Author Advances: Is There Such Thing as Too Much?

moneyWhen an author gets a contract offer from a publisher, the first thing they want to know is, “How much?” And by that they mean, “What is the dollar amount of the advance they’re offering?”

Obviously, the standard way to view advances is, the more the better. Right?

Well, maybe… maybe not.

A large advance is a good thing because it means that no matter how many copies your book sells, you’ll receive at least that much money (minus your agent commission).

If we’re taking the short view—the “take the money and run” view—then this is a very good thing. If you’re an author who may not have books beyond this first contract, then getting as much money as possible up front is a great idea (from the author’s perspective).


If you’re taking the long view—the “I hope to make a career out of this” view—then whoa, doggie, not so fast. Let’s not be shooting for the biggest advance possible. Let’s shoot for a good advance—one that you can reasonably expect to earn out.

If you earn out your advance, and then sell far more copies above what’s needed to earn out, then some really great things happen:

  1. You’re a star in the eyes of your publisher, and they can’t wait to give you another contract.
  2. You get checks in the mail regularly—beyond the advance—that could turn into quite a nice little twice-annual revenue stream. At that point, trust me, you’ll be very happy you didn’t take it all up front.
  3. Not to put too fine a point on things, but come tax time, you’re going to be very happy as well. Paying taxes on a little income at a time (like with a smaller advance and then ongoing royalties) is MUCH easier than trying to pay taxes on a sudden six-figure windfall.

On the other hand, if you get a HUGE advance, with no evidence to show that your book will sell enough copies to merit it (save for the instincts of the publisher), you risk some unpleasant consequences:

  1. If you don’t earn out, your publisher is extremely reticent to contract you again. If they love you despite sales numbers that fell below expectations, they’ll contract you but with a significantly lower advance.
  2. You won’t see any checks along with those twice-yearly royalty statements. Depressing!
  3. You end up paying taxes on a huge amount of money up front. Ouch, painful!

It can be a better idea to negotiate for higher royalty rates when possible, because a higher royalty means you have the chance to make more money in the long run. You earn back your advance faster, and then the checks start coming sooner if you’ve earned out. Your royalty rate can make the difference between you earning, say, 80¢ per book sold or $1.00 per book or $1.20 per book. That makes a big difference in the long run. In my mind, it’s more important to make more per book than to worry excessively about how much of that you get “up front.”

So, my point is this. Trust your agent when they’re negotiating the advance. A good agent will try to get you the best advance possible while balancing it with a reasonable expectation of what you can earn out, so that you can become a star and build a successful long-term career as a writer.

Any thoughts on advances? Any questions for future posts?

Update: Based on the comments, I just want to clarify. I’m not talking about asking for a smaller advance up front. I’m talking about two things: (1) Accepting an advance that’s smaller than you’d hoped, and looking at the upsides of keeping it small as I’ve outlined here; and (2) Choosing to accept the advance the publisher offers (even if it’s smaller than hoped) rather than trying to negotiate it higher, and instead negotiating on other points that are more important to the author.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  20. Pamela Beason on September 5, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Interesting post. And I might have agreed before I understood how the publishing game is played. But let’s tell the truth–every author needs to know that she has no control over what happens to a manuscript after she delivers it. With most contracts, the publisher can simply decide not to publish it.

    Years ago, I accepted small advances for two general writing books from a big publisher because I counted on getting royalties for years. Surprise! The company sold that division/line of books, which was then sold twice more within a year, and finally the entire group of books was declared out of print without selling a single book. And no other publisher would touch them because they hadn’t sold. So I and all the other authors were simply (insert your favorite expletive here)because of the publishers’ decisions!!

    I am hoping for much better treatment from my new fiction publisher, Berkley, but basically, I say, get the money up front because you may NEVER see more.

    I’m also hedging my bets by doing both tradition and indie publishing. So I say, be hopeful but beware!

