Book three in this series.
Book one was KILLING THE TOP TEN SACRED COWS OF PUBLISHING.
Book two was KILLING THE TOP TEN SACRED COWS OF INDIE PUBLISHING.
Both books are available everywhere in electronic, paper, and audio.
What I call a “Sacred Cow” is basically a myth spread around publishing like the truth. Myths such as “rewriting must be done for every story.” Myths such as “you need an agent to sell a book,” or “sell a book to a different country.” And so on.
You can either buy the first two books to get all twenty of the Sacred Cows, or just click on the tab above and read them here in their original blog posts for free.
And Myths #1 and #2 in this book are under that tab as well.
Myth #3: You Get an Advance So You Can Write Your Book.
Well, maybe in 1960.
I came into publishing in 1974 and sold my first novel in 1987. I had to have that first novel written before anyone would even think of buying the novel. And that was 1987.
Things have gotten much, much worse since then.
Some History on Book Advances
Actually, the real start of this idea is lost in time. You can go back into the 1800s and find a few examples of publishers paying authors ahead of time to write something. But that was always a form of media of its time.
And no pulp writer in the early part of the 1900s got paid ahead. They wrote novels and short stories and got paid by the word when the story or novel was bought. A few writers in a couple of the syndicates were paid like employees, but not that many.
Where the actual advance thinking came from were the literary writers of the early 1900s. Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and the like. They basically “borrowed” money against their sales (royalties) of their next book from their editors. After all, the myth of drinking with writing dictated that writers needed money to buy the booze.
And it happened so often it got incorporated into the contracts.
Slowly, as time went on into the 1950s, just as the returns system got engrained, the advance system got put into place for most authors. Not all, but most.
And advances usually applied to second or third books in a contract even back then. Seldom in fiction did a first novel ever get bought not written. No one trusted a first novelist to be good enough.
It did happen at times with special cases, clear into the 1990s, and then the publishers would often hire someone like me to fix or write the book because the author couldn’t. I got three of those jobs through the years.
As editors lost the power to buy books for major corporations through the 1990s, the idea of advances against unwritten novels finally completely vanished for any person not a major celebrity. It still held for second books in contracts, but was cut down dramatically by cutting payments into thirds or fourths, with the second third coming on turn-in and the last third coming far after the book was published.
So by the turn of this century, all ideas of a publisher paying an author to write a book ahead of time had almost vanished outside of nonfiction and media books.
The Book Advance World Today
Sadly, the days of huge book advances are gone as well. And the days of huge-selling books are gone. The days of control by traditional publishers is also gone.
Actually, we have returned in many ways to the days of the early 1900s when books were published in conjunction with bookstores and there were a thousand ways to publish a story or book.
Want to know how things change and keep moving in publishing? Let me give you an example. A man by the name of Doubleday started a small press with a partner in 1887. As time went on, the second partners changed, but the small press kept growing under the Doubleday name, opening up their first bookstore in 1910. Doubleday Bookshop.
At their height, Doubleday had over a hundred bookstores and in 1947 Doubleday was the largest publisher of books in the world. In 1987 the company even bought the Mets.
Also that year they sold a controlling interest to a growing book company out of Germany called Bertlesman. A few years later they became Bantam, Doubleday, Dell, combining sadly three major publishers from the past into one name. (Remember them? None of them exist anymore.)
The new owner didn’t like the bookstores, so in 1990 they sold the remaining 60 plus stores to B&N and the Doubleday Bookstores vanished into history.
Of course, B&N continues a publishing operation, (As does Amazon) but the upfront focus of a publishing company with their own bookstore has vanished.
Advances in traditional publishing in 2016 have almost become a joke for 99% of all writers. I have heard of advances of $1,000 and for most genre advances these days the average is under $5,000 per book. If you get more than that, you are considered a good seller. (And they limit you to writing only a book or so per year, which is another topic.)
Remember, an advance is a loan. So the company thinks you are only worth a $1,000 to $5,000 to them. That’s sad when you think of it that way, isn’t it?
So for the moment, let’s pretend you are in the top 1% of all writers. You hit your fantasy with that book YOU ALREADY WROTE and got offered a six figure advance. (not an advance in the real term because you already wrote it. More like a license price.)
Say you got $100,000.
Take 15% off that because you used an agent, so your take is $85,000.
Now divide that by four.(Sometimes five or six.) About $21,000 per payment. Now you get the first payment about two months after signing, you get the second payment about four months after that when you turn in your rewrite. You get the third payment on return of copyedits and start of production about six months after that, and about eight months later you get publication payment.
So you are one of the lucky 1% and it still takes you almost two years to get your $85,000. For a novel already written.
Now granted, there might be other payments, from translation sales to a second book in the contract. But even with those you can see that you won’t be rich anytime soon.
Now calculate dividing a $5,000 advance into three payments over two years. See why people who only look at traditional publishing are shouting that writers can’t make a living anymore with their writing? If you are only looking at advances in traditional publishing, that is pretty much correct, I’m afraid.
The math no longer works.
To put it flatly, the idea of lending a decent amount of money to writers so they can write is gone. Outside of a few literary writers back in the early part of the last century, it never really did exist in any real way.
Traditional Publishing Joke
The flat joke that traditional publishers push forward is that they give writers advances so that they have time to write. This is such a blatant falsehood I am constantly shocked it comes out of anyone’s mouth here in 2016.
But yet this last week I saw it touted as an advantage of traditional publishing in three different articles written by traditional publishing mouthpieces.
Now I will admit I am talking about fiction, because that’s what I know. So others will have to talk about how scientific books are now bought and the advances. Or maybe biographies. Or other specific nonfiction projects.
But with fiction, except for payments for a second book in a contract, no publisher I have heard of is buying unwritten novels by new writers from a proposal. I doubt agents would even look at an unfinished book, but I don’t know because I seldom glance at that dying part of our industry.
And if you are looking to an agent to help you write your book, oh, wow, do I have some great land in Florida to sell you. It’s only underwater part of the year, I promise.
For fiction, advances to write your novel don’t happen anymore. Haven’t for a couple of decades. Maybe longer. If ever.
In 2005 I had a well-realized proposal for a major thriller series. Even though at that point I had about a hundred traditionally published books to my credit, no one would look at the series unless I wrote the first book.
I had a record and a platform and couldn’t get an advance to write a novel.
So when you hear someone spout the flat lie that traditional publishers give you an advance to write your novel, first off ask them how much, and which publisher still does that.
You will get a puzzled look and a comment like “All of them do, of course.”
When you hear that, you know you are dealing with an idiot. Just walk away.
Novels now must be written, which means the amount in the contract is a license fee, even though it is called an advance. You don’t have to pay the fee back if your sales don’t match the fee. You get to keep it.
No major traditional publisher will give a first novelist an advance to write a novel, let alone a living wage. And even if your advance gets into the 1% range after you sell the book, you might not be able to live on the money long enough to write the next book.
And always remember just one major thing: An advance is just a loan. You screw up or they turn down the book you wrote and you have to pay the advance back. Happens all the time.
This lie about advances is a scam traditional publishers are trying to push at young writers.
The bottom line: Keep control of your own books, publish them yourself, and if you write enough and are good enough and keep learning craft and business, you can make a living with your fiction without worrying about someone loaning you money.