Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Joy of Low Advances

For those of you who don't know Anon 7:55, check out the replies in the previous post. As he actually asked a valid question, I'll answer it here.

Unpleasant Anonymous Poster said...

I concede. As far as it is possible to discern talent by prejudice alone, your book has every possibility of success. Although, I have a few more questions, just to show I'm not affected by the fact that everybody has turned against me. (They always do that, so I'm used to it. I actually think it makes a man stronger to have lots of enemies and no friends.)

This may just be my interpretation of it, but generally having lots of enemies and no friends means that you have poor social skills, not any particular kind of character-related strength. It's a negative thing.

Why would you accept such a small advance, even for genre fiction? Back to the subject of self-respect: If it's that good, then it deserves more money. At least the same amount as the average book of its category. And in response to all my enemies, I apologize for expecting more from you, The Rejecter. Are you just hoping it will earn out the advance? And if it sells only a few thousand copies, will you be disappointed? Are you taking commercial success into consideration? If you're so good, you should want to make all kinds of money, so you can write another one, where you won't be distracted by any preoccupation.

Why did I accept such a low advance? Aren't my years of patience and time and money spent honing my craft worth some kind of reward, preferably in the form of a pool filled with dollar coins that you can swim in like Scrooge McDuck? I deserve compensation for the hours I spent at the computer when I could have been out drinking and partying and being a normal, functioning member of society and not a shut-in.

Fortunately I paid enough attention during the first submission attempts to learn that that wasn't going to happen. The market is hard on new fiction writers; you're lucky to get in at all. I got an offer, I got an agent - I had it all. Except money, but that seems to concern my agent more than me. Sure, I could have taken that risk and walked away from the initial offer to hunt for a higher one at other companies, but had that attempt failed, I would be back to square one. And you know what? Square one sucks. I want to be published.

That said, there was a more practical reason to accepting a low advance. If you're offered a good one, man, reach for that star. But you probably won't be offered a good one, and if you're hopig to be a career writer like me, that might not be a bad thing.

For those unfamiliar with the term, an "advance" is what it is - an "advance" on future predicted royalties you will be earning from the book. The good news is that even if the book doesn't sell enough copies to earn that amount of money back for the company, you get to keep the advance money. The bad news is that the company does detract your first royalties and keeps them until you "earn out your advance" and go into royalty territory. The company has seen its investment returned, and you get paychecks again.

"Earning out" is an important thing to do if you have the intention of trying to sell future books to that company or other companies, because they will look at your sales record and see not only how many copies sold but how much money the book actually made for the company. If I had a half-million dollar advance, man had my book better be a bestseller, or I'll have a poor record as an overpaid author. Considering I've written something that is a niche genre, that's unlikely.

With a low advance, I'm more likely to see royalties because there isn't that much to earn back. When I go in with the second novel, they're more likely to buy it - and for a decent amount of money. Hopefully.

This is a practical concern. If you don't make enough money, you can't afford to spend all your time focused on developing your talent, getting better, which is all any serious artist cares about. Genius is eternal patience. You need unlimited free time to have eternal patience.

Are you writing from some kind of alternate dimension where eating, sleeping, earning money, and the normal spectrum of human activities don't consume most of your time, and you find yourself sacrificing your free time for just a few hours of writing a day? If so, where is this dimension and is there a bus from the NYC Port Authority that goes there?


Anonymous said...

If I had received a $500,000 advance, I wouldn't worry about selling through, because that money in one chunk would enable me to retire and write whatever I wanted without worrying about commercial success.

Back to the real world, I received an advance for my first book big enough to make a material difference in my life but not big enough to quit my day job. It's also small enough so that if the book is as good as my editor, agents, and I think it is, I should sell through it (yet it's scary to think that x thousand number of people will have to buy it). If they give me another deal, it will be bigger than the first, and if I get a sense I could get such a deal every year I will quit my day job.

I know you read about how few writers make a living at it, but if you have modest, reasonable material needs (I won't mention I have three kids who will be going to college in the next 10 years,and I tell my son on the HS track team to run fast enough to get a scholarship), and can get a deal a year, you can make a living.

Incidentally, I think it's easier to do this with nonfiction.

Karen said...

