Book advances

Ok, so I haven’t been offered an advance for my book yet. I’m still working on a brilliant (I hope) query letter to sell the book. But, there have been a couple interesting Web stories/posts in the last few days about book advances, and it’s something that even yet-to-be-published authors should know about.

So, back in March, it came out that Audrey Niffenegger, author of the mega best-selling The Time Traveler’s Wife, sold her second book, Her Fearful Symmetry, for close to $5 million — wow! The book was sold in auction, and the Simon & Schuster unit Scribner won the bidding. All this while there’s a recession going on and the publishing houses are laying off staffers left, right and center.

Not, to say anything bad about Niffenegger or judge whether her book’s worth that money. I’m sure it will be. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a huge success, and I hear it’s a fabulous book. (I haven’t read it because, as I write middle grade, all I read nowadays are middle-grade books. I do plan to one day get around to The Time Traveler’s Wife, though.)

The message I think we should get out of a sale like this in the current economy is that books are still selling and making money, because if they weren’t, publishers wouldn’t be paying $5 million for anything.

That’s all good news for us yet-to-be-published authors, because as long as there are readers, publishing houses will need books — good books — to sell them.

Now, will those books get $5 million in advance? Very unlikely, especially if they’re from debut authors.

Moonrat on the Editorial Ass blog points out that 7 out of 10 books don’t earn out their advance. She suggests a different strategy: Get your agent to push for a smaller advance in exchange for more marketing money.

Not a bad idea. If The Time Traveler’s Wife hadn’t been such a huge hit, do you think Audrey would be getting $5 million for her second book? Uh, no. If The Time Traveler’s Wife hadn’t earned out its advance (I don’t know what that advance was), the second book might have had a tough time selling at all.

For most authors, especially debut authors, the advance is going to be a lot more modest. But the message here is about being smart with your book deal. Because, unless you’ve spent years laboring over your work just to get rich quick (and I doubt that, because there are no guarantees in publishing), you don’t just want to sell this one book. You want a long career writing. And if that’s what you want, you have to make sure that every book you write is a success on the retail shelves, which means publicity and marketing.

All good things to know, at no matter what stage of your career you’re in.

Write On!

2 Responses

  1. bukarella says:

    Um, wow. 5 million for a second book. Now, I have to admit, Time Traveler’s Wife was an excellent book, and I will gladly buy anything by Niffenegger the day it comes out.

    I know I can’t quit my job yet and live off of writing (heck, I’ve yet to finish my manuscript!), but I’m sure happy for Mrs. Niffenegger.

    P.S. I’m working on a MG project as well! 🙂

  2. Give it time, bukarella. 🙂

    Come back and let us know how your MG project is going. Good luck.

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