What’s a Typical Advance?
Writers always ask about “average” or typical advances in publishing these days. It’s a fair question—if you’re hoping for some kind of payoff, it’s nice to know what that might look like. But the truth is:
There is no typical advance.
Actually, it’s misleading and unhelpful to talk about “average” advances, because all that matters is your advance. If it’s 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.
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 anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per book (or… lower or higher). But it’s harder to talk about “average” advances for experienced authors. It depends on your genre and your previous sales. If you’re a NYT bestselling author, the picture is quite different than if you’re selling 10,000 — 20,000 copies of each book.
A publisher will pay the advance they think your book merits, based on sales projections.
Most publishers offer the advance they project your book will earn back in the first six to twelve months after publication. Of course, many books don’t earn out during that time, 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.
Talking about advances is different when you’re working with an agent on a particular book. I normally give my clients an idea of what they might expect. Things always seem to surprise us in this business, but agents can usually look at a proposal and make a decent 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.
As you’re looking at your own work and wondering what kind of advance it might garner, you may not be objective enough to accurate assess its potential; just keep in mind the market is fluid and there are many different factors always in play: what’s “hot,” what a specific publisher might be looking for, the perceived uniqueness and marketability of your idea… the list goes on. You probably don’t want to try to hard to foresee your advance. You don’t want to count on anything until you have a check in your hand.
How much does the size of the advance play into your decision to write for publication? Do you have specific financial goals for your books?