Hmmm, let's see here:

Unpleasant Anon: Strongly opinionated, insulting, thinks in absolutes, no stated industry experience, and... unpublished.

Rejecter: Strongly opinionated, helpful, informative, experienced in the industry, and... soon to be published.

Who shall I take publishing advice from? Hmm... think, think...

Don said...

On the flip side, 11:03 anonymous, if you got that 500K advance and then didn't earn out, depending on how badly you failed to earn out, you may not get another chance to publish a book. Certainly not with the publisher who offered you the 500K, and probably not with any other major publisher either.

Anonymous said...

Now wait a minute. Let's say your first novel doesn't earn out the 500K - but you do sell enough that you would have merited a slightly smaller advance - say, 200K. Your publisher might not be very happy with you, but I'd think someone else would be happy to give you a chance - considering how few first novels make that kind of money. Am I right?

jjdebenedictis said...

On the flip side...depending on how badly you failed to earn out, you may not get another chance to publish a book.

That is what pseudonyms are for, my friend. :-)

R Matthew Ware said...

Rejector, I hope this isn't your agent trying to get you to look for more money :)

Seriously though, this sounds more like a 14-year-old child that's had everything handed to them.

And it's easy for them to brag about advances using an anonymous.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 11:03: You could possibly retire if your first book got a half-million advance, and if your goal is to make money and retire, then that's what you want. If your goal is a long-term career as a writer, your first book needs to lead to a second book.

And besides, the money doesn't come in one chunk. Sometimes it's paid with a portion at signing, a portion at delivery, and a portion at publication. Subtract 15% agent fees, and a retirement-fund amount of money will become less.

j.k.: I think the next publisher might look at that and say, "The last book lost $300,000 for the other publisher." True, they may offer the writer a smaller advance, because the book did sell some copies. But how would you feel if your second advance was one-tenth of your first advance? Wouldn't you feel kind of downwardly mobile?

Rob said...

If the nasty anon really believes that "makes a man stronger to have lots of enemies and no friends," I think you are dealing with someone with some mental problems. Seriously, that is the type of thing you might expect to hear from somebody who is very unhappy, but is looking for excuses not to change.

BTW, who gives $X00K advances to new authors anyway? Last month I went to a writers workshop where I was told most new writers may get between $4-10K advance (for fiction).

Anonymous said...

Let me make sure I'm really understanding the concept using an industry with which I'm acquainted. An advance is kind of like living off a draw for the first couple of months when working in commission only sales, but you don't owe the company money back if you fail to reach your goals. Plus, there's still the possibility of earning more should sales exceed expectations.

It doesn't sound like a bad deal to me.

David said...

I think that a serious artist shouldn't have to spend non-artistical time on grotty stuff like sending out query letters and partials and suchlike. Serious artists should spend their time honing their craft and approaching asymptotically ever nearer perfection, while publishers and agents should be searching them out because publishers and agents have whole departments of employees devoted to doing just that.

That's my opinion, and if it earns me an enemy, then that will just make me stronger and give me more energy to work on my query letter. (Oops! That just slipped out! Sorry!)

Kate said...

Hahaha.. I love seeing the Rejector slam dunk this snotty little anon!

I agree with K.B. I'm going to follow the publishing advice from The Rejector, not anon!

Anonymous said...

It's a mistake to equate earning out an advance with the publisher's turning a profit. In almost every case, a book turns profitable before the author earns out (and this includes factoring in publisher overhead).

The Rejecter said...


This is true. Thank you for clarifying. That said, for me as a working writer, it would be good for my career to earn out my advance, which is the main concern here (aside from getting published, obviously).

moonrat said...

Thank you, honey. Very nice.

Also, from an editor who really truly loves all her authors and never pays much for any of them (not a one)--

If your book really DOES rock that much, it's going to earn out its advance in no time, and you'll be making real money on the other end.

If your book REALLY DESERVES that money, it's going to make it!! And then we will all be happy!

Kidlitjunkie said...

That is what pseudonyms are for, my friend. :-)

Yeah, but you're not hiding your true identity from another potential publisher. Now that's a truly awful idea.

Anonymous said...


