Authors: Just Say "No!" To Your Advance

This article, by Joe Quirk, originally appeared on the SF Gate site on 8/27/09.

My fellow authors laughed when I said I was publishing my fourth book with Numina Press. Then they learned my cut of each sale.

How big is the difference? Try three times as much money each sale.

Numina is an exclusive commercial publisher that uses print-on-demand technology to radically alter the cost ratios in favor of the author. They started working with dead writers like Jack London, who was quite cooperative. Now they have their sights set on living published authors, who are not.

Your choice, living authors. Take home:

$1.50 from a $23 book, or

$4.50 from a $16 book.

Wait. You have to give up a lot of perks for this tripling of your pay, and my living author friends are quick to list their objections:

Big New York publishers will give me an advance!


Okay, stop flapping your wrists like a pack of sissies. Let’s walk through each of the standard fear-driven objections one by one.

But major publishers will pay me an advance!

An advance is a chance to ruin your career. A big advance for a first or second book is a chance to almost guarantee your career will end six months after your book comes out, and nobody will tell you until you write and try to sell your second book. A gigunda advance? That spells an almost certain death.

The bigger the advance, the worse it is for the author.

Seventy percent of published books don’t earn back their advance. Add to the balance sheet the costs of printing, shipping, and promotion, and that means even more than 70% of books lose money for the publisher. That means the majority of published authors get a permanent Big Red Mark next to their name.

Publishers don’t know why most books don’t sell, nor do they understand why most of their riches are made off less than 5% of the new authors they publish, and they don’t know what to do about their ignorance, but they do know how to do one thing: blame the author.

If your first book lost them money, they will not publish your second book, no matter how many copies it sold.

So move on to another publisher? Not so fast. Publishers share sales information with their competitors. That’s right, competing New York publishers close ranks in solidarity against the authors who might have sold well but lost money. Most major publishers, before they read your new book, run straight to the stats and see how well your last book sold, how much money was spent on it, how much was earned back, and their eyes go straight to the bottom line: Did it lose money? If the answer is yes, they don’t waste their time reading your new book.

Remember: Second book finished? Publishers read the bottom line on their balance sheet before they read the first line of your manuscript.

Read the rest of the article on the SF Gate site.

Big New York publishers will get me publicity!

Big New York publishers will pay for a book tour!

Big New York publishers will get me book store placement!

But if I accept triple money with a print-on-demand publisher, Big New York publishers will punish me! My agent will be mad!