Publishing Economics 101

This post, by bestselling mainstream author Joe Nassise, originally appeared on the Genreality site.   

In which Mr. Nassise deconstructs the economics of publishing and gives many of us all the more reason to be glad we’ve gone indie.

Let’s say you’re a stock boy at the local supermarket.  You put in twenty hours of work during the week.  You are paid at a rate of $10 per hour.  At the end of the week, you’d expect to walk away with a check for $200 (minus a bit for taxes and such.)

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that your boss decides not to pay you that way this week.  “I’m going to pay you a third of the money I owe you at the start of the week,” he tells you, “and a third roughly eight months from now, and then the final third somewhere in the next two years.”  As you begin to protest, he remarks, “and by the way, if you want to keep working here, you’ll be happy to get that.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of publishing economics.

Alright, maybe it’s not as bad as all that, but it’s close.  You see, a writer is paid for their work in an often varying scale of increments and understanding the hows and why of it all can be confusing to the newcomer trying to figure it all out.  I know it was for me.  So for the next few minutes, let’s take a stroll down the road of economics publishing style.

Let’s start with two very key terms – advance and royalties.

An advance is the money a writer is paid up front for the time, energy, and effort that goes into writing a book.  Just in case you were wondering, the typical advance for a first time fiction writer is usually in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $15,000, give or take a few thousand.  (In other words, a single book a year will earn you somewhere in the neighborhood of poverty wages.)

Now that advance is just that – and advance against future royalties.  A royalty is the percentage of the cover price that you get for every copy of your book that gets sold.  Again, things vary, but this is usually in the neighborhood of 5%-10%, depending on number of copies sold. 

The advance is money given upfront against money you are expected to earn by selling copies once the book is published.  Now a writer doesn’t get the advance money all at once – oh no, that would be too easy.  More often than not it is broken down into three, sometimes four, payments. 

This usually means you get 1/3 of the advance when you sign the contract, a 1/3 when you turn in the completed manuscript, and a 1/3 when the book is published.  Given that the time frame from sale to publication date can often be anywhere from one to two years, you can wait a long time for that money to come in.

Read the rest of the post on Genreality.