By Jill Williamson
Some of you had such great questions in regards to advances that I had to go ask my agent friends to be able to answer you. Here is what I learned.
Turns out, things are a little different in the general market.
As to my explaining how royalties are negotiated, that's a CBA thing. I asked literary agents Chip MacGregor and Amanda Luedeke your questions to get this all straight. Both Chip and Amanda are agents who represent authors in the ABA and CBA markets.
Chip says: Royalties don't really get negotiated in the general market. Everyone is paid 10% of the RETAIL price on the first 5000 copies, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. Note that you're paid on the retail price in the ABA. CBA pays on the net price.
Jill adds: Retail price is the price the book sells for. Net is the amount left over after the cost has been removed from the retail price.
2. Can you negotiate a lower advance and higher royalty?
Chip says: Not in the general market. Royalties are fixed. But in CBA you could, theoretically -- except you'd lose, in my opinion, because the publisher doesn't have much at risk.
Amanda says: Yeah, a CBA publisher might be willing to negotiate a lower advance and higher royalty. I'd also add that an author's money isn't made by royalties or advances alone. An author's money is made by having a hit book and selling lots of copies. With most authors earning somewhere around $1 per book on royalties, earning out doesn't mean you're rolling in the dough...unless you sell lots of books.
And even then, a higher royalty percentage would be the difference between making $1 per book and $1.15 per book or something like that. It would be a very small increase.
3. Can you ask for a lower advance so that you earn out sooner?
Chip says: Sure. I've had authors do that. Sometimes it makes sense -- but keep in mind that we want the publisher to feel invested in the book. With a very small advance, the publisher doesn't have much at stake. Or, to put it in real-world terms, if a $2000 book flops, it's not a huge deal, since the publisher didn't have that much at stake... but if a $200,000 book flops, it's a disaster -- so they can't let that happen, and they will do anything to make sure it doesn't flop.
So there you go. And this is why a new author's career won't be over if he doesn't earn out. Because most likely the publisher took his being new into account when they calculated his advance and set a sales goal. They didn't put up a lot of risk, so if the author did okay, the publisher will likely buy another book, especially if the author worked hard and was easy to work with.
Write the best books you can, work hard at marketing them when they sell, and be patient. Because in my understanding, the key to earning a living is by having several books out at once, all earning a little here and there. Keep on writing those books!