Generation V earned out — and what that means

Okay, so last night I got the extremely exciting news that Generation V had earned out. I prompted posted it all over the place and rolled around in my good fortune and the congratulations of peers, friends, and fans like a kitten in a sunbeam.

And before we move any further down that subject — THIS IS STILL INCREDIBLE NEWS, AND EVERYONE MUST DANCE!


Right, that’s taken care of.

Wait, no, still more dancing required.


All right, I’m all set for at least five minutes now. So, when I made that post last night, basically there were two camps of people — those who knew what I was talking about, and those who had no idea what I mean and couldn’t really understand why everyone else was going batshit insane with joy.

If you were in the secondary camp, there’s nothing to be ashamed of — “earning out” is an industry term. Here’s how it works:

I sold the original manuscript of Generation V (then-titled “Virtue’s Path,” previously titled “Blood Son”, original working title “Cooking With Garlic”) to Roc in May of 2012. Part of that original sales agreement was that I would receive an advance — this was an agreed-upon chunk of money that was essentially an up-front payment of the money that everyone hoped that the book would earn. Now, this is one of the advantages of going with a traditional publishing company over doing it self-published — firstly, that Roc took on all the costs and risks of producing the book, which meant that wasn’t assuming those costs and risks (as a self-publisher has to — if you self-publish, you’re financially in the hole at the point that you have your pile of books ready to sell — and you have no guarantee that you’ll ever sell a single one), and secondly, that Roc paid me money even before the first sale was ever made, meaning that I had an assurance at the point that I was putting all the final work into Generation V (and the other books in the series) that I would actually earn real money out of the project. Believe me, that’s pretty great stuff for a writer.

My advance for Generation V was $7,500. This was split into three equal chunks of $2500 — I received my first check upon the signing of the contract, the second check when the primary editing was done on Generation V and my editor agreed that we had a book that was of the quality that Roc was willing to put on bookshelves (Generation V was the only manuscript that was completed when I signed my original three-book contract — Iron Night and Tainted Blood consisted of two-page book proposals that outlined major plot points — and the editing process added about 20,000 words and several significant plot adjustments (all improvements, I feel) from the manuscript I originally sold), and the third check when Generation V was published in May 2013. All told, it took me a full year to receive all of my advance money for Generation V — minus the 15% that went to my agent (and, since I wouldn’t have had that contract at all without my agent, and the 15% of my earnings was the only money that my agent ever received at all, I have no regrets whatsoever about that portion).

(note: Iron Night and Tainted Blood also had advances on the same schedule, and of the same amount. This meant that my initial payment of money when I signed the contract was actually $7500, because it was the first 1/3 payment for all three books. And, believe me, that $7500 made a rather significant difference in my bottom-line that year. Dark Ascension had its own contract that was negotiated later, and I took a pay cut on my advance in order to be able to write it.)

The advance is, essentially, a bet that the publisher makes that your book will earn money. If Generation V had never sold a single copy, then the publisher wouldn’t have been able to tell me to give back the money — that $7500 was entirely mine.

Now, that $7500 doesn’t have to be given back, but it also isn’t a gift, either. It is an advance on hoped-for earnings. A mass-market paperback copy of Generation V sold in the USA earns me 64 cents (on e-books my cut is higher, because the profit is also higher for the publisher, which is why Roc was horrified at how sluggish my e-sales were initially (though, like the poet who was once turned into a newt can be paraphrased into saying, “It got better.”)). Once Generation V went on sale, every book sale went toward that $7500 – essentially paying down that initial advance.

“Earning out” is what every author is eagerly awaiting as soon as that book goes on sale — because until that day happens, the publisher has essentially lost money on the book. Also, until the book earns out, the author cannot receive royalties, because the royalties are still occupied with paying off the advance. I’ve never seen any solid numbers on the subject, but the statistic I’ve heard most often is that only about 20% of books actually ever earn out — which is, when you think about it, kind of horrifying. We all hear about the huge blockbuster sellers that leave publishers swimming in piles of cash, but those are the exceptions. Most of the books that come out in any given year will never earn back their advance.

