A large number of people wind up on this blog by doing a Google search for “average advance.” Although I’ve talked a bit about advances in previous entries (royalty calculations, advances and royalties: risk/reward and returns reserves), I thought I should address the idea of an “average advance” in a post all by itself.
As with the rest of my posts on this blog, it’s important to keep in mind that my perspective comes from the computer book publishing market. If you’re searching for information on the typical advance in the science fiction area, for example, you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s also important to realize that although it’s possible to calculate a true average advance, there are all sorts of exceptions and variables to consider. More on that in a moment…
In our business today, a typical author advance is around $10,000. Some are lower and some are higher. In fact, some authors completely opt out of the advance and choose to delay their earnings till the first royalty payment.
What are some factors that tend to drive up the advance? An urgent demand for the topic (which might include a shorter writing schedule) and an author's unique platform are two good examples. If a publisher is anxious to get a particular book/topic on the shelves they might be inclined to pay more for the author advance. As I note, however, this often results in the publisher asking the author for a shorter writing schedule. Be sure to read the earlier post on What Makes a Bestseller? to see where author platform fits into the equation.
What sort of factors might cause the advance to be on the lower end of the scale? One example is if the book covers a riskier topic with limited upside. Sometimes it’s hard to justify even an “average” advance on an emerging topic. It’s virtually impossible to gauge a sales forecast on a topic for which no books are currently available. Ironically, this is exactly the type of publishing that can create a breakout title that far exceeds the publisher’s wildest expectations. It all comes down to how much faith your editor and publisher have in the title.
If the lack of existing titles on the topic might cause the advance to be lower, shouldn’t the opposite be true? The more books out on a topic would therefore cause the advance on the next book to be higher. Nope. It doesn’t take long for the “next” book to be considered a commodity, once again driving down the advance the publisher is willing to pay. If there are already a dozen books out there on the topic don’t expect the publisher to treat yours (the 13th one) as something special that deserves a high advance…unless you’ve got a great platform or there’s some other compelling reason.
Many new authors often think page count plays a role in the advance. Truth is, there’s really no correlation between page count and advance dollars. An 800-page book won’t necessarily pay out two times the advance of a 400-page one – the smaller book might even get a higher advance than the bigger book. Finally, keep in mind that first-year earn-out of the advance is often an important consideration.
Many seasoned authors have been reading this blog. How does the information in this post compare to your experience with advances and an overall average?