  21. Lauren F. Boyd on September 4, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    I like your POV on advances, Rachelle. Until I read your post, I never thought about smaller advances being a good thing – but it makes sense. That way, you earn your advance out sooner and it looks better to your publisher. Great point!

  22. […] Rachelle Gardner looks at the long and short term advantages/consequences of possible advances: […]

  23. John McClarren on August 29, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    Thanks once again, Rachelle, for a post full of wisdom. There were thoughts here that I had not considered. Immediate dollar signs should never take the highest priority. Great advice in this post.

  24. Belinda Frisch on August 28, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    BTW: Rachelle, thank you for countering Gawker’s commentary on agents with dollar signs in their eyes with the more realistic alternative; that you do, in fact, negotiate for the long haul. You’re a gem.

    As for the quitting the day job comments, I quit my day job for a less time-consuming part-time alternative to allow me to be serious about my writing. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have that flexibility. I count myself blessed.

  25. Belinda Frisch on August 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    Here’s a humorous, if not crass take on this same question. I’ve been thinking about this article for years, however, someone offering me too much money just hasn’t become a problem, yet 😉

  26. Dave Clark on August 28, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    As a published author who earned out with his first book, I agree with the long view. To me, the publisher (who really is the key to all this) has to be charmed by an author who promotes the book and earns out, and any agent involved should be likewise charmed. Plus, it’s fun to show off your baby to the whole wide world! You don’t know where the street meet & greet will lead you and that book. My only puzzlement is, how much does a track record of publication and earning out matter to an agent? I suspect some just won’t give a hoot, but others will see an author and client-in-waiting who’s marketing-savvy and a self-starter. I’d like to think that this economy requires that making a buck be the number one goal of most involved.

  27. Andy Ross on August 26, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    As a literary agent, I pretty much agree with Rachel. I have had some bad experiences where previous books by a client were awarded advances far in excess of their earnings. The publisher felt really burned and was reluctant to make an offer on a future book.

    It is my impression that Rachel and I are in the minority here. Most agents are looking for the biggest advance they can get for their client. In general more money sooner is better than less money later, but the devil is always in the details.

    Some agents will conduct auctions with multiple publishers and simply award the project to the publisher with the biggest advance, regardless of whether that publisher is the best home for the book. This is not a good.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 28, 2011 at 11:03 PM

      Andy, thanks for chiming in. I’m not sure how much of a minority we are, but to me, it makes sense to keep the long view in mind, if the author wants to make a career of writing.

  28. LM Milford on August 26, 2011 at 4:28 AM

    Hi Rachelle, a very interesting post! I’m definitely in it for the long haul, making a career out of fiction writing, but I’d never got as far as thinking about advances etc. It’s good to know a bit more about how it works.
    Another interesting comment was that you didn’t want authors to give up their day job for one book contract – I find it much more difficult to write when I’m exhausted/stressed out by my day job, would it not be better for a writer to be solely concentrating on writing? Is there a reason why you think it’s good for them to keep the 9-to-5? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 28, 2011 at 11:06 PM

      Only the tiniest fraction of writers can support themselves with writing alone. It’s really smart to give up your regular source of income until you have a steady stream of royalties coming in from your books. There are several reasons for this, but one of them is that your writing will suffer if you’re constantly stressed about money… about needing to make that next sale, that may or may not happen.

      • LM Milford on August 30, 2011 at 6:11 AM

        Thanks Rachelle. That’s good advice! I can see your point. Very interesting article.

  29. Nikole Hahn on August 25, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    I vote in favor of the long view of things…smaller over time than all at once. Hopefully that also makes taxes better to deal with, too.

  30. James Pinnick on August 23, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    Enjoy reading your blog Rachelle!

    Nice job on the interview today with Michael Hyatt!

    Regarding this post of advances, very interesting. Thanks for your information as always. 🙂

    James Pinnick
    Author of The Last Seven Pages

  31. Suzanne on August 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    Great advice, Rachelle. There’s a lot to think about in this post.

