This weekend I caught some buzz stirring among some fiction authors. I’m on an email group as a part of the American Christian Fiction Writers (excellent group with many benefits). A member of the group posted a link to this article entitled, “How Much Does A Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer Make?”
Some people might instantly respond, “I don’t write or read science fiction or fantasy. Why should I care?”
Throughout my years in publishing, I’ve never seen this type of data. Admittedly, the Internet makes gathering such information easy then it’s also easy to distribute it. I know science fiction and fantasy writing is an active genre of fiction. People have strong feelings about this genre—positive or negative. The quotation in the article which jumped out from my perspective was under the category of First Novel Advances: “The average was $6363.” Now that is a hefty advance from my experience —either as a writer or an editor. As one of my friends wrote to me, “Maybe I’ve better start writing science fiction.”
If you’ve never heard the term advance, I found a great definition on the Author’s Guild website: “An advance against royalties is money that your publisher will pay you prior to publication and subsequently deduct from your share of royalty earnings. Most publishers will pay, but might not initially offer, an advance based on a formula which projects the first year's income.”
This definition matches my experience inside a publishing house. Typically before the publisher offers a book contract to an author, they try and project the sales of your book for the first year. Asking their sales team, the publisher takes an educated guess at those numbers. As an acquisitions editor at my previous publisher, I had to fill out a detailed P & L to project the actual costs of the book, the number of pages, the type of binding, the print treatments for the cover (such as foil stamping), etc. With this information, I was able to calculate what I could offer for an advance on the book. As an author, you want your book to earn back the advance because then you will receive royalty checks or payment from the publisher as you sell additional books. Each publisher has a different accounting system. Some times they issue financial statements to their authors quarterly, other times twice a year and some times once a year.
I understand authors like to receive the largest advance possible. That strategy might not be the best one to pursue. If your advance earns out so you make additional funds, you will be a much more attractive author to your publisher—than the ones who don’t earn back their advance. It’s something else for you to consider when you reach this point in the process.
Some times I’m amused at the query letters I receive from would-be authors. They want to jump right into the discussion and learn about their potential royalty rate and advance—before they even tell me about their project. In those cases, the author is walking around with stars in their eyes—and not in reality.
As a would-be author, your first order of business is to convince the editor they need your manuscript. For first-time fiction authors, it means writing such a dynamic manuscript, I can’t help but turn the pages. For nonfiction, it means writing a book proposal which is so complete and perfect for my publishing house, that I need to call an internal meeting and get things rolling for others inside the publishing house to offer you a book contract.
It’s all fine to buzz and dream about your potential advance. As a reality check, make sure you take care of first things first—and get the publisher to offer you a contract. Instead of thinking about the money and the earnings, focus on the idea. Who will it reach? Why is there a need? Why are you the best person on the planet to write this particular book?
If you work hard to answer these questions, it will give you a more realistic means to contact publishers and gain a hearing.