More on Advances

Shelli asked: in your experience – what is the average advance $ amount? debuts vs others?

I think it’s misleading and unhelpful to talk about “average” advances. All that matters is your advance. If your advance is far below the average, you’ll be bummed and it will take some of the joy away from getting your book deal. If it’s far above the average, hopefully you’ll be grateful but you also run the risk of getting smug or thinking you’re all that.

Advances vary widely depending on what kind of book, which publisher buys it, and the size of the author platform.

A typical first-timer advance might be $15,000 per book. As a new agent, I’ve sold 26 books (mostly debut authors) with total advances for all of them adding up to $504,000. If you average that out, it comes to $19,384 per book. But that’s meaningless to authors who received advances of $5,000 or less and those who made $50,000 or more.

It’s even less helpful to talk about “average” advances for experienced authors. It depends again on genre as well as your previous sales. If you’re a NYT bestselling author, the picture is quite different than if you’re selling 20,000 copies of each book.

A publisher will pay the advance they think your particular book merits. Many publishers offer the advance they hope your book will earn back in the first six to twelve months after publication. Many books don’t earn out their advances at all. But if you don’t earn back your advance in the first year, your publisher might not be falling all over themselves to publish you again.

When your agent is shopping your book, you can ask them what their expectation is for your particular advance. It’s a tough question, because things always seem to surprise us in this business, no matter how long we’ve been in it. But at least you’d probably get an idea of whether your book is good for a few thousand dollars or six figures, or something in between.

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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  5. Cassandra Frear on September 10, 2009 at 11:38 AM

    >Rachelle –

    You are absolutely right about the need for an agent and the need to make sure that the agent receives an appropriate (and well-deserved) salary for their work! I couldn't agree more.

    I was just wondering, with the down turn in the economy, and the current situation in publishing, if new authors ever waived the percentage of the advance they would personally receive, while ensuring that the agent retained theirs. I am intensely practical. I know that every new author's first book is really an experiment. The market is changing so rapidly that this is only MORE true, not less.

    Your answer is that we don't want to do that because, as authors, we don't want to devalue our work at the outset. Instead, we want to find a publisher who believes heartily in its value. My husband, who is a newspaper editor and has worked in the publishing field, had a thoughtful response, too. The end result — the book selling well — is the key, rather than the size of the advance. Quality writing will nearly always have a market and be worthy of an advance.

    I like your point about treating our work with respect. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question so thoughtfully, with tact and wisdom.

  6. CKHB on September 10, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    >Rachelle, that's what I suspected… THANK YOU for answering!

  7. jimnduncan on September 10, 2009 at 8:56 AM

    >I'm of the mind that lower advances are a better bet for debut authors. While I'll be the first to admit that a big advance would be great, the point is, one isn't going to get (99% of the time) an advance big enough to live off of and write. At least with a family of four children it's not happening. You want to be able to earn out. If it's a career you have in mind, the publisher has to make money with your books, pure and simple. It doesn't matter how much an editor loves your books. If you lose them money you're gone.

    I recently received a book deal. The advance is modest, even small by typical 'big house' standards. I have standard royalty rates. If my book does well, I'll make the money. Of course it's spread out over time, but I get it and that's what counts. I don't consider it a sign of lack of faith because the advance isn't huge. It's security on the publisher's part. They want it to do well, and will do as much as they can within their financial contraints to do so. As will I. I'm good with it. I want a career in writing. They want me to have a career to. If I do well so do they. We're in business together, and dumpbing a big advance in my lap does little more than unnecessarily raise their risk and put added pressure on me to do well.

    New authors, don't sweat the advance. Do well and build a career and it will come. That's my plan and I'm going to do my damnedest to get there.

  8. Rachel Starr Thomson on September 10, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >J.R. — he does sound bitter (one commenter said "borderline hysterical"). But sometimes the bitter have things to teach us ;).

    Rachelle — thanks very much for your response. I came away from his post still feeling pro-advance, but also feeling VERY pro-agent–this is one more reason why a savvy agent with an eye on a writer's overall career and not just on a single book is such an asset.