  32. Dustan on August 23, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    I’ve thought about this a ton. I personally would like a smaller advance for the very reasons you have mentioned above. I think pushing for a bigger advance would make me look like that guy who wants you to buy that vacuum cleaner NOW, before it’s too late, but when he leaves you realize the hose is busted and there’s cat hair in the filter.

    The dream of getting a ton of money fast always is alluring, but in the end it seems to be a bubble.

    It would be an interesting study to see how many authors with massive advances are still doing well with that money after a few months. I wonder if it’s like NFL players and lottery winners — where it vanishes as fast as it came in?

  33. Susan Bourgeois on August 23, 2011 at 11:40 AM


    After I read your new post today, I checked the comment section from yesterday.

    It’s funny because I was thinking the same thing about the same thing you mentioned in response to my comment.

    A good agent sees more on a daily basis and has a greater amount of experience that is directly related to these types of contracts.

    I have concerns in other areas that are related to the book.

    A book may be the base of a brand. A book may have great commerical appeal in other areas. There may be a great deal of diversification involved from one book.

    Do most agents have the ability to handle all that is involved in protecting the rights of the author in additional areas?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 28, 2011 at 11:08 PM

      Susan, this is what agents do. We protect our author’s rights. It’s not the glamourous or visible part of the job, but the most important part.

  34. Dave Morris on August 23, 2011 at 4:26 AM

    Large advances usually result from bidding wars, and the problem there is that you end up going with the publisher who bids highest rather than the one who has the best vision for your book. After 25 years in the business I’d rather go with the publisher who gets what I’m trying to do, regardless of advance.

    But there is something to be said for a really whopping advance, which is that it’s the best possible way to communicate to everybody at the publisher that this is a book they really need to get behind. You know how you can have an editor who really champions the book and then marketing totally fail to get it? The zeroes on that advance check are a pretty good way of making sure that everybody brings their best game: “We’re into this book for over fifty thou, so we better make it work.”

    Anyway, the over-generous advance is a problem we should all have at least once in our writing careers 🙂

  35. Sara Schaffer on August 23, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    As a new and aspiring author with one contract, I appreciate your wisdom, Rachelle! Thanks for pointing us on the narrow though long and more challenging road. I know the rewards are more real and satisfying on this journey!

  36. Alison on August 22, 2011 at 11:43 PM

    This is one of the many reasons I want an agent. A very informative post, Rachelle.


  37. Mary Vensel White on August 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM

    I must say, this is certainly a crucial post for most of the aspiring writers visiting this blog. How to make sure you don’t get too high of an advance. This situation will surely arise countless times among the ranks of those writers just hoping to get read and/or published. I mean, how many times do we see the unpublished author’s eyes blur over at the sight of riches, foresaking common sense for mere financial security? Thanks for addressing this serious problem.

  38. Beth MacKinney on August 22, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    First, if I had a decent agent to go to bat for me, I’d be grateful no matter what happened. Agents know more about contracts, etc., than I do, and I’d be thrilled NOT to have to be the one negotiating.

    Second, I’d take a smaller advance and a better royalty rate any day of the week. Having freelanced, it’s a much better situation tax-wise. Also, I don’t think I’d like the pressure that would come with the high advance without any kind of certainty of amazing sales to support it.

  39. Robert Michael on August 22, 2011 at 7:01 PM


    Thank you again for reminding us why we authors need to team with an agent! We would be lost without your professionalism, talents and connections. We appreciate your advice and your direction. It is wonderful that you and your clients offer this service to unpublished authors.

  40. Martha Ramirez on August 22, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    This is great info. Thank you, Rachelle!

  41. Sylvia A. Nash on August 22, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    This, for me, was not only an informative piece but a reassuring one as well.

    When published writers talk about huge advances as if they are the norm, it makes me want to think that if I didn’t receive a huge advance, the publisher didn’t think much of my book.

