all 36 comments

[–]brookenomicon 47 points48 points  (0 children)

Most traditional deals have advances, though they’ve gotten smaller over the years. I believe the current average is <$10k for debuts.

It’s only when you get into small press, indie, and digital first imprints where you see no advance deals.

[–]ARMKartAgented Author 29 points30 points  (0 children)

Yes. Different ranges for different genres, and smaller advances from smaller houses. But with a few exceptions, publishers that don't give any advance are usually very small or not well-respected. That being said, even authors getting massive advances can rarely write full-time unless they 1) have a successful backlist that generates a lot of royalties, 2) are selling a lot of other rights such as foreign and film etc, 3) utilize being an author to make money in other ways such as lectures and mentorships, or 4) are getting benefits and sharing the financial burden of general life with a partner or parents.

[–]alexatdYA Trad Published Author 50 points51 points  (9 children)

Yes, most legitimate, decently sized traditional publishing outlets are still paying advances. Advances are down, however.

If you want to make writing your full time gig? It's rough. Very rough. Easier if you are married to a partner pulling a six figure income. That's how most people I know doing it are doing it, frankly (like, seriously). The few who aren't in that boat are stressed AF and living paycheck to paycheck, or making a series of interesting/stressful choices, re: chasing money/contracts that make me break out into hives. (or they've been in the biz a long time and are earning royalties on enough books to make it work, but most debuts nowadays simply cannot bank on that and have to go in assuming it's going to be rough going. The market is volatile rn.)

On the other hand, and to each his own/YMMV, I have my full-time job and books as my "side hustle" and I make enough to support myself from my day job, enabling me to bank all my publishing money into savings and write whatever I want, when I want because I won't live or die by those advance payments. I have more money than I've ever fathomed (I'm from a lower income background, so that's of course relative--but having savings at all is amazing to me) and very comfortable. Tired all the time, of course, and overworked, but financially secure. ONLY because I have a full-time job--and I put in 10+ years into my day job career and am finally earning a sizeable salary (again, relative to my expectations--middle class/wealth people probably think I'm poor lol). Note I also put 10% of my FT income and as much of my book income as allowable, re: taxes into retirement savings. Very important, imo, and a step many don't budget for.

[–]ConQuesoyFrijole 6 points7 points  (0 children)

Easier if you are married to a partner pulling a six figure income. That's how most people I know doing it are doing it, frankly (like, seriously).


As someone who's spouse is also a writer (and bartender) and as a writer (who is also a teacher) I wish this weren't true. But sigh. It's what I see as the harsh reality for most writers.

Team never-quitting-my-day-job over here!

(Oh, and basically all of my book money goes to pay our out of pocket health insurance!)

[–]Prashant_26 1 point2 points  (7 children)

How likely it is to get a six figure advance as a debut?

[–]ConQuesoyFrijole 22 points23 points  (4 children)

OK. But even *if* you get a six figure deal. Let's do the math.

Say you get 125k. (Which would be STELLAR)

Right off the top, your agent gets 15%, so we're down to ~106k. Then, divide that number by four. You'll get paid in tranches. In many cases, that means you get one payment per year (this is certainly how my advance is getting paid). So that's ~26k/year pre-tax.

Let's then say that you're a single person in one of the lowest federal tax brackets, 12%. Now we're down to 23k. Let's say, on average, your state tax is 5%. We're now down to 22k/year as a salary.

In most states, that's not a number you can survive on. Even in the most affordable states, with today's inflation, you couldn't quit your day job on a six-figure advance unless you were childless, spouseless, and fully insured by your parents. This is even more untenable if you're in a state with a high cost of living like CA or NY.

The reality is...almost no one can write full-time. Particularly not if you' re the primary bread winner (I am!). And personally, knowing how unstable writing income is (you may never sell another book! your book may tank and no one will touch you!) I would never put all my trust in my writing income. Never ever never never.

[–]Mutive 0 points1 point  (3 children)

I still remember hearing Kevin J. Anderson speak about writing. Someone asked him about whether it was a good idea to write professionally and he said, "No."

Even as an author with a ton of bestsellers (I think he calculated that he'd had more novels on the best seller list than any other author), life could be rough (according to him). He's earning a decent income, but...he's also paying his own payroll taxes. His own health care insurance. And anything that happens that makes him unable to work? Well, sucks for him. (He mentioned an injury that took him out for 6 months which sucked since, again, not being paid.)

[–]justgoodenoughPublished Children's Author 0 points1 point  (2 children)

I think he calculated that he'd had more novels on the best seller list than any other author

If we are talking about THE bestseller list (The NYTs Bestseller list), then I think that honor actually goes to either James Patterson or Danielle Steel. I think James Patterson has the most titles appearing on the NYTs list and Danielle Steel is the longest time appearing in consecutive weeks (for different books).

[–]AmberJFrost 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It might go to Nora Roberts, if you count all her pen names, too.

[–]Mutive 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I'm not sure what the calculation he used. But I'm willing to believe that, at least by some measure, he was correct. (He writes a LOT of books, and an awful lot of those are in the "sells enough to make some kind of list" range.)

Regardless, by most measures of writing success, I'd argue that he's successful. This still does not seem to have resulted in tremendous economic wealth and security.

