Wanna Make More Money?

I’ve noticed there’s a perception among writers that if you want a bigger advance, you need to go ABA (as opposed to CBA).* Sometimes when I’m talking to possible clients, they ask me if I think maybe their book should be shopped with the NY publishers. When I ask for their reasoning, it’s usually to get a higher advance.

I’ve been doing as much research as I can on this, and certainly advances are hard to pin down, but there’s a lot of evidence that first-time novelist advances are comparable in ABA & CBA. One source cites the median first-novel advance amongst secular writers as $5,000. I’d have to say that’s on par with Christian publishing.**

But here’s something interesting. The same source cites the following statistic:

8 Median advance for agented novel: $6,000

8 Median advance for unagented novel: $3,500

I said on Friday that an agent can usually get you enough additional advance to make up for their 15% commission, and it seems the statistics bear this out.

Make of it what you will…

* By “ABA” I’m talking about mainstream secular publishers, while “CBA” is the catch-all term for Christian publishing.

**One of my sources is here.

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!


  1. Anonymous on March 10, 2008 at 6:36 PM

    >I think the reason authors prefer an ABA publisher is pretty clear. Let’s run your numbers on a 24.95 hardback. (Rounded up to 25.00) The ABA author at the lowest royalty rate gets 2.50 (.10* 25.00)per book. The CBA author at the higher 16% rate gets 2.00 (12.50 *.16).
    That’s bad enough, but suppose some buyer gets ahold of the salesman and twists his arm. The publisher’s much more likely to cut the price knowing the author participates…whether they want to or not!

    My conclusion? The ABA author is so focussed on getting their message out so they can save souls that they don’t care if they’re adequately compensated. I read one woman’s blog where she said her message is so important that if she couldn’t find a publisher, she self-publish and give her books away. Talk about being ripe for explotation.

    I’d love to see Joel Osteen’s contract, or Rick Warren’s, or any of the other heavy hitters.

    You hear about the best selling authors producing enough cash flow to support the new and low midlist writers. Perhaps, but it looks to me like things work the other way around in the CBA world.

  2. Rachelle on March 10, 2008 at 3:02 PM

    >Yes, we sell to ABA. It’s usually if the book involves a national event, such as the Virginia Tech tragedy, about which Greg sold a book to Penguin Praise. Or sometimes if it involves a national celebrity, or a historical event. Or if, for whatever reason, we feel there is a big enough platform and a story or topic with a wide enough appeal that it would do well in the general market. I have an author whose book I’m going to pitch in ABA because it’s about a popular social issue, and we think the general market might be open to this viewpoint which is conservative, provocative, and Christian without Bible-thumping.

    We never approach the ABA with the purpose of “converting the masses” or something like that. It just doesn’t work.

  3. Anonymous on March 10, 2008 at 2:46 PM

    >I have a question (and no prob if you are too swamped to answer :): Is there ever a situation (or has there been a situation) when you’ve advised a client to publish via ABA as opposed to CBA? What makes a project more appropriate for one than another (assuming the writer is a Christian with a Christian worldview …)

  4. Signature Vintage on March 10, 2008 at 1:27 PM

    >I just found your blog and love it! I’ve published two ebook romances and have been hard-pressed to try my hand at the “big” publishers, but feel my writing and knowledge is still too inadequate. Your blog has given me lots of insight! I’ll be visiting often! Thank you!

  5. Rachelle on March 10, 2008 at 9:39 AM

    >Royalty rates are all over the map. It’s VERY hard to make generalizations. From publisher to publisher they’re different, in both CBA and ABA.

    Attempting to generalize anyway… ABA publishers typically pay a percentage of the cover price while CBA pubs pay a percentage of the net price (about half the cover price.) However, this is changing and some ABA pubs are changing their contracts to pay on net.

    Although ABA pubs pay royalties based on the cover price, they pay lower royalty rates, usually starting around 8% or 10%. CBA pubs pay based on net, but often start at a higher rate, 14% or 16%.

    But like I said, you are going to see tremendous variation from house to house.

    A couple of my clients received contract offers on their books prior to my working with them and I had to talk them out of accepting the offers. They were from a publisher that offers NO advance, and pays royalty of 8% of net. That’s ridiculously low, but most people don’t realize it and want to jump at their first offer. This is one of the reasons it’s good to have an agent! We can make an educated guess as to whether you can do better.

    I will make this into a post one of these days… just wanted to give you a quick answer!

  6. Timothy Fish on March 10, 2008 at 8:34 AM

    >If an author has money in the bank, the advance seems meaningless. How much difference is there (if any) in the actual royalties?