    In reality, how many new authors receive “huge” advances? I know some do, but for most of the publishers whose guidelines I’ve read and who actually tell their typical advance, that advance is seldom what I would call huge ($10,000 would be huge to me).

    While I wouldn’t expect a six-figure advance, it would be important to me to receive an advance large enough to help me promote the book so sales could be higher than expected.

    I look forward to having this dilemma.

  42. Terri on August 22, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    At a conference a well-known midlister talked about his first book, pubbed 20 years ago.

    The publisher threw money at him. He admits, the advance was HUGE. While the book did very well for a newbie (something like 400K) copies, it didn’t earn out its, frankly, unwarranted advance. His next several books were solid midlisters, but no home runs.

    Now, we have a good news/bad news situation. That advance was the basis of a lifetime of financial security. This writer wasn’t a kid and he didn’t blow it. He took care of it. So, good news.

    However, his relationship with the publisher soured quickly and, even though he isn’t the one who signed the check, he got an industry rep of being “difficult to work with.” He more or less dropped out of writing for a while. He’s now back with a new agent and a new publisher and pubbing one book a year in a new series. They are mass-market PBs and doing solidly well.

    So, in his case, his career suffered from not being able to live up to someone else’s unattainable expectations. On the flip side, I wouldn’t mind having his problem . . . ( :

  43. Jaime Wright on August 22, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Small or big, I wouldn’t quit my day job. Partially, because I feel I would need to be well-established in the publishing world to risk that for my family, and secondly because my boss buys the kind of gourmet coffee I can’t afford. 🙂

    Do debut authors actually RECEIVE large advances? I was under the impression/assumption that publishers wanted to grow with the author rather than take a giant leap forward. Regardless, I’d prefer a smaller advance and grow with the industry. But all in all, I’d lean on the Lord and my agent’s wisdom and guidance.

  44. Lisa Hall-Wilson on August 22, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    Great post. Thanks for the insight. I had one published author tell me they (they published with a smaller CBA house) ask the publisher for a portion of their royalty advance in books that they turn around and sell at speaking engagements, etc. Is that common or advisable?

    Also, a question for another day (perhaps you’ve answered it in another post already) but if you have the chance to pitch to an agent face to face, are your chances better than with a cold pitch via email? Do you have an edge by attending a conference or are all queries given the same weight?

  45. Brianna on August 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    From a tax perspective, I definitely would prefer to take smaller amounts of money. Besides, no matter what the amount, it’s going to be more than I was earning before the advance, so that’s good.

  46. Tina Forkner on August 22, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    This is a great post, Rachelle. Your point is one more reason why authors need to hold out for the best agent.

    I love your blog more all the time!


  47. Karen on August 22, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    This is good advice! I do have a question.
    Why is it that many editors/publishers repeat the mantra of Show Don’t Tell? Yet when I read books they’ve published, even recent ones, I see so much that is just “telling” and can’t help but see all the passive voice verbs. What am I supposed to think?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 25, 2011 at 10:43 AM

      You are supposed to think that no matter what, you should hold yourself to the highest standard and write the best book you can.

      Some people are such good storytellers that their books “work” even when they sometimes break the “rules.”

      And many published books aren’t very good.

      Doesn’t matter… keep learning to tell a good story.

  48. Taz on August 22, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    A noteworthy post indeed. Tell me, is it wrong for me to not be worried about the money? Don’t get me wrong, of course the worker is worth his wages. At the end of the day, for me payment/advances whether high or low would simply be a bonus to doing something I love (like my normal, regular ‘day’ job, which I will not be giving up in any way shape or form because I love that equally as much – a job where I get paid ‘at the end’).

  49. Michelle DeRusha on August 22, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Rachelle, I would happily leave this kind of negotiating in your hands. Fanagling over money has never been my strong suit.

  50. J M Cornwell on August 22, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    Semi-annual royalties? What happened to quarterly royalties? My contract is for quarterly royalties that I get maybe once a year, but then my publisher doesn’t stick too closely to the contract terms.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:32 AM

      Your publisher is unique, both in the quarterly royalties (few pubs do that) and in not adhering to their own contract terms (most publishers are pretty good about that).

