The Myth of the Unearned Advance

This post by Steve Laube originally appeared on his The Steve Laube Agency blog on 6/13/11.

A common myth permeating the industry is that a book is not profitable if the author’s advance does not earn out. I would like to attempt to dispel this myth.

First let’s define the term “Advance.” When a book contract is created between a publisher and an author, the author is usually paid an advance. This is like getting an advance against your allowance when you were a kid. It isn’t an amount that is in addition to any future earnings from the sale of the book. Instead, like that allowance, it is money paid in advance against all future royalties, and it must therefore be covered by royalty revenue (i.e. earned out) before any new royalty earnings are paid.

The advance is usually determined by a series of assumptions that the publisher makes with regard to the projected performance of each title. The publisher hopes/plans that the book will earn enough royalty revenue to cover the advance within the first year of sales.

A NY Times essay a couple years ago casually claimed “the fact that 7 out of 10 titles do not earn back their advance.” Of course they did not cite a source for that “fact.” But I have seen it quoted so often is must be true! (and it isn’t.) The implication then is that a book isn’t profitable if it doesn’t earn out its advance. The publisher overpaid and has lost money. The author is the happy camper who is counting their cash gleefully celebrating the failure of their publisher to project sales correctly.
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Read the full post on The Steve Laube Agency blog.

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