How Much Do Publishers Typically Pay?

December 1, 2015

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One of the burning questions for most writers hoping to get a book deal is: what kind of advance will I get? We’ve written before about the sobering state of writers’ incomes. Still, some advances are higher than others, and many different factors determine what a publisher might pay you.

There’s no such thing as average.

It’s impossible to predict how much an advance will be. We’ve been positive a book would command $30,000, and then actual offers came in closer to $10,000. We’ve also felt sure some of our projects might earn $7,500 and they’ve earned $50,000. We never promise our clients a certain advance level, because we can’t.

But if we were to try to give an average advance for a first-time author, we would say that in North America the smallest houses tend to pay around $2,000-$10,000 for a book, and larger houses might pay $20,000-$60,000, depending on all kinds of factors. Long-established, big-name writers might earn in the high six figures, and celebrity memoirs can command seven figures.

Obviously that’s a huge range. These are some of the factors that determine an advance:

The publisher’s size

In general, the bigger publishers have deeper pockets. That is particularly true for the multinationals (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin Random House, Macmillan), which are part of corporate conglomerates with shareholders and diverse business activities. They don’t rely exclusively on their trade publishing programs for their profit, in other words. We’ve seen several instances where a small press producing, say, thirty books a year, offers a $2,000 advance for the same book for which a larger house offers $25,000. There may be other reasons you would prefer to work with the small house, but the fact is, their advance is likely to be low.

The number of publishers offering

If you only have one offer, you don’t have a lot of bargaining power. If two or more publishers are interested in your book, though, you can negotiate among them to secure the highest possible advance. This is one of the advantages of working with a literary agent: they approach multiple publishers and try to secure interest from as many as possible so they can run an auction. During an auction, publishers compete against one another for the book, which drives up the advance.

The writer’s profile

If you are a debut author without a significant platform, you will likely earn less than somebody who has developed a large following or written other books. There are exceptions to this rule, too. Matthew Thomas, author of the debut novel We Are Not Ourselves, is rumoured to have earned more than a $1-million North American advance at auction. That kind of experience is extremely rare.

The territories included in the offer

Publishers license rights in specific territories (for instance, world, all languages; English North America, world French). If a book has serious international potential, you can expect a publisher to offer more for world rights than they would for just their own country. They would hope to earn the higher advance back through sales to foreign publishers. On the other hand, if a book is unlikely to do well outside of the publisher’s home country, they might still offer on world rights but not pay any more for them then they would for their own country.

Don’t despair

So if you get a $1,500 advance, believe us, you’re not alone. But here’s hoping you all land at the higher end of our averages.

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