  51. Cynthia Robertson on August 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Hi Rachel,
    Is it possible that the publisher will try harder to promote a book that the publisher has paid a higher advance on? Since they are (possibly) concerned about earning back that money? Wouldn’t a publisher be more anxious to pump out publicity on a book with a larger advance?
    Just wondering.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:31 AM

      See my answer to Emy Shin, above. Basically, the publisher has an idea of how successful a book will be, and they create both their advance offer and their marketing budget accordingly.

      They don’t heavily promote a book “to cover a large advance.” They heavily promote a book they think will benefit from that promotion and sell a lot of copies.

  52. Colin Smith on August 22, 2011 at 10:47 AM


    Very interesting post, and not something I’d considered (not that I’m at the point of having to consider it… yet). I have a question. If the publisher offers a large advance, can it not appear to the publisher that the author hasn’t much confidence his/her work will sell if he asks for less of an advance, or is the strategy you advocate widely appreciated in the publishing industry?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      Like I said above, we don’t ask for a smaller advance. But we may choose to simply accept the advance they offer without trying to negotiate it higher.

      • Colin Smith on August 22, 2011 at 12:56 PM

        Thanks for the response. Makes sense.

  53. Neil Ansell on August 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    Regarding taxation – the advance doesn’t come in one go, in my case it came in 4 instalments – signing the contract, delivering the manuscript, hardback publication and paperback publication – thus spread over 3 tax years, which reduced the tax burden considerably. Here at least, you can also apply to have your income averaged for tax purposes if you are a writer and get a large sum one year and nothing the next.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      Correct, advances are paid in 2, 3, or 4 installments. But it’s common for most or all of it to still occur in the same tax year. So with a large advance, it can be a difficult tax burden. Just something to think about.

  54. Nancy S. Thompson on August 22, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    I’d give anything to have that dilemma!

  55. Jordan Wiklund on August 22, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    This is wonderful to hear, and something I don’t think many young writers anticipate while dreaming of their first book in print. Thanks for a great summary of an all-too-often overlooked aspect of royalty publishing.

  56. Susan Bourgeois on August 22, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    I think this is a case where you have to trust your agent’s expertise. That’s why we form relationships with good agents, they know the business.

    I would also have an attorney look over any contract involved.

    It comes down to common sense.

    All of the points Rachelle mentioned are worth noting and much appreciated.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:25 AM

      Susan, any literary agent who knows what they’re doing will know MUCH more about that publishing contract than 99% of attorneys out there.

      It’s not about confusing legalese or understanding law in general. It’s all about understanding how publishing works. Most attorneys who see a publishing contract tend to redline all the things that don’t really affect an author in the long run. They usually don’t know how to protect an author’s rights because they don’t understand the many situations in which an author could get taken advantage of. You would need an attorney whose practice is focused on the world of publishing. And this is hard to find.

      If you had an agent, you wouldn’t need to worry about getting an attorney. Contracts are what we do.

  57. David Todd on August 22, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    I think I’d be happy with NO advance, and just take my chances with royalties. Not a good situation for the agent, however.

  58. ericavetsch03 on August 22, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    I think one of the key points here is to trust and work with your agent. The agent has a better idea of what is a reasonable advance in the marketplace and with that particular publisher and what would be best in the long run for an author’s career.

  59. Krista Phillips on August 22, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    Totally agree on all points!!!

  60. Wendy on August 22, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    Good to know. Makes perfect sense. Now I’ll be singing about Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue all day. 😀
    ~ Wendy

  61. Sue Harrison on August 22, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Thank you for this very informative post, Rachelle.

    I’ve had some nice advances on my novels, and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly that can result. (The ugly is when people you know ask you to buy them new cars, pay off their loans, etc.) I would opt for the higher royalty rate almost without exception.

