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Thread: Advance for a First Time Author?

  1. #1
    Administrator Black Dragon's Avatar
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    Advance for a First Time Author?

    Is it still the standard practice for an author to receive an advance from her publisher? If so, what is the average advance for a first time author in the fantasy genre?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Kelise's Avatar
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    This news is probably a bit old, but: Author Advance Survey (version 2.0) at Tobias Buckell Online

    First Novel Advances:

    The range is from $0-$40,000 for an advance on a first novel.

    The median advance is $5000.

    The median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘typical.’ Mathematical average for first time advances was $6424.

    Adjusted for inflation, as the figures range in year from advances given in 1970 to this year, the median advance is ~$6000.

    First Novel Advances, Fantasy vs. Science Fiction

    The range in Fantasy first novel advances is from $0 to $40,000.

    The median first novel advance is $5000 for Fantasy (average is $6494)

    The range in Science Fiction first novel advances is from $0 to $20,000.

    The median first novel advance is $5000 for SF (average is $7000)

    In version 1.0 of this article, with 74 respondents, I had enough of a difference in the data that I hazarded a guess that Fantasy first novel advances were larger than SF advances. I was wrong.

    First Novels: Agented vs. Unagented:

    58% of our first time novelists had an agent, the other 42% sold the book without an agent, and a high number indicate they got agents right after or during the sale of the book.

    The range in agented advances is from $1500 to $40,000

    The median agented advance is $6000 (the average is $7500)

    The range in unagented advances is from $0 to $15000

    The median unagented advance is $3500 (the average is $4051)

    These figures have noticeable differences any way you look at them. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents.

    note: Geoff Landis points out that the reverse may be true, agents may not choose to represent clients with lower advances.
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  3. #3
    Moderator Telcontar's Avatar
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    In short, yes. All traditional publishes BUY THE BOOK for a certain lump sum. This money is paid to the author in stages usually dependent on the progress of the book towards actual distribution and sales (for instance, upon publisher receipt of the final print draft, upon publisher finalizing typesetting, or other events). This money is the author's no matter how the book sells. It is the up-front price to the publisher to acquire the rights of a book.

    I've seen very little data about 'average' advance amounts. Almost none, in fact. It no doubt varies to a huge degree. I recall reading one literary agent's blog where she said this (not a direct quote, obviously): I do not offer representation unless I think I can sell the book for at least $12,000.

    This is of course because the agent earns 15% (standard rate) of the royalties paid to an author, including the advance. So If the agent sells the book for 12k, she earns $1,800. Given that negotiating the various contracts is a time-consuming process, this isn't that much.

    So to sum up - yes advances are the norm (if you're not being paid an advance, it isn't traditional publishing. Epublishing and such I don't know about), and the average advance for an author is 'who freaking knows.'
    Last edited by Telcontar; 5-27-11 at 11:14 PM.
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  4. #4
    I knows.

    "Traditional" publishers, mainly those presses in the mainstream (Del Rey, Baen, Tor, Forge, etc.) typically average advances around the $5,000 mark. None of the large presses I've worked with publish this information, but it's easy to extrapolate (and I have tons of anecdotal evidence from the upper-ups in these companies).

    The SFWA requires an advance of $2,000 (or first year royalties in excess of this total for small publishers or epublishers, with membership committee review) for a long work of fiction publication to count towards membership. Small fantasy presses that use traditional offset printing typically provide exactly that amount on all contracts.

    Epublishers typically offer no advances, but have made inroads because of the normally high residuals coming from that route. Many small presses either adhere to one or the other with only a small handful offering both options.

    Remember that an advance is taken out of the royalties you would normally get from the sales of the book. So if your book would earn you 2,000 in royalties in the first year, the advance is all you would get that year. A legitimate publisher will -never- require you to pay back an advance should it fail to earn out or put any money up front to publish your book (and at 2,000 a book should almost never fail to earn out its advance)... this is true of both offset printing commercial publication and legitimate e-publishing.

    Also remember that most legitimate publishers do not ask for life of copyright on your work. The standard book contract is for three to five years, after that the contract is renegotiated or rights revert to the author. Longer terms should come with a much higher advance or royalty payment and even the biggest named authors rarely get longer contracts. Publishers looking for longer contracts are often scammers looking to profit on the "long tail" of your work (playing a numbers game by publishing a large amount of ... questionable work ... in addition to your opus).
    Last edited by GameMasterNick; 5-28-11 at 1:15 AM. Reason: long day... clarification.

  5. #5
    Also, on lump sums... most legitimate publishers don't deal only in lump sums. They offer an advance, which is their best guess on what the book will earn over a certain period of time. Then, they provide the author with a certain percentage or flat amount of residual income once the advance has "earned out." Earning out means that the book would have earned the author under the residual clauses the same amount as the advance given. After that, the author receives residual checks (typically quarterly) from the publisher for the duration of the contract.

  6. #6
    Oh, and agents are increasingly setting benchmarks like the $12,000 mentioned above. This is true. I have dealt with (too) many agents over the past few years and most in the fantasy genre are moving in that direction. It also makes contract negotiation with them difficult (read: takes longer to sell your book) when they refuse to accept lower advances even though they believe the residuals from the book are worth over $12,000.

    As the head editors of many companies change, many agents are finding they no longer have the in-roads they once possessed to speed a work along to publication. I'm really unsure of the agent's place in the future of publishing at this point. They are great for protecting writers from overly harsh (or outright scam) contracts ... I know one big publishing house that has a boilerplate which remains laughable in agent circles... but that starting point allows them to do their jobs and negotiate to reasonable terms.

    Unagented authors are likely to sign that boilerplate not understanding that it is:
    1) A beginning point for negotiations and 2) grossly unfair to the author


  7. #7
    On this list of rated epublishing houses, not a single one offers advances, which seems to confirm what GameMasterNick says about them.

  8. #8
    so are you a fool to sign without an advance?

  9. #9
    Senior Member MichaelSullivan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seth son of Tom View Post
    so are you a fool to sign without an advance?
    Not necessarily...A "non advance" publisher will usually give higher royalty rates than those that offer advances. If the advance is only $5,000 to $10,000 it's easy to earn that type of money back when the royalty rate is higher. My wife runs a small press (and she does not offer any advances) but the two top earnings last quarter made $64,000 and $24,000 so they made more in one reporting period than an advance would have produced.

  10. #10
    good to know, thanks

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