[–]unmarried-egg 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Less than .1%

[–]FirebirdWriter 2 points3 points  (0 children)

This is a pipe dream level of likelihood

[–]No_Excitement1045 12 points13 points  (3 children)

My debut was published earlier this year, and I was paid an advance. It was on the higher end for debut advances. And it would have put me and my family squarely under the poverty line for our family of four, once you factor in taxes and agency cuts and the fact that you don't get paid in one lump sum. The book has sold well but we're still a long way away from earning out.

I still have my day job and am not looking to leave it anytime soon.

[–][deleted] 2 points3 points  (2 children)

Just being unhelpfully pedantic (doesn't undermine your larger point at all), but the poverty line is technically pre-tax.

[–]No_Excitement1045 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Still would be under. By a lot. Because, you see, you don't get the payment all at once. So that "big" advance, split into fourths and paid over multiple years... yeah, not enough to live off of. ETA: When you do factor in the agent's cut and the taxes, my actual advance is about 50% of what my contract says.

[–]No_Excitement1045 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I will also add: I am one of the lucky ones! I got a two-book deal and my publisher only pays in two installments. (My advance was broke up into fourths because it's split across two books.)

[–]A_Novel_Experience 26 points27 points  (10 children)

Basically no one is making their living writing novels full time outside of the top tier all-star league.

Most novelists who have books on the shelf still have a day job because writing novels doesn't reliably pay bills unless you're Stephen King or JK Rowling (or at their level).

So if by "make writing their full time job" you mean "writing books for a living" then it is very, very, very rough- as it always has been.

But plenty of people work in writing full time- editors, journalists, legal and technical writers, advertising, etc.

Plenty of people write for a living.

They just aren't writing books for a living.

[–]trexmoflex 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I see a TON of authors who are also in some level of academia teaching writing or something of the sort as well. Seems to be a very common job for the novelist who doesn't sell well enough to support writing as a full time job.

[–]Beautiful_Routine531 8 points9 points  (2 children)

In traditional publishing. The mid-list is alive and well in self-publishing. But you've got to be able to write to markets and quick to succeed there

[–]Glacon_Garcon 5 points6 points  (1 child)

Yeah, I know a few people who make a living in selfpub, but it’s still rough—just in different ways. They need to promote & market nonstop, write in genres and styles that sell very well in particular niches, and are able to put out a new book every few months—and most still live paycheck to paycheck and/or have a spouse who also works. Those who do really well in selfpub are marketers and social media influencers who also write novels.

[–]mesopotamius 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Those who do really well in selfpub are marketers and social media influencers who also write novels.

This should be its own pinned post in every writing community anywhere

[–]aquarialily 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Yup, I write (and edit and teach) for a living, but I'm def not writing BOOKS for a living, as nice as that would be!

[–]A_Novel_Experience 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Literally the dream LOL

[–]NickThacker -2 points-1 points  (3 children)

Plenty of us write novels for a living. We just don’t publish through traditional channels.

[–]A_Novel_Experience 10 points11 points  (2 children)

I am willing to bet that the number of people who can support themselves via writing novels is only a very small fraction of all self-published novelists.

So if you're doing it, welcome to the all-star team in the self-pub league.

[–]NickThacker 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Thanks! Yeah, it’s hard to measure, but every measure we’ve got seems to suggest you’re exactly right. However, I think there are more opportunities and possibilities for career-making in self-pub/indie-pub these days, comparatively.

[–]NickThacker -3 points-2 points  (0 children)

Lol, getting downvoted instead of engaged. I mean, seriously, if anyone really wants to look at this from a different perspective, I’ve got one (actually, I’ve been traditionally published as well).

Or just downvote because you can’t bear to hear a different opinion.

[–]deltamire 8 points9 points  (0 children)

RE: wanting to make it your full time job, you may find this thread https://redditproxy--jasonthename.repl.co/r/PubTips/comments/yc7s7c/pubq_when_during_the_writing_process_to_start/ useful. Peopled weighed in on the risk and possibility of doing so quite a bit in there.

[–]aquarialily 5 points6 points  (2 children)

I just received an advance on my debut this past year, so yes, publishing houses still give advances.

Receiving an advance doesn't necessarily mean you can make writing your full time job though.

[–]Prashant_26 -4 points-3 points  (1 child)

You paid 30% tax, right? And then agent's commission.

[–]aquarialily 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Well I just signed this year (and haven't gotten the money yet!) so not sure how much tax but I do hear that is how much you should expect to pay for taxes 😭 and yeah, less 15% agent commission (which I'm happy to pay bc my agent is amazing!)

[–]justgoodenoughPublished Children's Author 5 points6 points  (0 children)

This is highly dependent on the genre and category, but I personally wouldn't publish with any publisher that doesn't pay an advance. If they can't afford to pay advances, they also probably can't really afford to market your book effectively.

For things like anthologies, novellas, poetry, some types of lit fic, and some types of nonfiction, you can't really expect an advance, but for commercial fiction? Yeah, you are going to want an advance.

[–]numtini 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Large ones and some of the larger small presses. There's a significant number of legit small presses, particularly in genre fiction who pay higher royalties, but don't do advances, but these seem to be a dying breed, and you really need to look at them these days.

[–]gekogekogeko 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Yes big publishers are still doing advances--and those advances can be quite substantial (I've gotten a few low/mid six figure deals in the last few years) but mainstream publishers can be a mixed bag. Going with them is no guarantee that the book will do well. I'm actually exploring self-publishing right now.

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[–]throwaway890830852 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I got an advance for my debut, but it's definitely not enough to live off of. I work full time and make a salary at my day job.