A lot of new authors in the computer book segment often come with a consulting background. Hourly rates of $50, $75 or $100+ aren’t uncommon. The temptation is to try and negotiate an author advance that produces at least at least the same hourly rate as the author’s consulting work. Let’s take a look at why that’s a bad idea…
In order to analyze this, we need to make some assumptions. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’ll assume a $10K advance and a 3-month writing schedule during which the author has to spend 20 hours per week on the book project. The 3-month schedule is approximately 13 weeks, which means the author invests 260 hours (13*20) in the manuscript, which is probably a low estimate. Divide the $10K advance by the 260 hours and the author has earned $38.46/hour. As a full-time job, this rate annualizes to just under $80K. An author who is used to making an hourly/annual rate higher than this might be disappointed with the $10K advance.
Before you abandon the project, consider two things. First, if you’re going to write a computer book, it might be best to look at it as something that’s “above and beyond” your normal job, not something that replaces it. In other words, don’t quit your day job, because the book project is likely to net out to a lower hourly rate. A lot of authors treat book projects as a way of supplementing their income, adding to their credentials, etc. That’s a healthy way to look at it.
Secondly, you might just earn some royalties down the road, beyond the advance. Talk to your editor to get their thoughts on the likelihood of how long it might take for the advance to earn out. Make sure they’re not just trying to tell you what they think you want to hear. Ask for examples of similar/related titles, but keep in mind that some of this information is confidential – you wouldn’t want your editor sharing your income specifics with another author, right?
If you pick the right project, write a great book and time the market right, you might produce an income stream that lasts beyond the advance. Just keep in mind that a lot of computer books don’t earn much beyond the advance, and some don’t even earn out the advance.