  62. Laura Pauling on August 22, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Okay, I could be totally off. But does a much lower advance b/t 5-10K mean that the publisher won’t be putting as much promotional efforts into you. Meaning they’ll give you a try but they aren’t expecting much?

    • Marcy Kennedy on August 22, 2011 at 11:56 AM

      Check the reply to Emy Shin 🙂 ^^

      I was wondering about that too, so I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  63. Peter DeHaan on August 22, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    Taking this to the extreme, I’ve wondered if opting for no advance and the largest possible royalty rate would have merits. The publisher’s risk would be minimized and I would have greater potential for an ongoing reward.

    While I think the publisher would view this positively, the agent would need to buy into it too, since their compensation would also be delayed.

  64. Jessica Nelson on August 22, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    I know I’ll never get a big advance but as long as my royalties are good, i”m happy. lol One of my best friends just got a HUGE advance on a two book deal (totaling three figures) and I’m hoping, hoping she’ll earn it out. She’s an amazing writer though so I think she’ll do great, plus the pub plans to back her books in a big way.
    Great points in this post. Thanks!

    • Jessica Nelson on August 22, 2011 at 7:35 AM

      LOL I mean six figures. *slaps forehead*

  65. otin on August 22, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    Boy would I love to be at the point where someone was talking to me about contracts and advances. Not for the sake of the money, but more for the sake of being published.

  66. Col Bury on August 22, 2011 at 6:52 AM

    I’m with you on this. Sound advice, as ever. Thank you, Rachelle


  67. Jane Holland on August 22, 2011 at 5:35 AM

    I had a HUGE advance for my first historical fiction series, the first of which THE QUEEN’S SECRET is due out with Transworld in March under the pen-name Victoria Lamb. I had some qualms about the amount, but have tried to navigate through the ‘they won’t touch you again if it doesn’t sell out’ problem by writing more (i.e. other) books in the wait between contract and publication, and hoping that a few more contracts under my belt will spread the load. So if one series doesn’t work out, I have others already contracted by the time we discover that!

    This won’t work for everyone, I realise, as I tend to write very fast and am lucky to have an agent who doesn’t mind me writing in different genres. (Many do mind, sadly.) But it’s worth considering if you get into the situation and have time to play the field.

  68. marion on August 22, 2011 at 5:17 AM

    Very practical.
    Thanks, Rachelle!

  69. Neil Ansell on August 22, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    I am in the UK, where the market is a bit smaller, but because my book proposal went to auction (it was narrative non-fiction) I still received enough that I could spend a year writing the book without worrying about needing any other income (though my agent said that pre-recession I would probably have been offered twice as much.)
    I did not however take the largest offer, and took a contract with a publisher I liked for a single book. Some of the other publishers were offering a lot more for a two book deal, but it was a lot less than twice as much and I felt that in principle I should earn more for subsequent books if the first book sold well (which it has done.)

  70. Ishta Mercurio on August 22, 2011 at 3:50 AM

    Thank you for posting this, Rachelle! I agree completely: I’d much rather have higher royalties and be getting royalty cheques than get a huge advance and then not earn out.

    I’m wondering how often you suggest to your clients that they ask for a smaller advance and try to negotiate a higher royalty rate? Does this happen often, or just a small percentage of the time? I’m also wondering if a marketing plan on the part of the publisher is ever a part of the negotiations, or if the publisher decides that without the input of the author and her agent?

    Thanks again!

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:19 AM

      Never. We NEVER “ask for a smaller advance.”

      We simply choose to accept the advance that’s offered, rather than try to negotiate it higher, and instead negotiate on other terms that are more important to the author.

  71. Rachna Chhabria on August 22, 2011 at 3:31 AM

    Hi Rachelle…In India the system of huge advances doesn’t exist. Its royalty cheques( at the end of each financial year) that we get. As I am hoping to get an agent abroad, this post was very informative. Thanks for clearing my illusion that a huge advance would be a good thing.

