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About Writing Right: The Blog


The question came up recently as to whether or not authors must repay their book publishers for unsold books. As usual, there were plenty of answers to go around--and most of them were wrong. Here's how I corrected them.

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Yes! Unlike the response from the Queen of Wrong and so many other respondents who, if I'm reading your question correctly, missed the boat entirely.


If you were talking about paying the publisher back for any advance against royalties received by the author but not earned out through the book's sales, the answer would be "no." Publishers don't traditionally require authors to repay unearned balances from the advances they pay their authors. But, you don't mention advances, royalties, or unpaid balances in your question; so, that's not at all the question you asked.


That leads me to believe you want to know if authors have to repay publishers for books the publisher sold to a bookseller, but that the bookseller then returned for credit to the publisher as unsold. Although the publisher originally recorded those books sold to the bookseller as income and may even have paid the author for his percentage of those sales, once the bookseller returns the unsold books, the publisher will adjust its records and debit the amount originally paid or credited to the author from future payments due. So, if a bookseller buys $100 worth of books from a publisher, the publisher lists that as a $100 sale and pays the author his percentage. But if the bookseller later returns $50 of those books to the publisher, the publisher then adjusts its records to debit $50 from any amount already paid or credited to the author. Straight?


The moral of this story, boys and girls, is that authors should never count their chickens until they cross the road, or something like that. A book is not really sold until the bookseller confirms it's sold. No matter what the publisher's records show. And shame on Queenie and the others who jumped to answer this question by assuming something you never asked and shooting from the lip instead of taking the time to analyze and respond to your actual question.


All I can say about all that is ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs weekly at Substack. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he's only human!)

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