Generation V has now beaten the odds — and, in another exciting development, is now passively earning me money. Every time someone buys the first adventure of Fortitude Scott and Suzume Hollis at a bookstore, or on e-book, I actually earn money! (to the assholes who pirate — yes, what you do actually hurts authors. I don’t have statistics on the extent to which illegal downloads hurt this series, but for every copy that was stolen, that made it slower for the book to earn out, it made the publisher see lower sales numbers and lose faith in the series, and it contributed to the early death of the series and to less money for me, which hurt my ability to write more books. and, before anyone who illegally downloads tries to say this, NO, YOUR ILLEGAL DIGITAL DOWNLOADS OF MY BOOK ARE NOT THE SAME AS CHECKING IT OUT OF THE LIBRARY, OR EVEN BUYING A COPY FROM A SECOND-HAND BOOKSTORE, YOU DICKS.)

Yay! So Roc will be cutting me a check for $115.78, which is pretty exciting when you consider that the last time I received money for Generation V was back in 2013! Kick-ass start to 2016, if I say so myself!

One thing to bear in mind, because it’s easy to lose sight of it when you look at that last paragraph — if I hadn’t received an advance, I wouldn’t have made more money on this book. I would still have earned $7615.78 on the series — except earning that first $7500 would have taken me two years, rather than being entirely in my pocket on the day that Generation V hit the bookstores. And that $7500 paid my mortgage, my electric bill, and other bills, which made it substantially easier for me to write. Without that advance, it would’ve taken me longer to write Iron Night, Tainted Blood, and even Dark Ascension, because I would’ve been having to hustle other work elsewhere and spend less time writing.

I’ve seen the numbers on my series — Generation V had absolutely terrible e-sales when it first came out. Like, single-digit terrible. In the beginning, people picked it up in bookstores. They bought it because it was on the shelf in front of them and they could pick it up, flip through it, read that first chapter or skim around, and something in that tactile experience led them to take a chance on a book that so many people initially assumed was YA, or Paranormal Romance, or just “Oh for fuck’s sake I am not going to sit through another goddamn vampire book where all that happens is everyone swoons at the sight of a sparkling undead prick.” That’s where this series started — fighting uphill. And it was the backing of my publisher that kept it on bookshelves for people to see, or sent copies to bloggers who read it on the strength of Roc’s backing, or who my editor was. They didn’t read it because of me, and, I’m sad to say, they generally didn’t read it because of the cover or the book description. Frankly, talk to the people who have become the greatest supporters, champions, and all-around fucking HEROES of this series getting as far as it did, and 90% of them will say that it was word-of-mouth that got them to, very reluctantly, pick up Generation V and give my slacker vampire a shot.

I have zero regrets about choosing traditional publishing. I am not in any way disparaging self-publishing — there are plenty of instances when self-publishing makes more sense to an individual writer than pursuing traditional, but this was not one of those times.

Finally, a few people have asked me whether this means that Roc will be publishing the fifth Fortitude Scott book. While I certainly remain hopeful that interest in the series continues to grow, and that more people find their way to picking up Generation V, at this time the position of publisher has not altered. I am currently working on another writing project, but please don’t despair — I have all the layout and plans for Books 5 & 6, and if the publisher sees an increased demand for these books at some point down the road, they might give the last two a chance. I’m continuing to consider my options for this series, and if I get an opportunity that would put Books 5 & 6 on bookshelves, I would definitely take it.

If you’re interested in more information about advances and earning out, from someone who has done it quite a bit more successfully than I have, check out Kameron Hurley’s essay “The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love.”

And, with all that discussed….. and everyone feeling fully informed…..




About M. L. Brennan

Author of the Generation V urban fantasy series, published by Roc Books. Not your usual vampires, kitsune shapeshifters with attitude, Doctor Who jokes, and underemployment. GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT, available wherever books are sold. Third installment, TAINTED BLOOD, to be published 11/14.

