The reason it never gets answered isn't because editors are evasive, but because there isn't one. The answer is dependent on the genre or category of the book, the size of the house, the breadth of the agreement, your platform, your agent's competence, and many other factors. Some publishers' agreements include a royalty question; others don't.
Here's how an editor at a large trade publisher responded to a similar question I asked years ago: "Because writers earn different amounts depending on their sales track records, length of career, etc., it would be difficult for us to answer this question without putting ourselves in a position where we might have to pay out sums that could damage our financial situation."
Translation: We can't tell you what you'll make because it depends on so many factors. Best case scenario is that you'll get a percentage of the retail price of the book. Most likely you won't.
Writers need to understand that nothing about being an author means that they're automatically entitled to a set amount every time their book sells something. They may have some rights to a share of the profits but not all publishers agree on what those rights are. And even if they do, there's no guarantee that the company will keep paying out after the first book.
Literary agents often get a 15% royalty on domestic royalties earned by the author, a 20% commission on overseas sales and translations, and a 15%–20% percent on any money gained from television agreements or scripts. Reputable literary agencies do not charge fees for reviewing query letters or manuscripts. They are paid based on their clients' earnings.
Some authors who have agents represent only themselves while others may have other professionals (such as lawyers or publicists) help them with their careers. Knowing what role you want your agent to play is important so you don't end up hiring someone who doesn't fit your needs.
Yes, here are some that people have recommended:
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Guide for Artists Who Want to Change Their Lives. By Julia Cameron. Bantam, 2000. $15.95.
This book has helped thousands of artists learn to love themselves by learning to love their lives. The book offers guidance on how to create new habits for living a more creative life. It also includes exercises for developing greater self-awareness and courage.
The Bookseller: An Agent's Story. By John Banville. Bloomsbury, 2013. $16.99.
Often, a publisher's or agent's rejection has little to do with the quality of your work; rather, it's simply a matter of bad timing. This is especially upsetting because your submission isn't to fault, and there's nothing you could have done short of infiltrating the publishing business.
The most common reasons for rejection are listed below. Although not all submissions will be rejected for each reason, these are the most common causes of loss.
Poor timing - sometimes we just don't think about your topic enough times to want to publish it. And since we get so many submissions, we hardly ever read them all. If you haven't heard from us in a while, feel free to email again.
Bad topic - sometimes we prefer one type of article over another. For example, we might prefer an interview to a review. Or perhaps the topic is just not interesting to us. Always feel free to ask if you can be re-submitted under a different topic.
Wrong audience - maybe you wrote specifically for our audience and they've already been covered. Or perhaps the topic is too narrow. Both of which would make sense considering that most submissions come from authors outside of the industry themselves.
Too much competition - this is probably the number one reason for rejection.
Trends in Publishing While trends are unpredictability, the finest book publishers usually keep an eye on them and accept works in categories that are garnering a lot of attention. This implies that if your work isn't in a popular genre, it could be tough to catch an editor's attention. Before you write another word, think about what kind of book would interest your audience and try to find a way to include this within your story.
Genres are like genres out there: they have become very rigid over time. This is especially true for fiction: anyone can name a fantasy or sci-fi series that has more than three stars on Amazon. These days, if you want to sell books, you need to know what people are interested in reading. Only then can you figure out how to package your idea so that it fits into this pattern.
There are many reasons why getting your book published can be difficult, but here are just three of them: time, money, and talent. Time: unless you are independently wealthy, you probably can't afford to spend years writing something and then waiting even longer for it to be published. Money: unless you are Microsoft or Amazon, you aren't going to be able to pay someone else to write a book for you. Talent: this isn't always true, but most successful authors spent years learning their craft before they got famous.
Book publishers are in charge of all elements of book publication. Their goal is to recruit talented authors and create commercially successful novels. Depending on the size of the publishing firm, the book publisher may handle all parts of publication themselves or assign some of the work to editors. However, even if a firm hires an editor they often consult with the writer during the process of writing books to make sure that they are choosing topics that will be popular with readers and to provide guidance about how to improve the story.
Books that are published by book manufacturers are usually written by writers who were hired by publishers. Often, these authors will submit manuscripts that they have completed and the publishers will choose which ones they want to develop into books. Sometimes, however, publishers will ask writers to outline stories first; then, they will find someone to write down those ideas. Finally, the writer can go back and add more details or fix any problems that may have arisen while writing.
In addition to authors, book publishers also hire art directors, copywriters, and others to help them create books that will be attractive to readers. Some firms, called conglomerates, own many different types of businesses, such as printing companies, music labels, and movie studios. These larger publishing houses often use their other resources to help promote books that are being published through their independent book division.
While the majority of books are rejected due to low quality and ineptitude (as they should be), there are a number of additional criteria that influence publication decisions. And these have an impact on "excellent" literature as well.
Publishers may reject a book if they feel it competes with another published title (this can happen even if you're the first publisher to see the manuscript). They may also reject if they believe the topic is already covered by other books from different authors. Finally, publishers may decide not to risk money on projects that aren't sure to succeed.
Now, this isn't to say that books that don't meet any of these criteria will get a chance of being published. But the more criteria that are not met, the less likely it is that your book will see the light of day.
As for why particular publishers may have rejection rates of up to 90 percent, that's something only they can answer. But we can say that regardless of quality or audience appeal, every book needs an editor to help bring it to life. And since editors work with many books at once, it's possible that yours is among them that got rejected!