Many first-time authors dream of signing with one of the Big 5 publishers. However, most have no clue what to realistically expect from a book deal for their debut. Luckily, gone are the days when authors would hold the amount attached to their book deals close to their chest. More and more authors have been declaring what they’ve been paid for their past book deals and what you should expect when you land one for yourself.
Today, we will be exploring what the average book deal for a first-time author could look like, and what you should realistically expect.
- So, What Is The Average Book Deal for a First Time Author?
- Is It That A First Time Author Can Never Land A More Lucrative Book Deal?
- Book Advances: What To Expect
- Do You Need A Literary Agent?
- So, How Much Does An Author Actually Make Per Book Sold?
- Will I Still Have To Market My Book If I Land A Book Deal?
- What Will My Book Deal Cover?
So, What Is The Average Book Deal for a First Time Author?
According to Goodereader.com, Rebecca Brandewyne, a New York Times Bestselling author, argued that the average advance received by a debut author generally ranges from $1,000 to $50,000. Of course, there will be and have been exceptions to this amount.
Most debut authors, however, would typically be on the lower end of that spectrum. So, it would be unrealistic to assume you will be that rare, unknown author who lands a multimillion-dollar book deal for their very first book.
You won’t want to give up on your dreams just yet though as this can often be more of a blessing than a curse. How so? Well, the advances paid out on book deals are often the only payment many traditional authors who received large upfront payments make. This is because the author is typically paid no royalties until the book’s royalties surpass what they had received in the upfront payment.
So, a smaller upfront payment on a book that does well could mean a quicker rotation in normal royalty payments.
Is It That A First Time Author Can Never Land A More Lucrative Book Deal?
Not at all. While it is more likely for a first-time author to land lower book deals, there are several factors that go into determining the dollar amount offered in an advance. This includes the genre in which you are writing, your credentials, and the size of the publishing house issuing the offer to name a few.
Book Advances: What To Expect
Book advances are payments or guarantees given to you upon the publication of your book. Advances are essentially estimated royalties paid upfront based on the perception of how well your book will do when it hits the shelves.
A big plus to an advance is that it still belongs to you if your book doesn't sell as well as you had hoped, so you don't have to pay back your advance. You own the advance regardless of what happens.
This is especially beneficial for first-time authors since many books do not make a profit.
On an average book deal in the United States, advance payments are usually made in three equal installments:
- Upon signing your contract, you'll receive the first installment.
- Once your book manuscript has been totally revised and approved by your editor for your book to go into production, the second installment will become due. This can take anywhere from 3-12 months after the contract is signed.
- Then finally, when the book gets published, the third installment will follow.
You should never be asked to repay this advance on your royalties, provided that you fulfill your obligations under the contract (typically writing and completing the book).
Do I Need A Lawyer To Sign A Book Deal?
Believe it or not, this is a common question asked when negotiating book deals with literary agents. In short, no, you don't need to hire a lawyer when working through a potential book deal. In fact, lawyers are usually not involved when utilizing a good literary agent.
Many see it as a waste of money seeing that these contracts are so boilerplate. However, there are a few situations in which I would suggest seeking legal counsel.
These situations include if you get offered an extremely lucrative debut advance, if there is a ton of fine print in the contract regarding the rights of your words over an extended period of time, and if you’re signing with a publisher who isn’t one of the “Big 5” which includes Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, or Penguin/Random House.
Do You Need A Literary Agent?
It is almost certain that you will need a literary agent to sell to a publisher (traditionally publish) - but great agents more than earn their commissions!
They negotiate on your behalf and handle the hard work so you can focus on writing. Literary agents typically earn a 15% commission on domestic sales and 20% commission on foreign sales in the United States.
Take for example a $90,000 advance, that would mean that each of your 3 payouts would be reduced by 15% making each $25,500.
In the case of a foreign advance, it would be reduced by 20%. You would get $4,000 if Germany bought your book for $5,000. If you're wondering why foreign rights are more expensive, it's because your agent usually works with a local agent abroad to sell your book: each agent gets 10% of your payout, and you hand over 20%.
So, How Much Does An Author Actually Make Per Book Sold?
I am often asked, “Do authors earn the same amount regardless of their book is sold?”
Definitely not! In a publishing contract with a major publisher, a standard (but simplified) breakdown looks something like this:
As for author royalties, you will earn on average:
- Up to 5,000, 10% of hardback sale price; from 5,000 to 10,000, 12.5%; after 10,000, 15%
- 7.5% of the paperback sale price
- 25% of the digital versions
You are basically earning back a small percentage of the sales price. Therefore when major bookstores like Amazon offers heavy discounts, you are getting a percentage of a smaller sale price as the author. That means less money for you.
There is infact, far more to it, but this is the simple version.
Will I Still Have To Market My Book If I Land A Book Deal?
Even though your publisher will do everything in its power to support you, you have to learn to be your own biggest cheerleader. Writers who tend to be introverted and socially awkward (like me) may find this challenging.
However, no one cares as much as you do about your book's interest, so it will be largely up to you to market it. It's your marketing strategy that determines how much money you can expect to make from your book.
So, be ready to promote your book as loudly as you can and enlist your friends or fellow writers to help.
The publishing industry does not cover book tours anymore, but you can do it yourself. You'll keep your book advances no matter what (as long as you write the book), but it's in your best interest, as well as your publisher's, if the book does well-and it'll make selling your next book easier. So, do your best to get those debut books off the shelves.
What Will My Book Deal Cover?
Your book contract should cover every and allaspect of your book’s production, development, and sales. With the most vital part, in my eyes, being the retention of copyright.
Your copyright allows you to publish and reproduce your work. Under a traditional book contract, the author typically retains the copyright, while a publisher purchases the right to distribute the book (called in the contract "the work") in its many formats, across different geographic locations. The contract outlines each party's rights and obligations.
Practical Book Development
Book contracts should also cover practical aspects of a book's development, such as:
- The genre, reading level, and word count of the work
- Timing of the author's submission of the manuscript
- Author's rights in regard to approving manuscript changes
- The right of the author to approve the layout, title, and jacket of their work
- The publication date of the book
- The number of books that will be printed
- The marketing strategy the publisher will employ
Financial Details (Advance, Sales & Royalties)
In a book contract, the financial terms of the deal are also outlined. These terms include:
- The schedule of advance payments against royalties
- Percentages of royalties paid on each type of sale (hardback, ebook, paperback, etc)
- How and when royalties will be paid
Authors receive advances and royalties according to their needs and priorities.
The advance for a cookbook, for instance, might be $20,000. The publisher may want to pay $5,000 upon contract signing and $15,000 upon manuscript acceptance. To develop the recipes, the author might need more money up front, so the agent could attempt to negotiate $10,000 up front and another $10,000 after acceptance.
Rights of Subsidiaries
A book contract also includes subsidiary rights. Publishers can license these rights to third parties so that foreign translations, audiobooks, movie deals, and other formats of your book can be created.
These rights may be retained by you and your agent, or they may be assigned to your publisher in part or in whole. It's important to consider them, though, since they provide more exposure for your work.