Once upon a time…, I was one of the ones. You know, one of the ones who thought, first of all, that an advance would come as a lump sum. I dreamed of all sorts of possible amounts, letting the scenarios roll around in my head at will. I studied Publisher’s Marketplace to see who was getting paid what, and for what. I dreamed of the six figure deal. Maybe a $250K deal. Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big, right? While dreaming, I carefully made sure I allotted 15% out to my agent, and then used a rather aggressive 28% tax bracket – because in the past, we’ve been there, done that. That would net about $151K. I mean, seriously? We could live very comfortably off of that for a few years.
Then I figured, if the publishers would fork over $250K for a book, that meant they loved it, which meant everyone else would love it, and there’d be enormous talk, and buzz, and hype, and cupcakes for all. It would be an instant bestseller and then movie rights would come along, and someone important from Hollywood would call me on my cell. Maybe Christian Bale. (Because we are still in story land here, I can do this) Bestseller for some lists means 100,000 books sold. What if my newly minted contract said I got something like, oh, I don’t know, $2 per book. Wow. 100,000 sold? Cha ching! Euphoria! Land of milk and honey!
Cha ching??? Keep reading.
We can now exit story land, while holding the screen door carefully so it doesn’t whack us in the rear on the way out. So, just what is the truth about the advances we all hear about? A big thank you to Teri Carter, who shared a link that contains an interview with Cheryl Strayed. Within this interview is the reality behind getting a big advance. You’ll have to sign up for Scratch if you want to read the entire article, but the gist of it is this:
- Strayed was paid a $100,000 advance for her memoir, WILD. Nobody, and I mean nobody would scoff at that. I sure wouldn’t. I’d be so thrilled, I wouldn’t be able to breathe for days. Because I’d want to live and see my book in print, I would find some way to make my lungs work.
- Probably the most important point to know is this; that wonderful six figure advance didn’t come as a lump sum. It was paid in increments of $25,000 over the course of four years. First payment on signing, second when the book went to print, third for the hardcover launch, and the fourth and final payment, when the paperback came out.
- Take away the 15% for the agent, she said her first payment was $21,000. And then there were taxes to be paid out of that. The same went for the other three payments. Depending on her tax bracket – and with no idea what her hubby makes, (for the sake of this, I’ll use 15% as a general), her annual salary might have been around $18,500 for the four years she received her advance for WILD. She told this funny storyabout how she was at a book signing, when the book had become a best seller, and their rent check bounced. Ouch.
Let’s break down my story land advance from above using the “real world” scenario. Assuming all of the above, a $250K advance would be broken into four installments, subtract agent percentage and maybe bump the taxes up to 20%. This would yield a yearly salary of approximately $43,000. These scenarios (hers and my made up one) exclude any book sales, and royalties, but all said and done, the big advances are obviously not life changing incomes, as many non-writers (and probably some writers!) might have thought. And…, publishing contracts vary.
There are generally three variations of payment offered within any given contract:
- Flat Fee – You are paid a set amount and no matter how many books are sold, that’s your payment.
- Royalties – a small amount paid for each book sold
- Advance Against Royalties (most often used) – you are paid an advance, and then more in royalties if the book sells beyond the advance. If a 250K advance was paid as mentioned above, with a $2 per book royalty, that would mean another 25K books have to be sold before any royalties are put into my hand.
Did learning all this make a difference in how I perceived becoming published? No, it didn’t. I’m very glad to know enough about the business side of it now, so as to not feel gobsmacked by reality if and when a book sells. Besides, it isn’t why I’m doing it in the first place. Sure, I want to make money…, but, if you have ever created something from nothing, you know what I’m talking about. You know how it is to build your world, create your characters, watch them react to unbelievable situations, wonder if they will come out of it, and be okay. There is something to the heft of a manuscript when you print it out. You hold it in your hands and flip through the pages. I’m still stunned I could produce something like this, not once, not twice, but three times. Despite the fact I may never ever feel completely and financially secure from writing, I still have the same desire to see my book/s in print as I ever did.