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Advances and Royalties April 27, 2009

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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About ten years ago, I was talking to four romance writers published by Harlequin. As a group, they figured their average earnings at $4,000 per book. This sounded low to me, but one of the better-known writers assured me that they were being completely forthright. She said she wrote about ten romances a year to make a living but also supplemented her income by working part-time at McDonald’s. Not quite what I expected!

Even though romances are selling strongly even in the current poor economy, earnings from them still aren’t usually enough to quit a day job for. Check out this site, www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html, for up-to-date information on earnings.

Recently, Lynn Viehl posted online her earnings from her New York Times bestseller, Twilight Fall. Anyone can view the statement at http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller

She received a $50,000 advance. An advance is money that a publisher pays an author upfront for the right to publish the author’s book. Before the author receives any royalties (which are a percentage of the sales, such as 10 percent of the cover price of the book), the author must earn out the advance. So, if the author had an $8 book at 10 percent royalties and a $5,000 advance, 6,250 copies of the book would have to sell before the author received any royalties. Many first-time authors never earn out their advance, so they never receive any royalties. And some publishers expect authors to pay back the part of the advance they didn’t earn.

Even though Lynn Viehl’s book is a bestseller, she still hasn’t earned out her $50,000 advance and, thus, hasn’t received royalties. The advance may be all that she ever receives from that book. Still, she received a much higher advance than most writers receive. Publishers usually pay an advance in accord with how well they think a book will sell. Some publishers don’t pay advances.

A friend of mine who wrote a nonfiction book about classroom teaching strategies received no advance. She looked forward to her first royalty check. Then she received it:  a whopping $12.

That’s the reality of writing books: no guarantees of making a living. As one of my writing friends says, “Love the process.” Most of us aren’t in it for the money anyway, but a realistic understanding of advances and royalties goes a long way in loving the process.

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