Saturday, November 6, 2010

"What kind of an advance can I expect when a publisher signs me?" and other questions answered--by a publisher.

Last week, we listed ten questions writers often have about publishers and publishing. This week, we answer three of them. (And next week, we answer three more. And so on.)

       Why does it take so long (6 months to a year) for a regular person to get a book published, but a famous person or a politician can have theirs published within just a few months?

Actually, "long" is a relative term. The larger the publisher, the longer it will take to publish a book, between 12-18 months on average, and often up to 2 years. The reason for this is that there are several parts of the process of publishing a book, and each part has its own timing. For example, the distributor requires a six-month lead time to properly distribute the books. Printing on average takes between 4-6 weeks. If there is a marketing campaign, P&R can take more than 90 days to put their plan together. The larger the company, the more titles and authors there are waiting in line before you. So, once they sign you on, you have to wait until your name is pulled, and just sweat out the process if you chose this traditional route. 

With regard to famous people and politicians, they aren't treated any differently. They, too, have to wait out the process like everyone else. There are exceptions, however, such as in a time of tragedy or breaking news. If the publisher wants to connect with the “hot” market while it's still hot, they'll accelerate the process for that reason. But under most circumstances, everyone goes through the same process. 

 What kind of an advance can I expect when a publisher signs me?

The days we now live in are quite a bit different from, let’s say, 3-5 years ago. Today, even the largest publishers have cut back as much as 50-80% on their advances. This is, in part, because of the current economy, but it's also because the publisher just can't be certain they’ll recoup the money they spend.  A new author with only 2-3 published books shouldn’t expect to receive an advance, but rather a solid publishing deal. If you've had some success in the industry and have sold 20 thousand books or more, you could expect anywhere from $5 - $20 thousand for an advance (if you can prove you’ll be able to sell at least that amount in books to cover the advance cost). 

Why do publishers usually want authors to sign a two-book contract?

Publishers put an enormous amount of money into your first book.  They put money into graphics, editorial, marketing, promotions, travel, and so much more. On their first book with you, they’ll spend the greatest amount of money, and usually the publisher doesn’t make much money off the first book. That first book is used to create and  prime the market for the second book. So, most publishers want the right to at least take a look at your second book to accept or refuse it, since they’ve done all the hard leg work on making the first one do well. It wouldn’t be fair for another publisher to reap the rewards of the first publisher's efforts. 

Questions to be answered next week:

If the trend is vampires, does that mean I should write a vampire book in order to be published?
What do publishers usually think is the least attractive quality in a writer?

What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher?

Have questions of your own? Email us at

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