Ask the Agent: Advances

I’d like to know your perspective on advances. What is the average advance, in CBA versus ABA? How are advances paid out? Is an advance negotiable, and if so, to what degree?

It’s impossible to give an “average” advance in either CBA or ABA. They’re wildly all over the map depending on so many factors. In my first year agenting, I’ve done contracts for advances ranging from $1,000 all the way up to six figures. I haven’t found ABA advances to be a whole lot higher than CBA for comparable books, but it’s true the big New York houses can generally pay more than the smaller independent Christian houses. Of course, there are plenty of smaller, independent general-market (ABA) publishers who pay smaller advances, too.

While there’s no average, agents can usually look at a proposal and make a pretty good estimate about the range the advance will end up in. We look at who the author is, what kind of book it is, where it fits into the marketplace, and how much platform the author has. It becomes clear what kind of advance the book should attract.

Advances are usually paid out in either halves or thirds. The author gets the first portion upon signing the contract (within 30 days), the next portion after the manuscript is delivered and declared “accepted” for publication, and if there is a third portion, it’s due on publication of the book.

Most advances are negotiable, but that always depends on how much leverage we have. Are there other publishers interested? How excited about the book is the publisher? Is this book a perfect fit for the publisher? Is the book risky or more of a sure-thing? These and other factors determine how negotiable the advance is. On the lower end of the spectrum, particularly for first-time authors, a publisher may offer a small advance that’s basically “take it or leave it.” But as the value of the book goes up, and more publishers are interested, it generally becomes more negotiable.

(Of course, don’t forget there are many other aspects of a book deal that agents negotiate, looking out to get the most fair and favorable contract for their clients.)

The agent’s fee is usually 15% of the advance and royalties. In CBA, the standard practice is for the publisher to disburse two checks, one directly to author (85%) and the other to the agent. General market publishers normally send one check to the agent, who then turns around and sends the author their 85%.

Any other questions on advances?

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

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  • lynnrush

    >Great information, Rachelle.

    Can you explain “selling through your advance?” I have an idea of what it means but I’m curious how that’s determined. Do royalty checks come after you’ve sold through an advance? Is it better to go with a lower advance to try and “sell through it” and move on to percentages?

    Thanks!

  • Jennifer F.

    >Yes! I have a question I’ve been wondering the answer to (I guess I could ask my agent, but in case your readers are interested as well…)

    Is there ever a reason that an author would want to get a lower advance or not take an advance at all?

    For example:

    Let’s say you’re writing a book with Christian themes and a secular publisher picks it up. There are certain religious elements that are non-negotiable to you (that might seem a bit “too religious” to the publisher upon closer look) that you would not be willing to cut. In that case would it be better to skip an advance in case you end up coming to a stalemate with the publisher in the editing process (I believe you recently mentioned such a situation)? Or is it always good to get an advance so that the publisher is incentivized to put a lot of effort into making your book great?

    Thank you!

  • Rachelle

    >Lynn, Jennifer, and everyone–I’ll address all your questions on advances tomorrow. Thanks!

  • Jennifer F.

    >Thank you, Rachelle! Your blog is an invaluable source of information.

  • Karen Witemeyer

    >I have a question about advances for multiple book contracts. If a new author is signed to a 3 book deal, how are the advances paid out? Do they come one at a time as each book is turned in and accepted for publication, or are they treated as a package deal? Would the initial portion of the advance (the one received at the signing of the contract) reflect all three books or just payment on the first?

    Thanks for your help, Rachelle. I learn so much from you and appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge with us.

  • Cheryl Barker

    >I’ve noticed that some of the smaller houses state “no advances”. Should a first-time author ever settle for a contract that does not include an advance?

  • Lea Ann McCombs

    >Karen, I’ve wondered the same thing.

    I’m also wondering about multi-book deals. Does that mean a series, or can the following books be completely seperate from the first one. Does a publisher offer a mult-book deal because they like the writer’s writing or the book itself?

  • Anita Mae

    >Wow. I’m pre-pubbed and I hadn’t considered half of these questions.

    Rachelle, I can’t thank you enough for this blog.

  • Avily Jerome

    >From what I’ve been hearing about the publishing market lately, newer authors are getting less and less of an opportunity because publishing houses are running out of money, in large part due to giving out huge advances but not making as much back as they should.

    Would there be any sense to not taking an advance, in order to get a higher royalty? It seems like in that case everyone would win- the author/agent would make more off their sales, and the publishing house wouldn’t lose so much money thereby being able to cut overhead and make more profit.

    Am I talking crazy here, or might an industry shift in that way benefit everyone related to the market?

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