It’s Just Business Tuesday

August 19, 2008 | Karin's Blog | 6 comments

Albeit a wee bit late. Sorry, stayed up way too late watching the Olympics. And Lastia got ripped off!

Dear Karin,

I was wondering about how the advances and % of sales work. Are payments on sales paid out monthly? And why does the publisher receive the lion’s share?

Signed, Call Me Curious

Well, Call Me Curious, advances are tricky. A lot rides on the amount. For a new author the publisher looks at the commercial value of the work, where it will be slotted, when it will be slotted, if it will get the golden nod, which is major distribution and co op dollars for placement, if it’s a hot genre, or if it is destined to be a midlist book that will basically get hidden amongst the gazzillion other titles that month. Advances also depend on the publisher, the genre, and the projected sales of the title. Quite literally a debut author can get anywhere from a $1000.00 to a million dollar advance, it just depends on how they think it will do. Of course if you have a lousy agent your chances of a big deal are cut, but with a shrewd agent who knows they have a hot commodity, chances are good you’ll get a decent advance. As stated, advances run the gamut, but I would say for most new authors 5K-20K is the norm. Your mileage may very, especially when it comes to category.

Now if you are an established author with solid numbers behind you, you’ll get more for the next contract. As far as how advances are paid out, New York is cutting them up into three parts these days. Typically, a third upon signing, the second third upon acceptance (the manuscript is accepted and put into production) and the last third on release. Again a good agent can front load the first third pretty heavily.

Once an advance is earned out, then every six months (after the first cycle, which means you can wait for a year) an author can expect a royalty check. Royalties percentages can vary from 3-4% on the low end to the standard 7.5% for trade and 8 % for mass market. Once an advance is earned out (and some books never earn out) the publisher holds a nice chunk of the author’s royalties in reserve against any future returns. They can hold this money for years. It sucks. While many folks say it isn’t all about the money, and it isn’t, it’s nice to get as much up front as you can so that you don’t have to wait sometimes years for the release of the book to get the last part of your advance.

So, why does the publisher get the lion’s share?

Well, they produce the product, they promote it, and they have tremendous overhead. There are those editors, copy editors, sales team, art department, legal, publicity, all kinds of support staff, rent, utilities, you name it to pay, but bottom line: the cost of publishing is high.

I hope that answers your questions. If anyone else wants more clarification, holler. I do have another set of questions for next week, but after that the well is dry, so ask me!



  1. Edie

    Karin, good information. You explained this in a way easy to understand. 🙂

  2. Karin

    I tied, Edie. There is more to it then that, but I tried to cover the basics.

  3. Holly D

    Thanks, Karin. You always make a complicated topic make sense.

  4. Margaret

    Karin, I just wanted to thank you for stressing the bottom line about publishing–it’s just business. You’ve said it a billion times, but I think it took the billion times to make it stick. 🙂

  5. LaDonna

    Karin, thanks for the information. Really appreciate the look behind the scenes. Good stuff! 🙂

  6. Karin

    Holly, publishing is complicated, but once you’ve been in it for awhile the clouds seem to part, and just when you think you have it figured out something else comes at you out of left field. In many ways publishing is a game of endurance.

    Margaret, it is just business and it’s tough sometimes to remember that and not get our feelings hurt, but the bottom line is those lovely numbers. The bigger the better!

    LaD, any time. 🙂

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