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    © 2013, Joseph B. Wikert
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« The Sales Rep’s Role | Main | More Publishing Model Tinkering »

April 18, 2005

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» Average Joe Publisher Blogging about author advances from Jim Minatel's Wrox Book Editor Blog
Yikes! And to think I was one of the ones who lobbied Joe Wikert, Wiley and Wrox publisher, to start a blog. Now he's giving away the goods on what an average author advance is. Seriously, as an acq ed, [Read More]

Comments

Naba Barkakati

Joe, I have been with you (Wiley and all the other incarnations before that) all this time and your explanation of average advance matches my experience with advances. The first-year earn-out of royalty seems to be a key consideration. By the way, I think this information would be very helpful to new authors.

Ed Bott

Don't forget the author's reputation and experience as a factor. You're willing to pay a higher advance to an author that you know can deliver the goods on time, in a highly readable and accurate form, right? After more than ten years in the business, I hope I can command higher advances than a rookie would, because your risk is lower.

Joe Wikert

I knew I'd find a way to get some of you long-time authors to comment on this... Ed, you're absolutely right. In your case, I think the author platform factor also comes into play. That was a big plus when we first met during your PC Computing days and it remains a nice asset that you bring to the table today.

Upon further review, I realize I probably should have stated more of an average range rather than a firm number. A large percentage of books probably fall within the $8K to $12K range, hence the $10K average. Also, existing brands play a role. Advances are likely to be lower for a book in an already-existing brand, especially if it's a strong brand. Although publishers certainly respect what the author brings to the table, the brand/series itself helps push some books along. With that in mind, the author generally has a harder time justifying a larger advance, especially if the existing series/brand is very formulaic, meaning the author is following pretty strict guidelines.

Jeremy C. Wright

I'm not a "seasoned" author, but I'm about halfway done my first book. I know that my first offers, and the first offers for all my author friends on their first books were all in the 7-9K range.

I'm glad you clarified that though. I'd agree that 8-12K is fairly close to what I hear for a first book.

Dave Taylor

Joe, you're spot in with computer and technical books. It's all a basic risk/reward equation and the idea is that authors should share the risk (which is why you typically get paid less than your hourly value for the writing process) and the reward (royalties that take your per-hour writing time and blow it through the stratosphere. Or at least hover a few feet above the floor :-) )

If you start with a $10k advance as a working figure and adjust it up if the author has a strong track record, has the ability to effectively market the book, if there's a growing interest in the subject, if there's an unusually aggressive writing schedule, etc. Then adjust it down if the author has a reputation for turning in poor prose, missing schedules, doesn't have a track record, or is writing about a subject that might be a bust. As you know, it's a *team* working on a book, and the author and publisher are just two of the players.

Oh, then roll a dice and multiply by the number of spots shown, toss a few darts at a board for a multiplier, and count the tea leaves in your teacup to get a final figure.

Oh! One more factor: is it a new book or a revision to a previous title? Revisions typically have lower payscales, in my experience, but they also require less work. Also, needless to say, some publishers are much more stingy about advances too, though I'm not going to name names here.

Remember also that savvy authors push to get the best possible advance, then push to get the best possible royalty terms: everything being equal, I'd take a flat 20% royalty against zero advance over a $15k advance and 7% royalty (yeah, like I'm ever going to see a flat 20%). Y'know what I mean? The other half of this discussion is definitely to talk about reasonable expectations of royalties.

A splendid, informative post, as always, Joe.

Brad Hill

I would counsel new authors on a couple of larger issues.

First, Joe's accurate peg of the typical advance range represents a snapshot of the current computer-book publishing economy and overall economy. A track record is not as powerful (in my experience, anyway) as the economic tides. I received higher advances 5-8 years ago when I was a newer author. This means that in order to keep my overall income decent (though definitely not as high as during the booming 90s), I've had to deemphasize short-term royalties in my revenue mix, making up the difference elsewhere.

That brings up life-of-book issues. Or perhaps they should be called life-of-topic issues. A book's advance can be evaluated not only with speculation on the contract's back end (whether the advance will pay out; if and when you'll get more money; now much you'll get), but also by the possibility of future editions. That's more speculation, of course, but the point is to claim a *topic* within your series brand, not just a single book. Then try to own that topic in as many media and formats as possible to support not only the first-edition sales, but, ideally, keep the momentum going into subsequent editions. More than once I have made my most gratifying royalty checks on the surprising success of second editions. And advances on subsequent editions are almost always richer per hour of work than in first editions.

Think long! Try to regard the advance as a down payment on your long-term commitment to the topic. Broaden receptivity to opportunities that aren't directly tied to THE BOOK--doing so helps book sales. Publishing is ever-shifting; advances rise and fall; Ed Boards move in and out of buying moods; topics fade and come around again. In this wide-angle context, the advance can be a small, if important, piece of a big picture.

Oh -- and try to get the highest damn advance you can [smile].

Steve Hayes

I'm glad I can link over to Joe's blog so I don't have to put any "real numbers" in my own!

Kidding aside, this entry pretty much sums up the editors' side in the Dummies world as well. The only comment I'd echo is one that Joe made in his follow-up: that average advances in strong series like Dummies probably come in a bit lower, but still within the ranges he gives.

Todd Main

This is really great. I'm considering authoring some books, so this is helpful. I have some questions though:
1) Are we talking advances for technical books or non-fiction in general?
2) Is it standard practice to take no advance in return for higher royalities? If so, what kinds of % are we talking about?
3) So if the average advance is $10k, what would be the average royalty in, say, a 2 year period?

Joe Wikert

Hi Todd. All my examples are for tech books, computer books specifically. I can't speak for other non-fiction titles. As far as it being a "standard practice" to take no advance for higher royalties, I'd say the answer is probably "no". I'm just tossing it out there as something an author should consider. There's probably no "average royalty" over a 2-year period. These fluctuate wildly depending on the topic, the royalty rate, the cover price, etc. One thing you could probably extrapolate from this though is that if the average advance for a book is $10K, and the publisher wants to earn that out in the first year, the total royalties for year #1 would be at least that much and even higher for year #2.

Todd Main

Thank you Joe!

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