Ask the Agent: Advances
I’d like to know your perspective on advances. What is the average advance, in CBA versus ABA? How are advances paid out? Is an advance negotiable, and if so, to what degree?
It’s impossible to give an “average” advance in either CBA or ABA. They’re wildly all over the map depending on so many factors. In my first year agenting, I’ve done contracts for advances ranging from $1,000 all the way up to six figures. I haven’t found ABA advances to be a whole lot higher than CBA for comparable books, but it’s true the big New York houses can generally pay more than the smaller independent Christian houses. Of course, there are plenty of smaller, independent general-market (ABA) publishers who pay smaller advances, too.
While there’s no average, agents can usually look at a proposal and make a pretty good estimate about the range the advance will end up in. We look at who the author is, what kind of book it is, where it fits into the marketplace, and how much platform the author has. It becomes clear what kind of advance the book should attract.
Advances are usually paid out in either halves or thirds. The author gets the first portion upon signing the contract (within 30 days), the next portion after the manuscript is delivered and declared “accepted” for publication, and if there is a third portion, it’s due on publication of the book.
Most advances are negotiable, but that always depends on how much leverage we have. Are there other publishers interested? How excited about the book is the publisher? Is this book a perfect fit for the publisher? Is the book risky or more of a sure-thing? These and other factors determine how negotiable the advance is. On the lower end of the spectrum, particularly for first-time authors, a publisher may offer a small advance that’s basically “take it or leave it.” But as the value of the book goes up, and more publishers are interested, it generally becomes more negotiable.
(Of course, don’t forget there are many other aspects of a book deal that agents negotiate, looking out to get the most fair and favorable contract for their clients.)
The agent’s fee is usually 15% of the advance and royalties. In CBA, the standard practice is for the publisher to disburse two checks, one directly to author (85%) and the other to the agent. General market publishers normally send one check to the agent, who then turns around and sends the author their 85%.
Any other questions on advances?
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.