Will I Have to Pay Back My Advance?

Do authors ever have to pay back their advance? This is a question agents hear a lot. Often a writer is nervous about possibly being asked to pay back the advance if the book doesn’t sell enough copies.

If you’re publishing with a reputable traditional publisher, then you don’t have to pay back your advance for lack of sales, or at least I’ve never seen such a case. Of course, everything is outlined in the author contract and I suppose it’s possible for a publisher to work that in (and the way things are going these days, it wouldn’t surprise me).

The advance is part of the risk the publisher takes on you. I say “part” because in actuality, your book is costing them a lot more than your advance. Publisher costs typically include:

  • Editorial
  • Cover design & production
  • Typeset & interior layouts
  • Printing & binding
  • Marketing
  • Warehousing
  • Sales

So the publisher has a significant financial outlay before your book ever makes a dime (usually a minimum of around $50,000), and that’s why they have to make such careful publishing decisions. The financial risk is on them, and they won’t recoup any of it if the book doesn’t sell enough copies to pay for itself.

Just FYI, there are cases in which you have to pay back your advance, specified in the contract. This is usually if you don’t deliver your book on time or if it isn’t what you promised in your proposal. There are other ways you can breach your contract and consequently have it canceled and be expected to pay back the advance. So read that contract carefully, deliver your book on time, and make sure it’s what the publisher is expecting.

If, during the writing or editing process you change your mind and decide to pull the book from the publisher and cancel the contract, of course you’d have to pay them back.

But just to ease your mind, it’s not typical to be hit with a request to pay back an advance for a reason such as low sales.


Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

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. Maco Stewart on August 8, 2019 at 2:28 PM

    The advance discussion item I find most interesting centers around the new author-to-be dream of The Big Advance (which one would not have to pay back). Reading on the subject, it seems to me that the ideal advance is one that does get earned back by the publisher in sales. Even if it’s far less Carrie-paperbook-like, earning out the advance will (so I’m persuaded) lead to greater subsequent interest by the publisher (or other publishers) for your next book. Because most of us are not looking for One Hit Wonders, this Goldilocks level of advance seems jussssst right.