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?
[…] Rachelle Gardner, Literary agent (own blog, March 2012). What’s a Typical Advance? […]
[…] Most books don’t earn out their advances which is why most publishers won’t offer advances to “unproven” authors. It’s simply too risky. If that weren’t depressing enough, most self-published authors don’t earn enough to make a living while some don’t even make back their initial investment. […]
[…] in producing your book, so you get a much smaller royalty. An average advance these days could be as low as $5000 and royalties are about 7-10% for a paperback and 25% for an ebook. When you self-publish, […]
[…] “What’s a Typical Advance” by Rachelle Gardner […]
[…] Now that I have our attention let’s turn to the topic of the day. The Advance. This is defined as the money a publisher pays to the author in “advance” of the publication of the finished book. We read about the seven-figure advances in the news because they are unusual and quite substantial. The amount given to everyone else can be rather different. (Read the article where Rachelle Gardner answers the question “What is the Typical Advance.”) […]
[…] Rachelle Gardner, Literary agent (own blog, March 2012). What’s a Typical Advance? […]
[…] Or, as one friend of mine put it, “Do publishers even pay advances to first-time authors these days?” Thankfully, yes, they still do. No one’s actually come out and ask me how much I’m getting (well, except for a couple of close family members whom I would have told anyway), but if you’re wondering what the usual range is for first-time authors, agent Rachelle Gardner has a good post about that. […]
Thtank you for share!
I’ve written my whole life and initially, I expected nice, cushy, car-purchasing advances. When I got my first book deal, I sadly learned that wasn’t the case. Of course, by that time, I literally told my agent, “tell them I’ll do it for a bucket of chicken!” Since writing is my full time job, I appreciate my advances as they keep the house stocked with kitty litter and Fudge Stripe cookies. But honestly, there is no amount of money (or lack thereof) that would make me stop what I’m doing. I’m a born writer and if that means I’ll die poor… so be it. On the bright side though, I do intend to marry rich, so there’s that.
Advance? What’s that? Most small independent publishers don’t offer any advance, expect you to do your own promotion and marketing, and take a high percentage of any sales you happen to make. Cynical? Who, me?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say it excited me to read in your blog that an advance could be $5000 (even the low end would make my husband smile)! But to answer the question, I don’t write for the advance. I write because my heart has a theme I can’t get away from… a message I must share… I am more blessed by a comment on my blog or an email from a reader who just finished my book than any amount of advance. I think if I was ever motivated by more than that I would need to put my pen down 🙂
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I will defer to my agent as I expect her to have my best interests at heart. And be a career builder. Does a smaller advance help that? Or a large one? Or somewhere in between. Writers who look at the big picture will always look to their agent for advice on this question.
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[…] Rachelle Gardner on What’s a Typical Advance? […]
This is great information. I think it’s good to compete with yourself rather than worrying about what everyone else is making. I put my goals more on the book than the money. I want to write great books that people like. Good writing, intriguing story… that kind of thing. If I keep improving as a writer then the rest will fall into place. 🙂
I don’t even expect to break even on my expenses. It’s much easier to budget nothing than budget for money that never arrives.
I’m much more interested in seeing my book reach as many people as possible as an advance. Anything a first-time author gets as an advance won’t cover me taking a significant amount of time off work. Given that, my priority would be to get commitments my publisher to pushing the book. Not that I’ll turn down cash. I’m rather fond of it.
You mean people get paid to write? I’ve written over 240,000 words this year and I haven’t earned a penny. lol
I suspect that when people seek to know the amount of an average advance, they are headed down a wrong path.
If their advance is less than average, then their work must be less than average (or their agent or their “deal” is less than average). All manner of negativity results.
However, if their advance is more than average, then they conclude their writing is above average. As a result, they could become arrogant, demanding, difficult to get alone with — or all three.
We can avoid both outcomes by not concerning ourselves with what is average and simply be happy for the advance we receive.
I’ve always been clueless about advances and what they actually mean. In my unpubbed la-la land, I always thought any advance would be a nice gift, but not necessary to receive.
I really enjoyed reading everyone’s different perspectives. Earning back an advance and investing your advance into marketing are both ideas I would’ve never thought of on my own. Thanks for the tips! 🙂
I began writing 11 years ago to deal with a personal tragedy. Writing was one of the few, okay, the ONLY, outlet that I had to say what I wanted without having to couch my own feelings in order to spare others. It is a raw deal to have to vent in a manner that makes someone else feel less awful about MY suffering. I joined an online journal/blog community in order to come to terms with things, and not once did I have to restrain my hurt.Having a chance to be anonymous was an enormous blessing, and I have my BFF to thank for introducing me to that community.
