Ten Years to Earn Out
And how she did it
I had a tweet go around a bit last week. Maybe you saw it. I didn’t name the book or author because I hadn’t talked to said author yet, and they get the final call on that. But I checked and she said I could share her name and book, and tell you all about how it happened.
The author is the incomparable and talented Allison Hoffman of Crafty is Cool, author of AMIGURUME: Make Cute Crochet People, published by Lark in 2013. I sold the book in 2011. Yeah, everything takes that long.
How did it happen? I have a theory.
When I signed Allison up in Summer 2011, she already has a robust craft blog, one big enough to get the attention of publishers. I went back to look for our first emails and was reminded that she actually came to me with one offer in hand and another one coming. We quickly joined forces, not only because of the offers, but because her work is GREAT and she is great and I am also a crocheter and everything was just lining up perfectly. I was selling like 10-12 craft books a year back then. It was the height of craft.
We ended up selling the book to Lark for $10,000 ($12,000 in today’s dollars 😂 😂 😂 ), payable in halves on signing the contract and then another payment when the publisher sent the book files to the printer. That means she got one $5000 check (minus commission) in late 2011 and then another in mid-2013. Yep. That’s how long it takes, at least in this case. (Illustrated books are often paid when files go to the printer because there are many things that have to happen and have to be made after the author writes the text—illustrations, patterns, pattern testing, photography, etc etc etc).
So what happened between 2013 and 2021? Allison kept working. She kept at her blog and instagram and making crochet people. She was on the Martha Stewart show. She met Conan and Questlove and Post Malone because she made dolls of them, and many, many, many other celebrities. She sold patterns and started her own line of skin-toned yarn. She made an Okja for Netflix. Many more awesome things I’ve even forgetting. She now has over 50k followers on Instagram.
And books! We sold two more books: AMIGURUME PETS (2017) and AMIGURUME EATS (2019), both with Lark/Sterling for a small increase in the first advance. At one point the Pets book was cancelled because Sterling closed the Lark imprint and everyone got laid off, but they eventually rebought it a while later when other editors took over. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It was along time ago. I lost count but Allison has probably had 3? 4? editors for these books? I’d have to go back and read a dozen or so emails to remember how it all went down.
And there are kits! Golden Girls, Friends, and coming soon The Office! These opportunities came up, too, because of Allison’s great work and platform and my connections in the craft world. There are more in the works, but we can’t tell you about them yet.
And, at the end of last year, for the sales period June to December 2020, Allison’s first book finally earned out. What does that mean? It means that she sold enough copies of said book to earn the publisher $10,000 per her royalty rate, and now she gets the overage as cash, twice a year, depending on future sales. That’s why it’s called an advance. The publisher is advancing you money against your future sales. If you don’t earn out, you don’t owe it back—don’t worry. But you only get more money if it sells. Allison had to sell about 15,000 copies to earn out.
Someone noted on Twitter that it was amazing the publisher kept the book in print that long. And this is true! Publishers don’t keep printing more of your book unless people keep buying them. I’ve seen books go out of print after just 2-3 years. It sucks. But Allison’s continued hard work, her craft that is also her full time job, kept her name in people’s minds and her work in front of their eyeballs and they kept buying her stuff. Her first book has sold better than her next two, but that’s normal. I think, too, that since her work focuses mostly on the people-shaped dolls, that’s what readers see and want to make, too.
So, I know some of you are going to think this is super depressing. Ten years!!!! Only $10,000! I know. It’s not a whole lot of money. But it’s also not Allison’s only job—books, that is. Just like most everyone else, she couldn’t quit her day job to do books all the time, nor do I think she should. They are not her main revenue stream. Yes, this is different for fiction writers, among others, who can’t make their full time job dovetail their writing-job. I know. It sucks. This is just one way one person did it with one book. It’s not going to be a blueprint for everyone else.
What you can take away from this is the lesson that even things that feel not-book-related but that get your name out there can help sell our book. That “promoting your book” is not a constant stream of BUY MY BOOK tweets. It could be articles or stories or a successful newsletter or whatever your readers are looking at. And also, that it can take a long time and several books to build a career. Your first book or next book is not really going to make or break you. (I mean, it could make you if you like hit the list or it could break you if you get cancelled or something, but those are two unlikely extremes). Publishing is a slow game. It’s a long game. It’s not fair or easy or equitable or a meritocracy. But you probably already knew that. But know, too, that your slow and stead work is the best thing you can do if you want your writing life to grow. I don’t think there’s really any other way to do it.
Congratulations, Allison, for earning out. It has been and continues to be a pleasure to work with you.