  9. Henya on September 10, 2009 at 7:01 AM

    >I wouldn't mind getting a 1,000 just to see myself published.

    Thanks for all your help.

  10. Rachelle on September 9, 2009 at 10:38 PM

    >CKHB – generally the "very nice" refers to the total deal.

  11. CKHB on September 9, 2009 at 8:42 PM

    >Oh, I have an advance question! When the PW listing says that two or more books have been sold in, say, a "very nice" deal, does that mean that the TOTAL deal fell into the "very nice" category, or that EACH BOOK went for a "very nice" amount?

  12. Krista Phillips on September 9, 2009 at 6:21 PM

    >Difference between a home mortgage and a writer's advance:

    Mortgage: Gotta pay or foreclose, basically it's debt that MUST be repaid
    Advance: Guaranteed… if you don't earn it out, you don't pay it back.
    Mortgage: You have to pay interest
    Advance: You put that baby in a savings account and you earn interest… not pay it.

    But I TOTALLY get the idea of a modest advance. Too small and the author is at risk, too big and the publisher is.

    WOOHOO for agents who know all this stuff in and out! It's frustrating when people ask me, "So, how much would you make off a book if you publish it?"

    My answer: *shrug* It isn't like there's a salary grade or something! And since when do we go around broadcasting our income to the world anyway?

    That said… I think most first time authors will say about the same… I'll be happy with what I can get! AFTER I get sales on my belt, that's when I'll have more expectations.

  13. Elizabeth on September 9, 2009 at 4:44 PM

    >does an agent ever suggest a lower advance than the editor offers–if the agent is concerned about not earning out?

  14. Mariana on September 9, 2009 at 3:48 PM

    >Very reasonable post Rachelle. I've read a few articles on that, like this series of posts, and it seems that a six figure advance is more dangerous to a debut author than benefic.

    However, personally I'd prefer working hard on a platform and later on the marketing efforts, in order to secure a high advance with good (or more than good) sales.

    Always aim high and build your way through your goal with reasonable expectations and intermediary goals, that's my motto.

  15. Tamara Hart Heiner on September 9, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    >I thought I left a comment earlier but I guess it didn't post!

    I think advances are wonderful. But there are those of us who accept publishing deals from small presses with no advances. While I would have loved to receive an advance, hopefully I will make the same amount in royalties.

    I don't mind it this way. I feel I am earning my keep.

  16. Novice Writer Anonymous on September 9, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    >Thanks for the great post, Rachelle! It's a good gut-check reality-crasher that I think people might need every once in a while. (Which is not a dig on anyone who's commented. I'm just saying that everyone needs a dose of reality sometimes in whatever endeavor they pursue.)

    Thanks again.

  17. Lydia Sharp on September 9, 2009 at 11:47 AM

    >But if you don't earn back your advance in the first year, your publisher might not be falling all over themselves to publish you again.

    This makes perfect sense. Thank you for being so direct. Excellent post.

  18. Eric von Mizener on September 9, 2009 at 11:15 AM

    >Don't sweat your advance. Sure, it's good to understand the business of publishing, and about advances. But while we know about the wolves, let us be as innocent as sheep.

    My responsibility is to serve God. One of the ways I do that (hopefully) is through my writing. But God gives the increase. Most Christian writers of the past 2000 years received no payment in this life. Few would have even accepted it.

    That said, I would love to be able to write and speak for a living. That's my will. Now God will show me His.

  19. Timothy Fish on September 9, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    >I have my reasons for not liking advances even while I consider that they may be in the author’s best interests. In general, I look at them like a home mortgage. On paper, I can see where having a mortgage can be better, but I would rather have the house paid for. With an advance, I can see where it might be a good thing, but I would be a nervous wreck until the book earned out.

  20. Rachelle on September 9, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >Cassandra Frear — If you're publishing without an agent, you're free to do what you like about your advance. But publishing companies don't need your charity.