  72. Pen and Ink on August 22, 2011 at 3:27 AM

    Advances are nice, but I just read my contract. If the book doesn’t do as well as the publisher hopes, they are within their rights to ask for some of the advance back. This is a picture book, so the advance is smaller. I don’t plan to quit my day job. Maybe when Second Chances sell, but you know…. they give you an advance and then it’s two or more years till the book come out and starts earning back the advance. Once piece of advice: Pay the government right away. That way you won’t spend money that they are going to ask for at tax time. And don’t even THINK of filing a Schedule C that shows a loss for your writing income. It’s a guaranteed audit.

    • Sherri on August 22, 2011 at 8:48 AM

      I wondered about this,as advances seem like such a huge financial risk for a publisher. If you receive an advance should you just save it until your book earns it out and be prepared to return it to the publisher, or is that a rare occurrence? Do you know if any instances where this has happened? Would it typically be on a really large advance?

      This is not an issue for me yet, but you know I like to be prepared! 🙂

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:18 AM

      Pen & Ink: I certainly hope you understood that clause before signing your contract! Personally, I would have negotiated to the ends of the earth to avoid that clause. What it really means is this: “We’ll give you the money, but don’t dare spend it, because we might want it back.” That’s not a good way to do business as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather take NO advance, and simply wait for royalties, then take an advance I might have to return.

  73. Nancy Kimball on August 22, 2011 at 3:02 AM

    Since the question you posed, a million dollars or a million readers, I view advances and royalties in a very different way now.

    I want to be traditionally published, but I would rather take a very modest advance that earns out quickly. With a debut novel it is most important for me to build readership, and that remains priority one.

  74. Marji Laine on August 22, 2011 at 2:07 AM

    I read on a publishing blog, wish I could remember which one, that a publisher might require part of a large advance to be returned if the book sales didn’t cover it.

    The article also went on to explain that a multiple-book contract might require the advance to be covered before making profit on a second or third book.

    Are those practices really done?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:15 AM

      Marji, on your first point: A publishing contract certainly could require part of an advance to be paid back, but as an agent I always try to avoid any contractual stipulation for an author to write a check to a publisher (barring actual breach of contract). Most of the large and reputable publishers don’t have this in their contracts; it has always been accepted that the advance is a risk the publisher takes.

      On your second point, yes, publishers sometimes cross-collateralize. This means an author wouldn’t begin receiving royalty checks over and above the advance until the entire advance on that contract has been earned out.

  75. Kate Larkindale on August 22, 2011 at 1:55 AM

    I’d be happy with a smaller advance if it meant I was more likely to be contracted for more books. It would be awful to get that foot in the door only to have it slam closed because of poor sales and a too big advance. Baby steps….

  76. Keli Gwyn on August 22, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    I’d feel more comfortable with a reasonable advance, one the publisher thinks I’ll be able to earn out fairly quickly. If I received a huge advance, I’d feel so much pressure to earn out that I’m afraid it could lead to spending more time on marketing and promotion than on writing my next book.

  77. Sally Apokedak on August 22, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    I can definitely see the wisdom in opting for a smaller advance. I wonder how many authors are able to do that, though (how many have the nerves of steel it would require). Do you know any writers who asked for a smaller advance than what the publisher was offering?

    Whatever the advance, it seems like we have one good shot to publish and sell well. If the first book doesn’t do well, we may find ourselves treading water, trying to stay afloat…forward momentum lost. So I think it would be good to at least invest a big chunk in marketing the book, if you can’t bring yourself to turn down the big advance.

    Ah, wouldn’t it be nice to have to make such decisions for real?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 11:08 AM

      Sally, it’s usually not a matter of asking for a smaller advance. It’s more often a matter of needing to accept the smaller advance that is initially offered, looking at the upsides that I’ve outlined in this post. In other words, I’m not advocating going to the publisher and saying “We want a small advance!” I’m encouraging authors to accept that many advances are on the smaller side, but there are good reasons to be okay with it.

