Friday, July 6, 2012

A Bit More on Advances

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.

1. I have a limited experience! Keep in mind, I (Jill) have been published in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA or Christian market) by a small, indie publisher and a large, traditional publisher. But I'm still really new at all this. And although Zondervan is owned by Harper Collins, Zondervan is still a separate company. I have not been published in the American Booksellers Association (ABA or general market).

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!


  1. Haha, so I'm not crazy for having four books being wrote at once. :)

    1. Nope! Write away! Publishers are always looking for authors who can write fast and well, Maddie.

    2. Haha, well I can deffinately write fast, I'm not sure how well though.

  2. I was wondering if you have to pay anything to get your book published in a general market? I'm definately NOT rich, but I really would love be published- not for money or anything, but just becaue I want to make something beautiful and share it. :P
    ~ the1812'er

    1. That depends on your goal.

      If your goal is to be published traditionally, you don't have to pay anything to get published. The publisher will pay you. This is the best of the best!

      If your goal is to have a book you can hold, you can self-publish it. That can cost different amounts depending on where you go.

      I'll say this, if I, Jill Williamson, was going to self publish a book, I would look to invest about $2000. But I wouldn't go with a company that charges that. I would do it on my own. I would find a high-quality editor and pay them $1000 of it, and I'd pay the cover designer about $500. The other $500 I'd need to buy my ISBN and to figure out other logistics with the printer. Many printers work with the print-on-demand systems. Marcher Lord Press uses those printers. And they don't charge much at all up front.

      My point is, I would invest in making sure I had stellar editing and a stellar cover, because what sells a book--what makes a book work--is having a professional cover and a great story. If I invest in that up front, I'm much more liable to make my money back than if I edited the book myself or asked my mom or Stephanie to edit it for fifty bucks and if I did my own cover. I'd likely end up with a product that was less beautiful than it could have been.

      So that's my take on that. :-)

  3. What is the difference between the Christian and general market? Like, can a Christian book be published in the general market?

    1. Absolutely a Christian book can be published in the general market, and many general market publishers are looking for books from a Christian worldview.

      Really, it's a fine line. The main difference is that CBA publishers publish books that target the Christian market, while ABA publishers publish books that target the general market. But both markets are always hoping for crossover.

      My fantasy novels were published by a CBA publisher, but they were reviewed by general market publications and were accepted in the general market. Replication has not been as readily accepted in the general market because--unwittingly--I wrote about a very controversial topic (cloning, which relates to stem cell technology, which can relate to the abortion debate. Oopsy! Duh, Jill). So there have been some general market reviewers who disliked, maybe, five sentences in my book and sort of black-listed the book as one for "conservative Christian audiences only," which hurt my sales.

      But I've had many readers who aren't Christians write me and tell me the subject matter didn't bother them at all. So every reader is different.

      Veronica Roth, the author of Divergent, is a Christian. Divergent is not a Christian book, but there are mentions of God in the book and the storyworld does not ignore the possibility of a creator God. Veronica is an example of a Christian woman writing books for the general market.

      Mostly, the crossover depends on your subject matter and how you present it. One thing I notice, the general market does not like the name of Jesus. Call him God and your safe. Call him Jesus and you're a radical. My two cents there. *grin*

  4. Okaaaaay, I don't really have anything to say. I just wanted to thank you for this post. I loved it!

  5. this is all really intereseting. especially the Christian vs general market!
    Do alot of agents represent both CBA and ABA? and does that when they are pitching your book they look at both general and Christian publishers?

    I have a question, I'm trying to figure out how to put it though I don't think there is a clear answer. I'll try
    There's differences in the two markets and obviously the general market is much bigger.
    When it comes to getting published do you think you have a better chance trying to get published in the general market simply becauuse it is bigger and they publish so many more books?
    Could you do a post talking about the differenes you know of in the two markets? that may be awesome! I didn't know about the advance thing and so there has to be many more to uncover.

    1. From my experience agents tend to represent certain genres. Ex: some agents represent romance novelists, some represent non fiction only, some represent science fiction and fantasy, etc.

      Though some will rep it all. And many rep both CBA and ABA. But good agents have relationships with editors, and most of them have a group of editors they know very well. So the trick to finding the right agent is to find one who knows editors who are looking for your kind of book.

      If you pitched a book that could work for the ABA or CBA market, your agent will know that. If your agent is good, he or she will know who is looking for what kind of book before they even sign you.

      As far as your best chance of being published, I don't think one or the other matters. Sure there are more publishers in the general market, but that means there are WAY more books to compete against. I always suggest you write the book you feel led to write and worry about where it fits later. If your only goal is getting a book published, you likely aren't writing the book that's really on your heart, if that makes sense. Anyone can force themselves to write what will sell. But if you want to write what you're best at, you need to write what you feel called to write, if that makes sense...

      I think I've already said all I know of the differences between the two markets, but I'll ask my agent if she can add anything to what I've already said.

    2. Gotcha! That's why we need to research agents before we try to get one, huh.
      Do agents rep more than one genre? For me, I'm torn between YA & 20-something/new adult type?
      That's what I'm trying to figure out now, the story I'm plotting can go either way & I'm not sure which.

  6. I was wondering if the general market published Christian books. Thanks, Jill!

  7. Honestly... even if I get published all I really care about is that I got published, and if I have people that love my books and want more from me. :) That's all that really matters, I'd be tickled pink if I had even a small fan base outside my friends and family.

    1. That's all most of us dream of, Jazmine. And it's lovely when it happens. It truly is. :-)