I think that a serious artist shouldn't have to spend non-artistical time on grotty stuff like sending out query letters and partials and suchlike. . . . Publishers and agents should be searching them out because publishers and agents have whole departments of employees devoted to doing just that.

I totally agree with you. However, I also agree that everyone in this country should be insured, that we should get the fuck out of Iraq, that the people who have usurped our government should be put to death for high treason, and lots of other things. Unfortunately (for you and me and the uninsured, if not for the usurpers) the difference in the world between what should be and what is seems to be getting bigger and bigger with each passing year.

So, while I totally resent having to send out query letters, etc., etc., (because people should just KNOW how brilliant I am!) I also realize that at the moment there's no other option.


Melanie Hooyenga said...

Rejecter, you made some excellent points. Thank you for clarifying what actually makes a good deal for a first time author. I'd hate to think writers might actually listen to advice from people like that.

As a first time writer, I appreciate all the advice you offer here.


kirsten saell said...

If a new author gets a $50k advance and the book bombs, the publisher is already out tens of thousands in editing, typesetting, cover design, marketing, PPB and distribution costs. Add to that the $50k that said author didn't earn out, and it's going to make any publisher think twice.

And as for the snotty anon:

I have been pathetically attacked for thinking that beauty must be absolute, otherwise it's not beauty. Everything is NOT merely a matter of opinion. Our perceptions conform to a mutual reality, and most people are wrong because they don't have the discipline to see it. If beauty is not objective in any way, we have no consistent principles to rely on. Reality falls apart. Meaning doesn't exist. Given, it's not a static force, but it changes according to some structure. One ought to spend their entire life looking for it.

This is almost incoherent and pretentious enough to make it in Canadian literature. Maybe Anon should move to Toronto?

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post Rejector. I'm currently trying to sell my first novel and had come to the conclusion that it's not going to enable me to give up the day job just yet.

I would expect to have at least four books in print with moderate sales before that became even a possibility (and as a freelance writer I'm used to a fairly frugal existence!)

If accepting a modest advance could help to allow that to happen it seems like a particularly sensible course of action.

Miri said...

>Seriously though, this sounds
>more like a 14-year-old child
>that's had everything handed to

If I'm feeling at all offended, at least it's not enough to turn me into Unpleasant Anonymous Poster II. ;) Thank goodness for the voice of reason that lives in some, if not most, people's heads.

I don't think that UAP has serious mental issues. I think that he or she is in high school or college. Are the two synonomous? Almost (admit it, you know it's true). I also think that he or she for some reason thinks this is a healthy outlet for his or her frustration. The fact that he or she is sadly mistaken is kind of beside the point here. At least he or she is doing nothing more than making ill-advised comments on popular and helpful blogs (like, say, planning nasty assassinations of publishing types).

The great part is that these comments will be here forever for anyone who wants to look them up. Heh.

I still think you're being punked.

Anyway, back on topic: thanks for clarifying, Rejector ma'am! From what I've heard, getting a X00k advance on my first book would be my worst nightmare, because if you fall drastically short of that, your career's over before it started. Ouch. I'm still at a stage in life where 10k sounds decent, in all honesty.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know what happens when you've received a reasonable advance, earned it out, but due to freak circumstances of a perfect storm (your book reflecting something in the news, etc.), you have tremendous orders from bookstores -- and then your book does "only" a fifty percent sell-through? Now, you've earned your advance money back, and sold a remarkable number of books for a first book, but because the publisher printed so many books what would have been excellent now looks uh, not so good.
I imagine this happens a lot with those true crime books and celebrity books that are churned out quickly. But how about with a "normal" book?

Mags said...

I love money. I would like to have some, please.

That said, for a first time novelist? Whatever. Unless you've written To Kill A Mockingbird (and I'm not assuming you haven't), which will live on and on and sell forever you ain't gonna retire on a first book. And 500K isn't what it used to be.

You've started. I am green. I can't wait for my first paltry advance. I'm going to buy a new bag.

Josephine Damian said...

Andrew: Don't forget the tax man gets his cut too! There ain't much left to retire on when that 500K gets whittled down.

Tess Gerritsen did a post a ways back basically saying the same thing: a large advance for a first time novelists can do more harm than good.

jjdebenedictis: I wonder if an agent is bound by professional standards or courtesy to reveal that her "new" client is really an old client who failed to earn out -do they have to reveal who's behind the new pseudonym? Maybe Rejector should answer that one.

