Laughing All The Way To The Bank

Just the other day I found out I was a Bloomsbury author. They sent me a royalty cheque for an academic book I wrote, An Introduction to Twentieth Century French Literature, that I thought had died a death when its original publishers, Duckworth, went under. I was rather chuffed as I like Bloomsbury books, although this seemed a sneaky, back-door way to belong to them.

‘Hey boys,’ I called to my menfolk. ‘I’ve just got a royalty cheque.’

‘How much for?’ asked my son.

‘You guess.’

‘Two pounds fifty?’ he hazarded.

‘Three pounds,’ suggested my husband.

(You think they are joking, but they are not.)

‘Higher’

‘Five pounds?’

‘Seven pounds?’

‘Higher.’

‘Ten pounds?’ my son said, incredulity in his voice.

‘Fifteen?’

‘Higher’

‘Fifty pounds!’ said Mister Litlove, joyfully.

‘Someone always has to get over-excited,’ I sighed. ‘No, lower. It’s for £42.25 actually.’

‘That’s pretty good,’ he said. ‘Just think, ten more books like that and….’

‘… and I’d be making a living?’ I suggested.

‘No, you’d be making just over four hundred pounds every six months and living well below the poverty line.’

‘C’mon, Mum!’ said my son. ‘Just a hundred more books like that!’

And we fell about laughing at the sheer ludicrousness of my ever making any money from writing. I decided the best thing to do with my money was to reinvest in my company, so I went online and spent it on books from the Bloomsbury list. Well, it was either that or fritter it away on things like food.

I’m glad the book is still in print, though, as it was always my favourite of my academic books. I remember being asked to write it – I’d bumped into the series editor in Marks and Spencers and we stood awkwardly, fingers freezing onto our very chilled groceries while the lunchtime crowds ebbed and flowed around us. It’s funny how life refuses to conform to one’s fantasies. I’d imagined the commissioning process to be more formal, conducted over big desks buried under piles of manuscripts and contracts, or as an edifying request on headed notepaper. Instead my colleague said, ‘I’m so glad I caught you; I’ve been meaning to ask for ages…’

And it was fun to write, too. I spent a while wondering how on earth to do it, and then it occurred to me that what I wanted was to make each chapter a perfect supervision. I’d take the authors I taught most and imagine what I would say if I covered the parts of their work I found most fascinating, and got it all out in exactly the right order. It came together very simply over the course of one long summer vacation.

The reviews were frustrating because every one focused on the authors I hadn’t included rather than the ones I had. It was a doomed book in this respect, as any academic with a speciality in the twentieth century has an outline in their heads for what makes a perfect introduction and probably wondered why they hadn’t been given the chance to write it. But the students liked it, and they were the ones for whom it was intended. My husband also liked it, particularly the introduction, which he read over several times; it was the first time I’d written anything that moved him. So, I pleased the people who mattered. It’s nice to think it still exists out there in the world, the distilled essence of my teaching days.

20 thoughts on “Laughing All The Way To The Bank

  1. You posh lady you with your Bloomsbury connections. It must be great to hear your book is still in print and with such a lovely, well known publisher.

    You’ve done quite well out of this one financially. I remember a lecturer telling us he’d just got the royalty cheque for the last two years of his book’s sales, because the publishers wouldn’t pass on the money unless it was over something like £20. He was very proud of it though and we all found the copies he ordered in useful (that was probably what pushed his royalties up), so as you said it’s the people who really matter who you need to listen to.

  2. The book looks lovely. I tried to enlarge the cover to see the art work, but couldn’t, drat. I hope it stays around forever, Litlove, and I think the royalty check was well-spent. Being stodgy old me I would probably have blown the whole thing on something like the electric bill – not nearly as exciting – and then felt sorry for myself for not getting something that made me happy instead. Congratulations!

  3. Very glad to hear it is still in print – and how fun to be a Bloomsbury author. Glad you spent your royalties on books!

  4. LOL, I just received a royalty check from one of my published knitting patterns that was for a similarly paltry amount. I spent it on a pedicure. Livin’ it up!

  5. And I liked it very much, as I’ve already told you, and wished so much that there had been such a book when I was a university student of 20th century French literature. I bought it at the beginning of the current academic year, when I saw it on prominent display in Grant and Cutler, just off Oxford Street, and pounced on it delightedly – oh, that’s one of Litlove’s books!

    I suppose most students are like the ones I work with – they don’t expect to buy books, but to have the most relevant bits photocopied and provided for them (predigested and regurgitated?) as part of a ‘course pack’. There is much to be said for these, I guess, but also much to be said for students browsing a reading list, defining their own interests and preferences and building their own libraries (OK, I’m showing my age).

  6. This post made me think of I Capture the Castle, when the father gets his smaller and smaller royalty checks (but not funny for them as for you and your men, because they have to live on the royalty money).

    I’m not at all surprised at how casual the commissioning was though! At work it seems like half our projects get started from professors in various disciplines having ideas at conferences.