Now, instead of writing about me, I write for me. I write the fiction that I think will resonate with anyone who wants a second chance. I try to entertain and uplift my reader, and take her on a journey to a better understanding of herself and those around her.
When I do sit down and discuss advances, royalties and word counts, I will heed the advice I’ve found here and elsewhere. I plan to aim low for the advance and high for the long term benefits of having my name on many great stories. I would love to have my name up in font.
Good article. Thanks 🙂
It has been a very long time since I looked at the Writer’s Market with a specific novel in mind. I got sooooooo depressed, I gave up the idea of publication at that time. Back then, the “typical” advance was about $1500 to 3500. Didn’t seem like much for all the time and work that would go into the manuscript. I think, though, instead of the amount of the advance that I would be looking at right now if I had a specific manuscript in mind (for now I am still writing to please myself more than for any other audience, so publication is on the horizon but not an immediate goal) — more important than the advance is the typical number of books in a first run for a book from a new author. To me, the publisher’s “risk rating” on a new author is more important …
It’s helpful to have an idea of the range and also to remember that we need our books to earn that advance back if we want the publisher to pick up our next effort. Thank you for addressing this, Rachelle!
A few years back Tobias Buckell took a survey of (mostly) science fiction and fantasy authors and posted the statistics in some nice graphs on his site, which I found really interesting: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2005/10/05/author-advance-survey-version-20/
Advances are nice, and having a general idea of what numbers we’re looking at is really, really reassuring. I appreciate being told at least a “guesstimate” of what could happen. Thanks! 😉
As for goals, like a lot of folks here said, getting published, selling well, earning royalties… that’s more important to my mind than the advance. With the earn-back question haunting the the grounds, I admit I would feel a little uncertain to get huge advances. At least under there was a pretty good track record of what the books were likely to sell like.
But; I doubt that will be a really big problem, when/if the time comes!
But thanks for the post about it, Rachelle, it really does help people like me to have someone shine a light on the murky facts submerged in the water around us!
The advance certainly shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether to go with a certain publisher or not, in my opinion. It should be about what you’re writing. Is the publisher for you or are you just another dollar sign? Will the invest more than money into you?
My primary goals in writing are artistic, but you asked about financial goals. Here are mine. If I am published the traditional way (which is my preference), I would like to obtain two things: royalties and the possibility of getting another book published. Of course both of these mean I need to write a quality manuscript and work like crazy to market it (not just depend on the publisher to promote it). An advance would be nice, but since I am a worry wart, I would squirrel that money away in case I had to pay it back.
In a previous blog, Rachelle, you brought up the point that bigger isn’t always better in regards to an advance. I completely agree. I would rather have a small advance and huge publisher interest / excitement than vice versa.
Wow, again something I haven’t thought about…now that you have brought it to my attention, I find it doesn’t influence my desire to write and be published. Getting paid is a bonus, not the end result.
As far as advances go, I really look forward to my first contract so the advance isn’t my focus right now. I prefer to have a middle range book contract advance…enough to make the publisher want to do more marketing, but not so much that it is hard to earn out. My agent will be best at the expertise in this. I also care about who publishes it and other things about the contract. Money is not everything.
I’m less worried about the advance and more interested in royalties. *grin* I’m not sure I have specific goals, just a general goal to write books people like and make a little money. 🙂
I think people who ask the question, well, at least pre-published when I *thought* the question… are really just looking for that broad spectrum stab in the dark. Kinda like you gave here. Writers/agents always say “You can’t quit your day job” and note the low pay of most authors, so it is a natural thought to think, “Well… HOW low…. like… here’s your ten buck advance, have fun?”
That said, I’m with everyone else. When I got my publishing contract, it was a relief just to have a contract with a publisher that paid advances!
I’d rather take a smaller advance with more control. Not self-publishing; I’ll do that when and if it comes to it, but right now I’m going traditional publishing. But I’ll take the former if it comes down to “$2000 and we’ll do more of your marketing and talk you up, plus with that the earn-out likelihood is good and we’ll be more likely to publish your next book” than “$20,000 and do your own marketing; also, good luck earning that out – we won’t buy you again if you don’t.”