Chris Eldin said...

This is my first time here.

Congratulations on validation of your work. :-)

I have a middle-grade novel I'm querying now.
My goal: To bring reading enjoyment to boys 9-12-making them laugh out loud, learn without realizing it, and ask for my next book. I'm not interested in money. Is it okay to say that in a query?

Richard said...

While a great big advance would be nice. I think it really does not make a whole lot of difference (aside for mundane things like eating, shelter and other sundry bills) whether you get the money all up front in the form of an advance or let it trickle in twice a year as royalties.

Let's hope you get to see some royalty checks and they brighten your day.

Of course, all this brings to mind the story of the milkmaid who was dreaming of the fine dress she would buy with the money from the chickens she sold, which were raised from the chicks she had hatched from the eggs she had bought with the money from the milk she had sold. We all know where that story ended up.

I wonder if people who sneer at a small advance are the same ones who will ignore a penny on the street as they walk? As far as am I concerned, the bank doesn't care how the money got into my account, whether it came in small quantities or large, just as long as it is there.

Anonymous said...

Hmm I think anon is the same poster who has been slamming me on my blog. Basically a disgruntled, frustrated person who doesn't have the courage to use his real name. I have no doubt that he has no friends in the real world; anyone who sees it as their purpose to discredit others via this cowardly medium is obviously deluded and pathetic.

Anonymous said...

"This is almost incoherent and pretentious enough to make it in Canadian literature. Maybe Anon should move to Toronto?"

ouch, eh?

Unknown said...

I would accept a low advance. HAPPILY. Because at this point in my life, a "small" advance in the publishing world is still an awful lot of money for me. Someone hands me a check for a few thousands dollars? That's a flushed radiator, lots of new clothes for my daughter, and a shitload of groceries. AND some debts paid off.

I want to be published. No author can live full time off their first novel right away and focus on deathless prose. Well, some do, but hey, we can't all be Dan Brown.

Oh wait... was Da Vinci Code his first book? Don't know, don't care. Won't read it.

I want to walk into Books a Million and see my book on the shelf. I'm willing to accept a lesser advance to see that, because as a first time author, I'm just not worth the big bucks. I think I will be, one day... but I have to make the first sale!

jjdebenedictis said...

- That is what pseudonyms are for, my friend.

- Yeah, but you're not hiding your true identity from another potential publisher.

No. The publisher would know, and your previous publisher isn't going to give you a second shot, regardless.

However, a new publisher might. The bookstores' records are fooled by a pseudonym, which means your previous poor numbers won't affect how many books they order when your new, pseudonymous book comes out.

My understanding is, if you publish under a pseudonym, you're pretty much starting from scratch, like a first-time author. You have write a book people believe will sell and your previous reputation gets you nothing.

Aaaaand I could certainly be mistaken about all this. Anyone who knows for sure, feel free to correct me. :-)

none said...

No, Da Vinci Code was not Brown's first published book.

As jj says, you're not trying to fool agents or publishers with a pseudonym. You're trying to fool idiot computers. If that isn't tautologous.

jjdebenedictis said...

I have been pathetically attacked for thinking that beauty must be absolute, otherwise it's not beauty.(1) Everything is NOT merely a matter of opinion. Our perceptions conform to a mutual reality, and most people are wrong because they don't have the discipline to see it.(2) If beauty is not objective in any way, we have no consistent principles to rely on. Reality falls apart. Meaning doesn't exist.(3)

(1) Beauty is a concept that human beings invented. It doesn't exist in nature; it exists in our brains. And since every human being has different patterns of synapses in their brains, why wouldn't we all perceive beauty differently?

(2) It's hard to take seriously the opinions of someone who champions snobbery. The person doing so always considers their own opinions to be the correct ones, even without evidence to support their notion.

(3) As someone with a couple of degrees in physics, let me assure you that reality does not fall apart if beauty is not absolute. Nor does the universe fail to have consistent principles. It is possible your understanding of the universe falls apart if beauty is not absolute, but that is not the universe's problem.

Anonymous said...

