If huge, mouth-watering book advances got you interested in the publishing industry, you might be in it for the wrong reasons. Most of us will never be fortunate to get a big advance for our first book. But book advances, never mind the size, will figure in your publishing contract. It wouldn’t hurt to know more about the topic, so you know what to expect when it time to sign on the dotted line of the contract.
I’m sure you know the basics. For the uninitiated, a book advance is the money that the publisher pays an author when the contract is signed and before a single copy has been published and sold. Let’s put some numbers on the table.
Let’s assume the price of the book is 100 rupees and the royalty rate is 10%. If the publisher estimates that the book will sell at least 1000 copies, then the advance for you works out to 100 rupees/book X 10% royalty X 1000 copies. That’s a royal 10,000 rupees!
Not the number you had in mind, right? But 10,000-15,000 rupees is pretty much the ‘average book advance’ that most first time authors in India might get for their debut novel. Then there are the star authors in India and outside who get book advances that are in lakhs of rupees. Here’s a snapshot from a dated Outlook article:
Amitav Ghosh – Sea Of Poppies Trilogy (Penguin) – $110,000 (Rs 44 lakh)
Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger (HarperCollins) – $35,000 (Rs 14 lakh)
Dev Anand – Romancing With Life (HarperCollins) – Rs 15 lakh
Nandan Nilekani – Imagining India (Penguin) – $35,000 (Rs 14 lakh)
Palash Mehrotra – The Butterfly Generation (Rupa) – $20,000 (Rs 8 lakh)
Shrabani Basu – Victoria & Abdul (Rupa) – $16,000 (Rs 6.3 lakh)
Tarun Tejpal – The Story Of My Assassins (HarperCollins) – Rs 22 lakh
Tony D’Souza – The Konkans (Rupa) – 4000-5000 pounds (Rs 3-4 lakh)
and finally what Outlook didn’t cover
Sameer Kamat – Beyond The MBA Hype (HarperCollins) – (Rs ????)
One common attribute that seems to apply to most authors who get higher than the market averages. They all have good literary agents to help them get the best deal for their book – the best publisher and the best book advance.
The advance you get would be influenced by many factors. The market for the book is very important. If have written a non-fiction book on a niche subject (like I did with my book), then the sales numbers would be very different from, say, a mass-market novel.
Then there’s the pricing for the book. Is your book aimed at business readers, students or the man on the street? How much would the reader pay for the book? Business books are purchased by folks who don’t care so much about the price.
The author’s brand value also matters. If you already have a huge number of fans waiting for your book, you could command a higher advance even as a first time author. Essentially it is a judgement call for the publishers.
If statistics are to be believed (and depending on which source you look at) roughly 8 out of 10 books will not earn their advance back. This means that the book did not sell as many copies as the publisher had assumed. Though you, the book author, still get to keep the book advance, it is a loss for the publisher and it can impact the future contracts that you sign with them or with any other publishing house.
So if this is your first book publishing contract, rather than focussing purely on the advance, consider the other aspects as well. Keep it practical for yourself and your publisher. You and the publisher are working as a team here. If your book does well in the market, it would earn out the advance and you will continue to get regular royalties cheques from the publisher in the future.
Some authors who are confident about their books doing well ask for a modest advance and a higher royalty rate. That way the initial upside may not be too impressive, but the upside from having a better royalty rate can payoff in the long run as the book sells more copies.