Welcome to the first post in my new series How Writers Earn Money, an area shrouded in mystery! I’ll be sharing my own stories and those of other writers about how they manage to pay the bills while writing, beginning with advances.
An advance is a lump sum paid by your publisher upon signing a book contract, based on predictions made by your publisher about how many copies of your book will be sold. It is an advance on future royalties, not a payment in addition to royalties. ‘Earning out’ your advance refers to receiving enough in royalties that the publisher breaks even on the advance they paid you.
Once upon a time, advances functioned as a living wage while the author wrote the book. Nowadays, in Australia, most authors would struggle to live on their advances for more than a few weeks, though this seems to be a little-known fact, as the media tends to report only on the outliers, those very rare books which receive 6 figure advances like Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, or Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. While a handful of top names might get 5 figure advances each year, the majority of Australian writers, especially those writing literary fiction and/or published by independent publishers, are lucky to get advances of $5000. And it is not at all uncommon for debut authors with small presses to receive no advance whatsoever.
- $1000* for my debut novel with a small independent publisher; $500 paid upon signing the contract, $500 paid upon publication
- $500 for my 2nd novel with a different small independent publisher; also in 2 installments
- $5,000 for the US edition of my 2nd novel, with a small, independent publisher in the US
*All figures throughout this article relate to Australian advances for hard copy & e-books, unless stated otherwise. Subsidiary (eg film/audio) rights will be covered in a later post.
Other Writers’ Advances
- A total of $16,000 for overseas non-fiction in Europe and Asia
- A total of $4,400 for local fiction
I invited a number of writers of different genres and career stages to share the details of their advances. The figures below are not ‘benchmarks’ but are intended to show just how big the range can be when it comes to advances.
Case study 1: Novel – Big-Six Publisher
Case Study 2: Short Story Collections & Novel – Small, Independent Publisher
$1,000 each for 3 collections with the same small, independent publisher.
‘Given the difficulty of selling short story collections, I was happy with the amount I was advanced for my first two collections. However, because both collections were shortlisted for major literary awards, I had (naively) expected an increase for my third collection. But I wasn’t offered one, and I didn’t ask for one, because I still had the attitude that I should be grateful to be published at all. I’m also aware that my books are not bestsellers.’
$500 advance for 1st novel with a small independent publisher
‘While this is my fourth publication, it’s my first novel, and with a different publisher. Having been advanced $1,000 dollars for my short story collections, I assumed this was a standard amount for relatively unknown writers of literary fiction. I was initially a little taken aback to be offered only $500, but again I took the line that I should be grateful that a publisher wanted my book.’
Case Study 3: Novel-in-Stories
No advance for debut contract with small, independent publisher
‘While I didn’t get an advance, I got to choose my own freelance editor and cover designer upon acceptance, and was also given an in-house copy edit. These things meant the world to me. In addition, my publisher gave me confidence after a rough time with an initial publisher and agent both keen to profit from the book as an idea, but not so keen to support my vision as I saw it.’
Case Study 4: Literary/Speculative Fiction
No advance for debut novel contract with a small independent publisher
No advance for 2nd novel with same publisher, despite the first novel winning an award
Case Study 1: Children’s
$15,000 advance (split 50/50 w illustrator) for each book of a trilogy with an established independent publisher.
‘They were the illustrator’s first books, and I was an established adult and YA writer, but hadn’t written for this age group. The advance covered English-language rights for ANZ, print and digital. We held back other languages, audio and all adaptation rights. We’ve subsequently signed a TV series option. So far, the first two have earned out their advance.’
$10,000 advance for a 12-15,000-word book commissioned as part of a series by a big-six publisher.
‘The book moved away from the series and ended up a standalone publication, 25,000 words long.’
Case study 2: YA
Case Study 1: Psychological Suspense
$22,500 for 3rd book with a big-six publisher
$12,500 for each book of a 2-book contract with a different big-six publisher
Case Study 2: Crime
$5,000 advance for 1st book with a small, independent publisher
$2,500 advance for each book of a subsequent 2 book contract with same publisher
Case Study 3: Historical Romance
$15,000 advance for each book of a 2-book contract for 1st contract with a big-six publisher
$20,000 advance for each book of a 2-book for 2nd contract
‘I like to agree to an advance that I know I can earn out rather than one that terrifies me – I know I earned at least $20k for the last 2 books with them so it should be achievable for the next 2 books. I’m happy with those advances and my publisher’s commitment to me’
Case Study 1
$1000 advance for 1st book with a small independent publisher, split between 2 co-authors
Case Study 2
$5000 advance for 1st book with a small independent publisher
The Fine Print
- You do not have to pay back any portion of an advance you have not ‘earned out’ on a published book
- In a multi-book deal, if you fail to deliver a manuscript that satisfies the publisher (e.g. it does not adhere to the expected genre), you can be asked to pay back the advance.
- Even if you earn out your advance, if the publisher has invested heavily in marketing in anticipation of selling even more copies, your book’s ‘bottom line’ (profit & loss) may be low or even negative, which may impact on future advances and contracts.
I hope this information was useful. Would love to hear from other writers about their own advances and whether they are different from/similar to those listed above. Also, please let me know if you have any questions about advances or any other aspect of how writers earn money,
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