Hey Canadian literature pays less than American genre literature, overall. :-)

First anon though - remember that a $500k advance in one year is subject to a lot of taxes. I'd want at least two of those to retire. :)

Nice post and congrats!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, jjdebenedictis. If that doesn't shut UAP up, nothing will.

Anonymous said...

"This is almost incoherent and pretentious enough to make it in Canadian literature. Maybe Anon should move to Toronto?"

We may be pretentious and incoherent up here (I blame the accent. And the subway. And the humidity.), but at least we're polite.

kirsten saell said...

(1) Beauty is a concept that human beings invented. It doesn't exist in nature; it exists in our brains. And since every human being has different patterns of synapses in their brains, why wouldn't we all perceive beauty differently?

Yay, goblin. When I read that derfwad's ridiculous assertion on the universal nature of beauty, I thought, "jeez, if this guy's right, I'm gonna feel pretty damn sorry for warthogs come mating season."

ouch, eh?

All right, maybe I was a tad glib, but you've gotta admit it's hard for genre fiction to make it in Canada. Unless you're like Margaret Atwood, and you write genre fiction that's heavy and depressing enough to masquerade as litfic. There's a presumption in Canada that to be any good, a book has to be "important." It has to matter. It has to transcend the boundaries of genre and ascend into the realm of pure art, or whatever. There are exceptions, some of whom I truly adore. But when I looked for a publisher, I went south, not east.

Plus, I have this chronic perverse impulse to say things that I know will annoy others. Coupled with my phobia of emoticons, I'm afraid not everyone can tell my tongue is almost always firmly inserted in my cheek.

-also a Canadian

Anonymous said...

kirsten - genre literature doesn't pay/publish much, if at all, in Canada sheerly because of numbers (try running them sometime based on US sales figures, over 35 million people).

Lit fic continues only because of Canada Council grants, pretty much. And sure, that's biased, but that's the level it's at. Don't worry though, the Harper gov't is dismantling that as quickly as possible, so soon there won't be that much pretentious stuff either.

- Canadian editor

jjdebenedictis said...

Canada has a reputation for producing some stunning, incredible literary fiction.

And where the industry (such as it is) shows willingness to publish certain kinds of literature, you inevitably wind up with the crap of the crop being published alongside the good stuff.

Pretentious and incoherent? Yup; crap of the crop. But to be fair, we do produce a lot of cream up here also.

~ A Canadian Goblin

kirsten saell said...

I suppose you guys are probably right, but I think the Canada Council promotes a vicious cycle of underperformance. That little maple leaf on a book repels at least as many readers as it attracts, because they know what it's likely to signify--something dark and depressing and heavy. If that impression were to change, maybe the numbers would change, too. The Canadian market isn't the only market available for books printed in Canada. But it is largely the only market for the kind of books that get published in Canada, and that's a shame.

Canadians do buy genre fiction. I know this because I buy genre fiction. There wouldn't be a market here for all those Yankee books on racks at the drug store if we didn't.

I know I'd be more open to Canadian fiction if I wasn't 80% sure that what I bought was going to depress, annoy or flummox me. And don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good cry as much as the next person--hence my love of Guy Gavriel Kay--but in order to enjoy a book, it has to end with a sense of hope for the world, and so much literary fiction doesn't give me that. I read as much to be entertained as to be enlightened. If the entertainment isn't there, then why should I bother?

I was watching an interview with Dave Foley today, in which he claimed Canadian film was humorless and depressing. I feel the same largely applies to Canadian fiction. There is some cream there amongst the crap, goblin, to be sure, but publishers aren't the only people with budgetary constraints. I've got roughly ten bucks a week to play with, unless I want to gamble the kids' lunch money on a book that's as likely to piss me off as it is to please me.

That all being said, it was a joke, people. A snide one, certainly, but a joke nonetheless. I'm sorry if my raised eyebrow and shit-eating grin didn't come across when I made it, but I think the reaction it evoked is further evidence that we Canadians need to develop a sense of humor about ourselves. Sheesh.

jjdebenedictis said...

No, no, Kirsten; your comment was funny! I think most of the slightly-snide comments made back were tongue in cheek also.

Peace and love, my dear; we're Canadians, after all! :-D

*snuggles you*

kirsten saell said...

