I am so thrilled that Pantsuit Nation is now available for pre-order and will be released on May 9. I worked full-time on this book from late December to mid March, and it was my honor and incredible pleasure to collaborate with the over two hundred contributors – photographers and writers – who are featured in its pages. I’ll be writing about the process of putting this book together in another blog post (update: here!), but first I wanted to talk more about how sales of the book will support the work of Pantsuit Nation.
I’ve sought to provide a clear and accurate description of how proceeds from this book will be allocated, while also recognizing that book publishing and nonprofit finance are complex and it’s impractical to attempt to address every nuance in a blog post. That said, I hope the information below will offer some clarification. I’ve included some percentages and numbers that are based on industry standards and will fluctuate slightly with regards to Pantsuit Nation depending on book format (hardcover or eBook) and sales levels. I found this article to be tremendously helpful when writing this post and if you are interested in the economics of publishing, I encourage you to read it.
First, to address the next chapters for Pantsuit Nation.
Our budget goals this year and beyond
Pantsuit Nation remains, primarily, a Facebook group with a current membership of 3.9 million people. With our focus on empowering individuals and creating large-scale change through the amplification of small-scale actions, Pantsuit Nation represents a well of energy and hope. We are confident that this 5-month-old startup can be a powerful force for progressive change: in 2017, 2018, and beyond. In order to achieve this, one of the first goals of Pantsuit Nation Foundation, the nonprofit we established this year, will be to develop partnerships with established and growing organizations to harness the power of collective storytelling to drive social and political change. Pantsuit Nation does not seek to take the place of any of the other incredible groups that are working to increase civic engagement, advocate for progressive change, support women and minorities who wish to pursue office, or any of the other issues that are central to Pantsuit Nation and our members. What we can offer that is different and new is our large number of engaged members (many of whom are new to activism) and the focus on first-person storytelling that has become the hallmark of our group. With resources to cultivate partnerships with organizations we admire (and whose missions are often beautifully illustrated by posts in our group) such as Planned Parenthood, Indivisible, Anti-Defamation League, and She Should Run, we can respond – as a nearly 4-million-strong coalition – to threats of injustice and regressive policies that will impact those most vulnerable in our country under the new administration.
Our second (and related) initiative is creating a web-based digital collection of stories that have been shared in Pantsuit Nation. With permission from the authors, these posts will be available in a public, searchable, constantly evolving archive to support the work of educators, activists, advocates, and progressives. At the heart of Pantsuit Nation is the idea that change comes from the heart, and the best way to move a heart is to share a story. Our archive will be one answer to Secretary Clinton’s call to action that we make sure our voices are heard beyond “private, secret Facebook sites” going forward.
These two projects will account for approximately 40% of our nonprofit’s budget this year.
In the past five months, this group has been run by a team of volunteers, which started with just me and quickly grew to include as many as 170 people all over the world. Our current team has about 40 people, almost entirely women, who volunteer between 4 and 20 hours a week (usually in addition to their full-time jobs and family responsibilities). That’s a ratio of 1 moderator or admin for every 100,000 members. Online community managers – for companies from The New York Times to HelloGiggles to Instagram – often work with groups a fraction of our size and earn between $60,000 and $200,000 a year. Of course this is in the private, for-profit sector, and these are individuals with a high degree of training in the field who work full-time. That said, another primary goal for our nonprofit is to begin compensating and more fully supporting the team that runs Pantsuit Nation. In addition to moderating our flagship Facebook group, managing our public social media platforms, coordinating our local chapters (also run by volunteers), and putting together our weekly Story+Action series, this team helped raise over $250,000 in 2016 for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. We hope to do much more in the coming months and years.
In 2017, we plan to create 3-5 full-time, paid positions, to fund small monthly stipends for our part-time volunteers, and to provide additional training for all of our staff – paid and unpaid – to better serve the Pantsuit Nation community and to do more of what I’ve outlined above. We estimate that these costs will account for the remaining 60% of our operating budget this first year. In addition to the money generated from sales of the book (see more below), our nonprofits will also need to raise money from other sources (individual donations, grants, or revenue from merchandise, for example) in the coming months to accomplish our goals.
How the proceeds from the book will be allocated
Again, these figures are based on market standards and don’t reflect any specific arrangements for this particular book (arrangements that are proprietary and protected by law), but they are nonetheless helpful guideposts when thinking about book publishing in general.
The retail price of the hardcover edition of the book is $27.99. Of that, about 10%, or $2.80 per book, goes to Pantsuit Nation. From that amount, about 35% ($1/book) will go to the cost of creating this book and getting it published – compensating the contributing writers and photographers and our literary agent, and covering some administrative costs (legal fees, my local print shop, a few part time assistants who have helped me get this book ready to publish in a very short amount of time, etc.). The remaining 65% (or $1.80/book) will go to Pantsuit Nation Foundation and the areas I’ve described above – about $.70/book to projects including developing our online archive and building partnerships with other progressive organizations to drive social and political change and $1.10/book to staff and training.