    Are you hoping your offer would persuade them to turn their initial "no" to a "yes"? Not a good plan. You want a publisher who wants to publish and promote your book.

    Some legitimate publishers are moving into various models of co-publishing, in which the author waives an advance. It's fine if you want to go this route, but you'll most likely be doing it without an agent.

  21. Rachelle on September 9, 2009 at 10:11 AM

    >Jm Diaz — In some ways, royalty rates are indeed more important than the advance, and that's why they're one of the main things an agent will negotiate for you. The royalty rate determines how much money you will make per book sold, regardless of how much of it you receive in an advance versus how much you get on the back end.

  22. Rachelle on September 9, 2009 at 10:09 AM

    >Rachel & Reesha — the trend is toward smaller advances that authors and publishers can recoup. I'm not an advocate of a no-advance system. With every author, I try to negotiate the best advance for their book, while still being reasonable and hopefully something they can earn out. If I want my authors to have good long-term career potential, it doesn't make sense to push for advances so high they won't recoup them. But it also never makes sense to undervalue an author and not get them the advance they deserve.

  23. J. R. McLemore on September 9, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    >Rachelle, thank you for the insight about advances. I'll just be glad to let my ms out into the world, much less have an agent or publisher express interest in it.

    @Rachel, thank you for posting the link to that other blog. I must say, that guy sounds bitter, but he made a couple of interesting points. I, too, would like to hear Rachelle's opinion of it. After reading both blogs, I still have questions. 🙁

  24. Cassandra Frear on September 9, 2009 at 10:04 AM

    >I have been wondering about something. Do unpublished authors ever waive their advance on their first book — as a gesture of goodwill and diplomacy? Is there a way to do that, without looking unprofessional?

    I am serious about this question. I have been thinking a lot about this. It's not a joke.

  25. Dara on September 9, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >If I got more than 10K advance I'd faint. I guess I never expected much more than that for a first novel, but I'd be ecstatic if I did!

  26. Reesha on September 9, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >Ooooh, good point, Rachel. Thanks for the link.

    I'd like to hear your opinion on that, Rachelle.

    And thanks for pointing out the obvious no matter how much I wanted to ignore it: stats from other writers' advances don't help me. Too much. They help me dream, which sometimes is worth it.

  27. Jm Diaz on September 9, 2009 at 9:22 AM

    >Maybe I'm off track here, but I'm more interested in royalties gains, based on sales than on the first time advance. Sure, It'd be nice, but I too believe it can do more harm than good. Until I'm in the NYT best selling list, that is.

  28. Rachel Starr Thomson on September 9, 2009 at 8:07 AM

    >You note that "If you don't earn back your advance in the first year, your publisher might not be falling over themselves to publish you again." Yesterday I read this article, "Just Say 'NO!' to Your Advance," , which takes that truth to its (logical?) extreme — arguing that a large advance is absolute death to a first-time author. The author is obviously not pro-traditional publishing. As you're on the other side of the publishing fence, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

  29. Lisa Jordan on September 9, 2009 at 7:02 AM

    >Thank you for this realistic discussion about advances. Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment. I told my husband last night not to expect us to be rolling in dough when my book sells. That's not how the writing world operates.

  30. Andrew on September 9, 2009 at 5:01 AM

    >I think that maybe the size of advance we may get falls under God's 'need to know' policy. As first-timers (I think many of us in this community are in that category), we need to keep our eyes fixed elsewhere, and not think we can afford to put out low-end writing because all we really expect is a low-end advance.

    Kind of like a place I've been – asking a doctor (at the Mayo clinic)'How long have I got?'

    He didn't answer directly, only said, "Long-term, 30%."

    If he'd given me a time frame, I would have constrained my thinking to fit that span of months or years. Instead he gave me odds – knowing that as a gambler I would give it my best shot to try to beat the House.

    Well, I'm still here. And I'll keep writing, trying to beat the House.

  31. Kim Kasch on September 9, 2009 at 1:31 AM

    >OHHhhh but I'd love the chance to be smug and think I'm all that – at least for a little while 😉