Mid-fives, low sixes, mild sevens

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That is how, according to Michael Meyer in the New York Times, authors talk about their advances.

Amounts are coyly described like cigarette brands – the “mid-fives,” the “low sixes,” the “mild sevens.”

Thankfully, I already know my advance, which was negotiated when I got my book deal with Riverhead, and have the first installment. But it’s always fascinating to get a peek into the world of other people’s advances.

Meyer says that 7 out of 10 books do not earn back their advance. That sounds familiar. I have compared publishers to venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road, who back ten start-ups, expect to break even on two, and make their killing on one. As an aspiring author, I never cared about the advance for its own sake, but I did want it as high as possible to make the publisher “bleed” early on so that they would feel more compelled during the launch to spend even more in order to make it back.

The blockbuster advances get the press, but, says Meyer,

most publishers I talked to cited $30,000 as a rough average. In standard contracts, the author receives half up front, a quarter on acceptance of the manuscript and a quarter on publication, though that model is changing, said the literary agent Eric Simonoff … “Now we see advance amounts being paid in thirds, fourths and even fifths.

He quotes a publisher saying that

It used to be that the first book earned a modest advance, then you would build an audience over time and break even on the third or fourth book… Now the first book is expected to land a huge advance and huge sales. The media only reports those, not the long path of writers like John Irving, Richard Ford, Anne Tyler and Toni Morrison. The notion of the ‘first book with flaws’ is gone…

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