  78. Emy Shin on August 22, 2011 at 12:37 AM

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

    I’ve heard agents and authors warned against large advances for the reasons you’ve listed. However, I wonder if large advances are advantageous due to the huge marketing that is (almost) guaranteed to come with them? Wouldn’t it benefit authors, debut authors specifically, to receive large marketing pushes from their publishers?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 1:08 AM

      Emily, while a larger advance is often correlated with a larger marketing budget, it’s not a matter of causation. That is, a publisher doesn’t decide to devote more money to marketing because they gave the book a big advance. Rather, when they have a book they believe has tremendous potential, they may offer a bigger advance and they may also devote more to marketing. One doesn’t cause the other; both are caused by the sales potential of the book.

      It follows, then, that if the author declined the large advance and went with a smaller one, the potential of the book wouldn’t change. If the publisher was planning a big marketing push, that wouldn’t go away just because the author took a smaller advance.

  79. Robert Michael on August 22, 2011 at 12:29 AM

    Would it be better for an author to establish up front a minimum advance amount in order to use it as a negotiation point? For example: the author and agent work together to agree that a $10,000 advance would be sufficient to cover the bare expenses of the time spent crafting the manuscript and marketing it. This is done in order to negotiate a higher royalty rate, better copyrights, future royalties on film rights, foriegn rights, reprints, electronic distribution, etc.

    Obviously, the author (and the agent) are taking a risk that the manuscript will pay out in royalties and possibly garner attention for film or foriegn distribution. Does the lower advance really pan out in negotiation like that? I understand that every publisher, every agent and every manuscript is different, but as a general rule?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 12:51 AM

      Robert, we can negotiate a contract in any number of ways. Whether the publisher wants to play, that’s a different story. The agent will base their strategy on not only what the author wants, but what they already know about the offering publisher.

  80. Michael Seese on August 22, 2011 at 12:26 AM

    I think a lot depends on your personal situation. If you’re trying to break out of the day job “habit,” a large advance could give the comfort level to quit the 9 – 5 job so that you could focus on the writing. If you’re a full-time writer, then the advance might not be such an incentive.

    However, I completely agree with the notion of opting for a higher royalty rate, if possible. After all, assuming you believe in your own book, you should believe that it will sell well. (Admittedly, there are a number of factors outside of your control which can impact sales.) And if it sells well, as Rachelle said, in the long run it should pay better.

    My $0.03.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 22, 2011 at 12:44 AM

      Michael, I’ve addressed this on the blog before… but as an agent, I always hope authors aren’t planning to quit their day jobs after only one book contract.

      • Lisa Marie on August 22, 2011 at 7:35 PM

        An advance, big or small, wouldn’t let me quit my day job. However, I’d be able to cut down the hours I spend working for clients that don’t thrill me and focus my efforts on those that do. Having done the math, an advance would actually let me pursue a regular day job; I wouldn’t mind making less $/hour than I do as a freelance writer, and it sure would be nice to have health insurance benefits that I don’t have to pay for myself! 🙂

      • Michael Seese on August 22, 2011 at 11:50 PM

        Wise words, Rachelle. To clarify…

        If you’re like me–three young ones and (not to boast) a fairly well paying job–then I asbolutely agree. It would take an advance of about a gazillion dollars for me to quit. But if you have no commitments and your work (no offense to anyone) does not pay that well, then an advance of four or five years’ worth of living expenses (which is within reason) might make it worth taking a chance, if you spent that time promoting your book feverishly, and writing the follow up arduously.

    • Adam Heine on August 22, 2011 at 3:25 AM

      Actually, if I were going to quit my day job, I’d prefer to have a semi-regular royalties check coming in, rather than a large advance that may or may not ever be repeated.

      (I know nothing’s regular with royalties, but once you’ve gotten a few years’ worth, and put a couple more books on the backlist, I think you could almost start to count on it.)