I don’t want something unreasonable in terms of advances. I want a fair estimate of what I’ll earn out within a reasonable time period, and then I want to start making royalties. And if a lower advance means I can name some of my own terms (I would really like to try some eBook-related marketing techniques that are newer and mostly untried), then I’m willing to take a short-term hit, even a really big one, for an investment I expect to pay off by the time I’m on my fifth book.
The advance isn’t the issue. I’m going to publish. It’s the rest of the terms I want to manage, the clauses and resale potential that I worry about.
The size of the advance plays no role in my decision to write for publication. I would be happy with any size advance. I have no financial goals for any book I may publish. I just hope it sells and that the publisher is happy with it.
However, I don’t believe in giving away any of my writings. That why I don’t write anything as a rule for my church or any other non-profit I may be involved with. I don’t write for local publications that don’t pay. There are exceptions, of course. As a professional technical writer, I do expect to be compensated for anything I do write.
Instead of another advance, think I’d prefer a brand new, publisher-issued, pimped out Mac, with a contract stipulating that children and husbands are not allowed to touch it. EVER.
Now THAT’S what I call icing on the cake.
I LIKE the way you think! 🙂
Thanks for the reminder that we don’t have the objectivity to predict, well, anything about our own books.
I’m not dreaming of an advance that would let me quite my day job, but I do dream of a writing career that would perhaps make my day job look a little different.
Small!! I just want someone to throw me a bone!!!
I believe in what I am writing and I believe that is enough!
God will take care of the rest!
I am very serious! This is why I need you Rachelle, as my agent! Someone to trust!
I have been at this for 10 years!
Advance! That’s gravy!:)
I appreciate your thoughts regarding “an average advance.” Having a right heart attitude about an advance seems the healthiest way to approach this aspect of being published.
At this point, the size of an advance does not change whether or not I write with the hope and goal of publication. If, hoping when, I get published, my financial goal for my book would be that my advance would earn out. Anything beyond that will be icing on the proverbial cake. 🙂
Maybe I’m thinking in simplistic terms, but I wouldn’t want a large advance, if any at all. I’d rather make money through royalties and reality than speculation and projection. I do not want to be a money pit.
My financial goals are simple enough. I don’t think anyone goes into this without dreaming of making enough to write full time, so of course that would be very nice. But I think those days may be gone unless one is already selling books by the barrel. Realistically, I would like to earn enough to supplement my current salary. How much that is, I don’t know, but one day my two year old daughter is going to want a car and go to college, and according to a gentleman in our administration department, that’s peanuts compared to the wedding.
My first non-fiction book back in 1998 garnered a respectable $15k advance yet every book after that (with the same well-known publisher) has been less until I hit $6k with my last book. Although hugely disappointed, I was happy to get the book out! The only upside? I earned out very quickly.
I imagine I would take the advance and invest it in marketing the book, so the money only means how much I can spend on that. There seem to be pros and cons both ways in terms of dollar amounts. I will defer to the advice of the agent, since she’s the expert.
Hmm, I wonder if there are any bored marketing students who want to do an unpaid internship or project? That might be a great way to build my platform!
I was so stinking excited to just get a book deal, my mind wasn’t anywhere on the advance. But when you said, “So, let’s talk about the advance.” I was like, “Oh yeah! How fun is this?”
Honestly, they could have paid me nothing and I would have done it. The idea of getting my work out there to the masses at no cost to myself….bliss. But advances are fun.
I agree with PJ. I have no expectation of making money from my fiction writing. It does not drive me at all. I write because it is a passion. Any income I derive is icing on the cake. Thanks for a great post, Rachelle.
When you look at my advances and royalties, it’s obvious I’m not in this for the money, but every little bit helps. It was a small press that published my first two books and now that I have that under my belt, I might consider asking for more for my next ventures, especially if I can interest a bigger publisher – but at this point, I’m just happy (and a little surprised) that I actually got published in the first place as it had never been a career choice growing up.
What is an average advance.
This is a great question and a great subject we authors should ponder on. Why do we write in the first place? Is it only to gain a big advance? If so, are we worthy of our craft?
And so I have answered your question with more questions of my own. I only wish for my writing to bring hope and joy to my readers. If so, my job is done and God will give the increase. Or in modern jargon — a paycheck. ;o)
And that & was supposed to be $. See, that’s why I defer to you.