Posted on January 3, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Congratulations! I was in the camp that did know what earning out meant, but I did not know that statistic about how only 20% of books earn out. That’s pretty dismaying. It certainly does make it all the more impressive to have hit that goalpost though!
    I somehow never made it to actually comment earlier, but count me in the camp that is hopeful to someday get more books in this series. I’ve enjoyed every book, and have (and will continue) to enthusiastically recommend it. In the meantime tho I’ll certainly look forward to checking out whatever else you end up writing!

  2. Huzzah! Congratulations! It’s a great series. Which reminds me: I have some catching up to do…

  3. Congratulations! I knew what it meant, but I hoped it also meant a book 5&6. I will keep my fingers crossed. I need only Generation V to complete my set and will be getting it today with a Christmas giftcard. The Colbert dancing gif made my day 🙂

  4. Very awesome. I admit I only picked it up because of the word of mouth that came from it myself; neither the Urban Fantasy label or the covers or even the title gave me confidence (Virtue’s Path is awesome name, id love to see a post on how the name got changed to Gen V some time).

    Here is to every other book earning out, and add me to those hoping to read more from you (Gen V or something else) in the near future.

  5. Now I’m dancing on my way to Amazon to buy an e-copy. I originally read it from the library.

  6. I still remember hearing about GENERATION V for the first time and thinking, “Eh, it could be good, and I like vampires, but I’m tired of them being done in ways that I dislike, and the whole sexy sidekick thing turns me right off because yeah yeah, of course it’s going to get all romantic and that’s going to override much of the plot the way so many paranormal romance novels go.” I remember commenting with something similar on someone’s review. And I remember you contacting me to talk about that stuff, and you offered me a review copy and convinced me to take a chance.

    And I remember loving it so much, and being excited for subsequent releases, and convincing my roommate to buy copies of the books because she’d borrowed my review copies and loved them as much as I did.

    It’s freaking amazing how the first book has earned out, and I’m ridiculously glad that not only did you prove my assumptions wrong, but also that other people had similar-enough experiences that kept them wanting to read more. You work wonders with lore, your characters are amazing, and I adore the story as a whole. I’ve got my fingers crossed that books 5 & 6 will see shelf time too!

  7. I like the series, but the covers are desperately bad. “Grim guy with a gun” communicates nothing about the actual story. I can’t imagine someone to whom the cover appeals also liking the content. The series generally has a light tone and aspects of screwball comedy. The cover should reflect that. Put Suzume on! (And yes, I know it’s the publisher who picks the cover art. In this case, they were dumb as a Roc.)

    • I have said it many times but I will say again. When I first started seeing reviews I honestly thought it was a tie-in to a tv show (perhaps on the WB) based on the covers and name.

  8. I just finished the series, a fantastic and refreshing departure from the typical UF fare. Thrilled to hear it’s earning out! Hopefully Roc will greenlight books 5 and 6, but even if not I’m excited to hear that you’re working on a new project as well. Definitely a fan and will preorder whatever comes out next! Thanks for some great books!

  9. I must have been very different from your average reader. I bought Generation V because it was in front of me at Barnes and Noble, because I like urban fantasy, because the vampire didn’t look sparkly, because my husband was on deployment and I was lonely. Most importantly, I thought it was a play on Generation Y. I finished college in time for everything to go down hill. I worked a bunch of awful and demeaning jobs and went to grad school more to escape the real world than for a love of knowledge. In 2013, I wasn’t just lonely because my husband was gone, I finished grad school, had no job, and was alone in San Diego, (8 million people in the city and surrounding area and I didn’t know a single one of them). Fort and I clearly were part of the same generation and had a lot in common.

    In sum, I picked it up based on the title and loved it. I truly hope there is a 5 and 6 because it’s become one of my favorite series and I will miss it.

  10. I had to link your story over at The Passive Voice on Hugh Howey’s post about traditional verses self publishers. Your tale is a great example of one side of the industry.

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