Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Talk About the Money

STATUS: If I read my latest Publishers Weekly magazine at the same time as getting a pedicure, does that qualify as working? Hey, it’s summer time.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I AND LOVE AND YOU by Avett Brothers

Last weekend I spoke at my local Lighthouse Writers Litfest. They wrapped up two weeks of celebrating literature and authors with an agent panel at the Tattered Cover in Lodo (which stands for Lower Downtown)—and to be honest, agents doesn’t sound overly celebratory to me but hey, they thought that was the way to do it. Didn’t you know that most of us are full of hot air?

One of the questions asked at the panel was how much of an advance can a writer expect for a debut novel.

Admit it. All of you just perked up your ears. Always, always, writers want to know about the dollars involved. The problem is that this question is really hard to answer. Depending on the novel, it literally could go for any amount of money.

When pressed, which happened of course, the audience wanted to know what was “typical.”

Once again, no such thing but if you hold a gun to my head, I’ll say this:

1. Most debut novels will have advances of under 25k per book. I’d say that’s typical.

2. What a debut novel will get for an advance will depend on genre.
a. Romance novels—5-15k per book
b. YA or MG—10-30k
c. Mysteries & thrillers—Uh, no idea. Don’t rep them. Janet Reid, my friend, can you chime in here? I think you are the Queen of repping this genre.
d. Literary fiction—10-30k
e. Women’s fic—10-30k (are you noticing a pattern here?)
f. SF&F—5-25k

Okay, fine. I told you the money—as long as you realize this list is meaningless, we’re fine.

Have I sold a debut romance author for six figures? Yes. Debut literary author for six figures? Yes. SF&F debut author for 6? Not yet (but I’ve gotten really close…).

Etc. It all depends on how many editors want your particularly debut novel. For my part, I often feel the most satisfaction for selling a debut that took forever to place (and the author was on the verge of giving up hope) and the novel I sold for peanuts that then exploded and just sold and sold.

Now that’s the kind of money I like to talk about.

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23 Responses

  1. pensees said:

    “the novel I sold for peanuts that then exploded and just sold and sold”

    Ooh, that’s the kind of client I’d like to be. 🙂

    Cyndi
    ctefft.blogspot.com

  2. elfarmy17 said:

    Hey, maybe I’ll be the first SF 6 figure of yours (like that’s going to happen). Lol, I’ll have to send you my query letter first. Ms. Reid’s got it for Query-Sharking. I’m going to wait for a few more posts before I start sending it out anyway. You’re first on my list, though.

  3. Kristi Helvig said:

    I’ve heard great things about the Lighthouse group and hope to attend Litfest next year.

    As far as advances, I’d take having a smaller advance and exceeding expectations over getting a larger advance and not earning out. I just wonder if a publishing house puts more marketing money behind a debut author with a larger advance because they’ve already invested more in that author.

  4. Simon Hay Soul Healer said:

    Thanks. If it’s a big advance do you encourage the author to spend x amount of dollars on publicity. Can you perhaps share your thoughts or a conversation you’ve had on this subject. Cheers, Simon.

  5. Kathryn said:

    Good to know and important to know. Still, just icing on the cake to being able to hold a tangible book in my hand that I wrote. There are somethings money can’t buy, for everything else, there’s Mastercard. Or a book.

  6. Anonymous said:

    You can find out which of Kristin’s debut authors she has sold for six figures easily with a Publisher’s Marketplace subscription.

    But for the curious:

    YA/MG:
    Helen Stringer
    Janice Hardy
    Sarah Rees Brennan

    Romance:
    Sherry Thomas
    Courtney Milan

    Literary:
    Jamie Ford

  7. Watery Tart said:

    I can’t tell you MUCH but I can tell you I have recently gotten (still only verbal at this point) a deal for DEBUT, TRADE Cozy Mystery and it is $5K per book, so I think the Mystery end of the Mystery and Thriller looks a lot like romance, but the Thriller end runs more with the mainstream or even higher.

  8. Anonymous said:

    “…Didn’t you know that most of us are full of hot air?…”

    Yes, we do. But we forgive you and the rest on a regular basis. 🙂

    Kristi Asked: “…I just wonder if a publishing house puts more marketing money behind a debut author with a larger advance because they’ve already invested more in that author…”

    Um, HELL yes. Because they have to make all that advance money back. It the reason a debut book by an author you’ve never heard of will suddenly end up on the NYT bestseller list its first week out. The publisher marketed the heck out of it, it gots displays in bookstores, gots hype at BEA, etc.

  9. Dara said:

    I’d be happy with any sort of advance 🙂 I think though I would be more ecstatic to sell for a low amount and then easily surpass that in sales.

  10. Anonymous said:

    I so want to leave a comment but I dare not. It would be discursive and mean (toward publishers).

  11. Ghost Writer said:

    Wow, thanks for sharing this with us!

    I don’t know if you reply to comments but I’ll ask my question anyway.

    I’ve been approached by a prestigious publishing house who’d like to publish my debut novel for a tiny advance – which is understandable given that they represent the Middle East and Indian Sub Con region. They want ME and Indian SC rights and I get to keep worldwide rights.

    Should I go for it, hoping that this deal will open the door for international deals, or do I hold out for a better deal to come along?

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated!

    Thanks in advance 🙂

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