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Filthy Lucre

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Aspiring authors frequently devote so much time to pursuing goal of being published. But from a financial standpoint, what does that really mean? The news headlines are full of huge book deals, like the $2.2 million Little, Brown gave to first-time novelist Elizabeth Kostova for The Historian. That kind of advance is often the only dollar amounts we hear about, so it’s easy to understand why aspiring authors think all advances are huge.

Tom Connor’s article What’s the Deal? in the January 2006 issue of Writer’s Digest provides some great details to help clear up that confusion. “In most cases, for first books, publishers pay anywhere from a $2,500 to a $15,000 advance for fiction, slightly more for nonfiction,” Connor writes.

Connor goes on to explain that authors usually get their paycheck from the publisher a year (or more) before the book is released. Advances are typically paid out in two installments: one check when the contract is signed and another check when the completed manuscript is accepted. Although, it’s becoming increasingly common for advances to be paid in three installments around the milestones of signing the contract, acceptance of the manuscript, and actual publication of the book.

Now, here’s where I get myself in trouble…  sitting in traffic, or maybe at a boring work meeting, I daydream about a FedEx envelope waiting for me at home, stuffed full of cash, an eager publisher wanting me so bad they can’t wait, to hell with the paperwork and accountants, here’s a big pile of benjamins! But Connor smashes my delusions. “When the check actually arrives in your mailbox is another story–usually a month or two longer than you thought it possibly could.”

Other experts confirm Connor’s depiction of payouts on a glacial pace. Matt Bondurant, author of The Third Translation told us in his Slushpile interview that to get the cash takes “a lot longer than you think, and longer than they say.” I’ve read another expert (although I’ve been unable to find the post during the commercials of the USC-Texas game so you’ll just have to take my word for it) who basically said that you shouldn’t count on the money at any particular time at all. Don’t plan on it for your rent money, don’t think you can put off that root canal until it comes in, and don’t think it’s going to bail out your loser stepson who keeps getting popped for passing bad checks.

Connor’s article goes on to explain the percentages for royalties, earning out, selling foreign rights, and other financial things to expect when selling your first book. The game’s getting close to cruch time, Texas just kicked a field goal, so I’ll wrap it up there. Pick up the January 2006 issue of Writer’s Digest for the rest of Tom Connor’s useful article.