Oh, that's good, goblin. A big, wet sloppy kiss to you! I just worry, because people have been known to take me the wrong way, when really, 50% of the shit that comes out of my mouth is good-natured hooey.

Maybe we all ought to adopt the dreaded emoticon to avoid misunderstandings. But they just bring out feelings of incredible hostility in me, they make me want to smash my keyboard with a meat hammer every time I'm forced to use one. Stupid, cutesy happy faces, mutter, mutter...;)

ORION said...

I agree - a large advance can be a sword hanging over your head or mean that a publisher puts more omph behind your book. It's hard to know what is better.
If enough copies of your book do not get into bookstores then it doesn't matter what the advance is- the reader won't be able to buy your novel.
This is an interesting discussion (even with all the anon crap)
All the best to you rejecter!

Anonymous said...

Those published UK based authors who I have met (some v. successful, others solid mid-listers) have all told me that you're better off getting a small advance for your first book because of the problems of earning out. I've heard some horrific stories of debut authors who got great reviews but because of a variety of factors (little publicity, crappy covers, poor distribution) didn't make back the advance - the result? The publisher dropped them. One respected UK agent told me that he's had to advise clients to develop a pseudonym in order to go back to publishers because one look at the sales figures and they're reject anything under the 'real' name.

- Britbeat

Anonymous said...

Re: pseudonyms

Jayne Ann Krentz said that around ten years ago she wrote three paranormals (before paranormal hit the big time) that destroyed the name JAK (at least for the time being). She marketed her historical fiction under the name "Amanda Quick," and the only thing her agent told publishers while shopping the book is that she was a successful category author looking to break out.

That was it.

So yes, I suspect you can fool the publishers.

Anonymous said...

Kirsten, I assure you, down here in NY we publish a lot of incoherent lit'ry drivel, too. Sometimes we even pay enormous advances for it.

I always laugh my ass off when the beancounters faint with surprise at the number of returns. That's the difference between selling books to bookbuyers and selling books to readers.

Anonymous said...

yak ayak yak yak yak
blarp, blarp, blarp
why do you do this blog
i'm going to put you in myy book

writtenwyrdd said...

My god, Anon sounds like he is channeling a certain close relative of mine. It really is a personality problem and lack of social skills, hon, not the universe's way of giving you strength to perservere.

Thanks for sharing, Rejector.

Deb said...

"Why did you accept such a small advance?"

Sheesh! Have you been in a coma for years, questioner? We writers accept small advances because for the most part, that's all they're offering!

Harlequin, when they contract for the first with an author, pays between $5 and $10K. That's it. No amount of agent negotiation is said to change this. Can you write one book for Harlequin and quit your day job? I don't know where you live but I certainly cannot.

Also see Victoria Strauss's blog, about how the advances she's getting now are the same dollar amount she got in 1982.

This is a business as well as an art, yes, but the business side is NOT structured primarily to give the author an income.

Any more questions like this and I will be forced the upload strong coffee.


Anonymous said...

I'm just setting foot on the long road marked 'Submissions' and have also concluded that earning out on a small advance is far better than not earning out on a big one.

I'll accept any amount of money. Try me ;)

Heck, if by some miracle someone offers me a million, I'm going to take it but that's going to make the second, third etc books very hard to sell. Since I've already drafted them I'd be a bit miffed about that.

Worrying about advances is still just an academic exercise for me since I'm only at the submission stage and might never get further. I'll keep trying until I run out of agents, naturally. Then I'll move house, change my name and try them all again with another book.

So I'll have to stick with my day job for now, which mostly consists of sitting on street corners wearing a card with 'Please help this man become a capitalist' on it.

The pay's not great but at least I'm my own boss.

K J Gillenwater said...

Kind of in the same vein...

I'm curious to learn more about multi-book deals. How does that work? I see things on Publisher's Lunch about a 2- or 3-book deal with X publisher. What does that mean in terms of money? Are you only paid an advance on the first book in the series, but some sort of guarantee that the same publisher wants your next 2 books? And then you negotiate a contract for each book in the deal?

Are you providing them with proposals for those other books at the time of the deal? Or is it just a basic an idea for a series of books with only one book written so far and a bare outline of the rest of the series?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this Rejector.