computer. Too bad, too… it was beautiful to see how their brilliant teal spinal plumage set them apart from their drab neighbors. I’ll keep trying. Maybe there’s a twelve-year-old around the neighborhood who can help.