Where #s and & are concerned, I defer to you.
Another reason why finding an agent I could trust was so important to me.
A small coffee/chocolate plantation in South America.
As long as the advance is enough for that, I’m fine.
Having received a large advance for my first book, The Scent of God, and not meeting projected sales, I was much happier with a smaller advance that earned back in a month and getting royalty checks.
The larger advance still preys on my mind.
Beryl, I always appreciate getting your perspective here. And your first book remains one of my all time favorites! (Did you see it on my Pinterest board?)
You bet I did! And each time I see it feeling of pride and honor surge through me. Thank you Rachelle. I don’t know how you ever found time to read it but am so grateful that you did.
I write because I love to write. If I ever earn money at it, I will consider that a huge bonus.
I was going to say something similar to that.
I have a book coming out in September – seen as a major book for a major publisher. We have a significant marketing budget and a very aggressive marketing plan. My advance – ZERO – at my suggestion. With my last major book my advance was $300,000. We as authors have got to recognize this is no longer a matter of squeezing the publisher into a losing situation. This is a joint business venture and if we are committed to being in the business of selling books the advance is irrelevant. If the book sells, we all make money. If it doesn’t no one is left holding the empty money bag.
Harry Potter UK advance: 2,500 GBP.
I agree with Dan Miller. The advance has nothing to do with compensation for the writing effort. If it’s book proposal, ok, some money up front would be nice as a sign of commitment and that will cover some expenses, but for a fiction book already written, even zero is fine.
I suppose placing my focus on publishing my best book possible, I haven’t even thought about advances. There are several roads to publication to share my story with the world. I don’t hinge my decision to write based upon the hopes of an advance. Receiving an advance would be wonderful, truly, but when I sit down to my laptop and work on revisions, the size of the advance for a book sell isn’t on my mind.
My financial goal is the earn the most possible from book sales. If that includes earning out the advance as well, heck, that’s icing on the cake.
I was so naive when I started writing fiction 14 years ago. I thought — you write the book, publishers clamor over it — presto, you are a published writer earning enough money to quit your day job.
I sometimes wonder if I would have started that first novel, if I had known the truth. By the time I learned it, I was hooked on writing and there was no turning back.
Advance? What’s an advance 🙂
My book is romantic suspense, I am just about done making it as purty as possible. Grammar, punctuation etc… are all being fixed where necessary.
Not thinking about $ yet, but when it’s a possibility (WhooHoo) a modest advance would make me just as happy as a large one.
I think it’s a mistake to deliberately take a smaller advance that is easier to earn back. It is sales figures as a whole that publishers look at, and the higher the advance the more the promotional spend, the greater their sales effort etc. So it almost becomes self-fulfilling – if you get a bigger advance you are likely to get more readers.
Having said that, the size of the advance is just one factor in a publishing offer – personally I didn’t take the biggest offer, though it was an auction so they were all very much on the high side.
Advance! I’ll be happy if I just get published. And then, as a first-timer, I’d like a small advance so I’m not worried about earning it back.
I’m writing the story that I and my protagonist want to tell. An advance is icing on the cake. (OK, the real icing will be the movie/TV deal!)
This was quite interesting. Colin’s statement also helped, because taking a smaller advance would make it easier to earn it back. Foresight often squelches regret.
I have no financial goals for my writing. My dreams float on the steam of significant contributions. If my books change thoughts, ease pain, or encourage the downhearted, then they have sailed to their intended destination.
When I came across these numbers my husband was shocked – he had expected something more significant. Of course, we’d all love to write full time and to make a good living at it, but truthfully, when someone compliments me on a blog post, or on a magazine article, I feel I have been paid in full. I love when I have pulled on someone’s heart strings. It’s too bad that we need to make money to survive…
I’m often asked that question when I present at schools: “How much does an author really make.” I give them similiar numbers and you can just see them checking writing off the list of possible careers.
Better they know now.
The only financial goal I have for my book(s) is that they earn back the advance.
That’s enough of a goal for me.
Once a book does that, I set another goal.
I believe it was you, Rachelle, that first tipped me off to the fact that a publisher’s willingness to buy your next book can be greatly influenced by whether you earn back your advance. Since I’m interested in a writing career, I’d take a smaller advance just to be sure I could earn it back and keep the publisher interested.
As for financial goals, ultimately, I would love for my writing to earn enough in royalties to be able to write full-time.
That’s a very good tip!