As is the case with the vast majority of traditionally published books, an advance payment against future royalties (i.e. the ~10% of revenue allocated to Pantsuit Nation) will be paid to us by the publisher (Flatiron Books). This upfront payment means that we can both cover the initial costs of creating the book as well as have some seed money go directly to our nonprofit for the above-listed projects. An advance essentially gives us the opportunity to borrow money from our own future earnings from the sale of the book instead of taking out loans at this early stage of our development as an organization. If total income from royalties exceeds the advance (if it “earns out”), Pantsuit Nation will continue to earn about $2.80 per copy, which will be directed almost entirely to Pantsuit Nation Foundation (as most of our upfront costs are covered by the advance). The advance also means that the publisher does not start earning money from the book right away, as their initial costs are all incurred long before their allocated revenue from the sale of each book surpasses that initial investment. It’s a leap of faith (grounded in market research and a deep understanding of how books sell), and I remain incredibly grateful to our publisher for taking that leap with Pantsuit Nation.
The other 90% (or roughly $25 per book) of the revenue goes to the bookseller (45-60%) and to the publisher (30-45%). Let’s assume for the sake of this post that 50% of the money goes to the bookseller and 40% to the publisher. This is a good thing.
We need bookstores and we need books. Let’s start with bookstores and their roughly $14 of revenue for each copy of Pantsuit Nation sold at the list price. (Again this is not an exact figure but an approximate representation. Retailers are free to discount the book at their discretion, which impacts only their percentage of the proceeds.) I’m not sure I need to make the case here, but independent bookstores are pretty amazing institutions. They are small businesses. They are often centers of community, conversation, and, in the Trump era, resistance. They employ people and keep money within local economies. They host events and promote literacy and celebrate a culture of reading. They are intellectual, hopeful, soulful places. They are the brick-and-mortar, face-to-face, IRL antidote to our often screen-saturated society. We need more of that. Now more than ever.
There are also chain bookstores and online retailers that are similarly important. They put a lot of books into a lot of people’s hands. They are accessible for a broad range of readers in a huge number of places (as someone who lives in rural Maine, I can attest to their importance in my life!). They are on college campuses and in airports, they ship to servicemen and women overseas and to the very remotest corners of our country, and they can be incredibly important for those with limited mobility or less financial flexibility. I’m proud that the book will support both local independent bookstores and the larger retailers.
The remaining $11 (roughly!) per book goes to the publishing house, which in turn is responsible for paying for the book to be printed (in this case, at a printer in the US, which, again, employs people and contributes to a book-reading economy), for marketing the book, and of course for compensating all of the people who worked on this book and others – from proofreaders to designers to production managers to editors. Some books earn publishing houses a profit, some do not. The books that are profitable allow publishing houses to publish books that are less likely to be so – books by lesser-known writers or in less traditionally profitable genres (for example: poetry, gender studies, and literary fiction). About 78% of the people who work in publishing in this country are women.
I also want to add that in addition to being businesses (which, in my opinion, contribute tremendously to a social good), individual booksellers and publishers almost always have a commitment to philanthropy. They donate money and books, provide educators and community leaders essential resources to do their work, and they are an integral part of the support network that allows artists to create art. Flatiron Books, our publisher, is no different. In addition to being available at independent bookstores, chain bookstores, online retailers, and in eBook format, you may also request a copy of Pantsuit Nation at your local library. Flatiron Books will be donating 1,000 copies of the book to libraries around the country.
While I realize I could have self-published Pantsuit Nation and potentially generated a higher percentage of revenue from sales for Pantsuit Nation Foundation, I believe that publishing houses are important institutions to support. I would also strongly argue that this book would not have turned out as engaging and powerful as it has if I had tried to do it without the expertise Flatiron has provided. It would not have been prepared for publication as quickly, nor would it have the same potential to be distributed as widely and to be read by as many people as possible, which is central to the mission of the book and Pantsuit Nation. We amplify historically marginalized voices through the power of collective storytelling, and few industries have more experience and ability to carry out that objective than traditional publishing.
The power of purchase
Buying a book, or making any purchase for that matter, is an action and therefore an opportunity to engage in activism. Whom and what you choose to support as a consumer – whether it’s a local farm, an emerging artist, a socially conscious brand, a newly-threatened publicly funded program, or any of the other thousands of worthy investments we all know and see around us each day – is one powerful way to make your voice heard and so is very much in line with the mission of Pantsuit Nation. I want readers of this book to understand where their money goes, but also to see that the book has the potential to accomplish much more than simply provide a source of revenue that is divvied up. I believe, wholeheartedly, that this book has the potential to inspire conversation and reflection, to change the hearts and minds of people who may have previously lacked the sense of urgency that many of us feel about the state of our country, and to be, as one book contributor wrote, “wind in the sails” for all those who are marching, protesting, lobbying, writing letters, making phone calls, and working to create change at every level of government. We can do both. We can contribute to a bookselling economy that is aligned with progressive goals while also being mission-driven.
Thanks for reading, Pantsuiters, and stay tuned for more information about events at independent bookstores this spring.