Sunday, 13 July 2008


When a commercial publisher signs up a new writer, it is usual for the publisher to pay the writer an advance against future royalties.

This advance will usually be paid in stages: on signing the contract; on the publisher’s acceptance of the completed manuscript; and on the book’s publication. If the writer has already submitted a full manuscript the publisher might contract to pay the “on delivery” portion of the advance until the manuscript is revised to their satisfaction; and if the writer has been offered a two-book deal then the advance will be split between those two books, which will each receive the appropriate staged payments.

A good agent will negotiate this aspect of the contract very carefullly: while the publisher sets the amount of the advance, the timing of when each payment becomes due can make a big difference to the writer—for example, the amount due on publication can be renegotiated so that this is paid instead on delivery of the manuscript, so improving the writer’s income in the short-term.

One book can mean more than one advance: there could be a hardback and then a paperback sale, and foreign sales can also mean further advances. With a good agent, book club deals, large-print editions and audio books can all add their own smaller amounts to the pot.

The advance is not necessarily all that a writer will earn from that book: remember, it is an advance against future royalties. Each sale of the book will earn its author a royalty. These royalties accrue; at the end of every accounting period the total royalties earned will be compared to the advance that has already been paid. So long as the advance already paid exceeds royalties earned, no further payments will be made: however, with many books, there will come a time when the total royalties earned equals the amount of the advance. At this point the book is said to have “earned out”, and all further sales will generate a royalty cheque for the writer at the end of each subsequent accounting period.

And, despite what some of the vanity publishers might tell you, the writer gets to keep the advance regardless of whether the book earns out or not—so long as the manuscript is delivered on time, and conforms to the specifications of the outline and the contract.


Anonymous said...

My publisher sent me the full agreed advance as soon as we'd signed the contract. It wasn't huge - two noughts, not four even five, which is rare these days. They're a small independent publisher and my novel is highly unlikely to sell in shed-loads but it was very nice and it's mine to keep whatever happens to the novel which is not published until next year.

The money is not the reason I wanted to be published but it certainly validates a publisher's faith in me. That's another reason why I wouldn't ever self-publish. I need to know that someone else other than friends and family think I should be published!

Annie Wicking said...

Hi Sally, Glad to hear that things are going well with you.
I miss visiting your blog and reading about your lovely home.

I agree with you, knowing that someone in the world of publishing is willing to lay out good money to see your work in print is for me a dream come true. Yes it's nice to know your family and friends have faith in your work, but you're never quite sure they are only being kind because it's you.

Someone in my family has self-published and the book is badly edited and the whole book needs to be rewritten, but the author feels she is a real writer now and is very happy she has sold 52 copies of her book, been on Suffolk radio, had a book launch and held a reading of her book in her local library. These are things I can only dream of while I'm waiting to hear back from the publisher who has my completed novel.

I'll never go down the self-publishing route myself as I want to be known as great writer not someone who fast track their book which is full of mistakes.

Best wishes

Nicola Slade said...

I agree with you both. It's not the money, it's the validation that is so satisfying. Neither of my novels has received a big advance, 'tiny' would be a more accurate description, but the satisfaction of knowing that a real publisher thought they were good, is immeasurable.

Jane Smith said...

Annie, your relative is a perfect example of why I am so wary of self-publishing. She might be interviewed on radio, but when people come to read her book they're probably going to be sadly disappointed--if only for the typos.

If a commercial publisher had considered it worth taking on, it would have been vastly improved.

Sally and Nicky, it's good to hear of your successes. You both demonstrate that persistence, talent and hours of hard graft will pay off eventually. And no matter how little your advances were, I bet you'll end up earning more from your books than most self-published writers earn from theirs.