I never expected to sell my manuscript for tons of money. I had fantasized about it, sure, but as big publishers passed, I knew the six-figure, multi-book contract was not going to happen. Still, when my small, independent publisher made me an offer, I was a little bit shocked.
Really? That's it?
Years of work. Thousands of dollars invested. For lunch money.
Okay, maybe a little bit more than lunch money, but you get the idea. Not very much. I talked to some of my writer friends, as well as a couple of small publishers, and here are a few things I learned about advances:
1. Even the big publishers are offering smaller advances. While big deals still happen, most debut and mid-list authors can't expect a lot. I heard numbers from $1,000 to $5,000.
2. Bigger advances don't mean better advances. Advances are just that, pay advances. A number of writers told me they wish they'd gotten less money upfront so they could have earned out their advances sooner. Why? Many authors described the time waiting until they'd earned their advance out as very stressful, filled with the fear they would never make enough sales. A lower advance takes off some of that pressure.
3. Small independent publishers typically offer hundreds of dollars instead of thousands. Shave off one zero from each of the above numbers and you get the idea.
4. A few writers I spoke with didn't get any advance at all, despite the fact their publishers called themselves "traditional" publishers. I'm not sure how traditional a publisher is if they don't offer an advance at all, but a couple of the writers were happy with their publisher despite no upfront money. I personally wouldn't do this, but I guess if you're getting a lot of great services from your publisher and aren't spending any money yourself, it could still be a decent deal.
Would you accept a publishing contract that didn't include an advance? How small of an advance would you be willing to accept?