  7. Dear LL – This is wonderful, this keeps you going in some way, in terms of writing, non?
    We live to write again!
    Speaking of which, I’ve been awfully sporadic about blogging/blogworld and thank you for your recent comments. I’m herea the kitchen table , all adither, with short pieces to do and presentations to come up with for corporate meetings and pooh – I feel like walking out the door.

    So I’m reading your posts (in which I find great delight, support, and knowledge) and listening to the sound of the keys and the clang of our “Big Ben” windchimes just outside the door and realizing I’d best get to it.

    I am so pleased, even by virtual degrees of separation, to know a Bloomsbury author! It is no small thing. And I hope you’re working on the next thing that delights you.
    Keep us current.

    I’m all for you including dialogue in your next book, if that’s appropriate because I LOVE reading your anecdotes and stories here.

    more later!

  8. Excellent! And I must order a copy tout de suite, to maintain this heady level. Now, have you got it registered for Public Lending Right in libraries. A clutch of elderly academic authors I know have annual celebrations if their PLR monies due top £5!

  9. Just popped in to my old blog and found you are still writing! And congrats on being a Bloomsbury author–so very posh. No wonder I love/d reading your blog. I’m now a single mom working full time and doing my master’s part time — wish I had more time to come and read your blog everyday. Will try to make time! takce care!

  10. So jealous!

    Congrats….I have never received a royalty check for my first book (and doubt I ever will, needing to sell only an additional 30,000 books in order to do so) and know most authors never do. I get my royalty statements and barely glance at them for that reason. Maybe the new one will. Not holding my breath, though.

  11. Jodie – oh yeah, me and J K Rowling, we’re like THAT, y’know!😉 No seriously, this is a pure swizz, in that my original publishers folded and their list was evidently picked up by Bloomsbury. It’s not real, if you see what I mean. I have had plenty of teeny cheques in my time, in fact, one that came for about 2 quid I suggested framing rather than cashing. I still wish I’d done that.

    Grad – the internet is designed to keep me humble; I could only find teeny tiny pictures of my book cover. It’s a shame because I love the picture on the front, which is one of a series of studies of the Eiffel Tower by Robert Delaunay. I probably ought to have spent the cheque on the utilities, but hey, that’s why I had to spend it fast on books.🙂

    Michelle, Lilian and Stefanie – thank you! Although it is VERY dishonorably come by – I don’t really think that one firm buying up another’s books can really bestow any glory on me, although I’ll take what I can, of course.😉

    Caroline – I’m so glad you can see that that was really annoying! But hey, it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time. And worse things happen, too, deliberate misreadings by people, for instance. I think that’s why I always want to be careful with my own reviews; I know what the author feels like!

    Emily – a pedicure? Now, what a fabulous idea that is! If I ever get another cheque (and it’s doubtful) I will follow your example. Knitting patterns is a rather cool way to earn royalties, so niche, so cute.

    Jean – bless you – you can have a virtual hug for that. I agree completely, that the best knowledge comes from immersive study in the subject, not a pack of photocopies. Sigh. We can just be old together on that one.

    Jenny – oh those conferences have a lot to answer for! And thank goodness no one has to live off my writing. We’d be bankrupt, or no, in fact, we’d all be in the mental institute, where the stress would have driven us.

    oh – the whole blogworld seems very quiet to me of late – I guess spring is luring everyone out of doors to tidy up gardens, and probably post-winter blogging fatigue accounts for the rest. I’m delighted to see you here just whenever you can make it. Funnily enough, I’m really interested in dialogue lately – how it takes people places, and leads you into saying and hearing things that weren’t intended to be part of the conversation. I’m very intrigued by all that.

    Deborah – wow that got me really overexcited. I hadn’t thought about library royalties at all, although I think my book is only in university libraries. I will have to look into that. Thank you for mentioning it!!

    Shuana – it’s so nice to hear from you after all these years! Are you blogging again now? I do hope so – I’ll drop by and visit.

    Broadside blog and Pete – you are both really sweet, but I do assure you this is not at all impressive in a proper way. Bloomsbury obviously bought the backlist of my original publishers and so I have ended up with them by default. I like the idea of a shiny author identity, but I can’t really claim to one! And broadside – I got paid £250 for writing the book (which is probably the most I will ever be paid for writing anything) and have probably made about £100 over the past seven years of its life! lol! I’m not heading to Monte Carlo on that yet.🙂

  12. As a French lit novice I found it interesting, informative, accesible and enjoyable, exactly as I hoped it would be. Am I hallucinating or was there a post about LitFest on here earlier?

  13. Dorothy – oh thank you. Well, it’s valuable to me, at least.🙂

    Bookboxed – bless you – you can have a virtual hug for that compliment. And lol, you weren’t hallucinating! I did write one, but Mister Litlove didn’t think much of it so I took it down again. I might rework it at a later date (I think I’ve written too much on publishing lately and so it was a bit soggy!).

  14. That’s very cool, LL, and rather fancy-pants of you too! Bloomsbury, don’t you know! I love the oh so characteristic way you blew your royalties – perfect! And no matter how much it’s for, I still imagine receiving a royalty check must be a real thrill.

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