ASK THE AGENT: Paying Back Your Advance
Do authors ever have to pay back their advance? I mean, what if the advance is $5,000 but I only sell 2,000 books? Do I have to pay that back, or is that just the gamble that the publisher takes?
No, you don’t have to pay back your advance for lack of sales, or at least I’ve never seen such a case. Of course, everything is outlined in the author contract and I suppose it’s possible for a publisher to work that in (and the way things are going these days, it wouldn’t surprise me).
You’re right, it’s part of the risk the publisher takes on you. I say “part” because in actuality, your book is costing them a lot more than your advance. (See “How Much Does It Cost…“)
Just FYI, there are cases in which you have to pay back your advance, specified in the contract. This is usually if you don’t deliver your book on time or if it isn’t what you promised in your proposal. So read that contract carefully, deliver your book on time, and make sure it’s what the publisher is expecting.
And one more thing… because the finances of publishing are so difficult and risky, more of the smaller houses are doing away with advances and instead, offering “straight royalty” contracts. So you only make money if your book sells. I just got word that my former employer, NavPress, has gone the no-advances route. This isn’t the norm among the good sized publishers, but definitely a trend on the smaller end of things. No, I don’t like it either.