Book advances: How much should authors expect?

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.


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17 Comments

  1. Alakh says:

    Great article! Exactly the info i was searching for.

  2. Sameer says:

    @Alakh: This is pretty much what most of the spamming bots post. So I was reluctant to approve it.
    But your email ID seems authentic and you have not added links to any porn sites. So I guess, it’s is an authentic comment :-)
    Hope to hear more from you in the other comments.

  3. Nikhil says:

    Thank you, this was very informative. Some jaw dropping numbers there! I’m somewhat jumping the gun by looking at how to publish articles. I started writing my first novel a couple of weeks ago and I feel I have another 100 to 150 pages ready in my head that needs to get on paper. What is your advise for my work to be literarily competent. I have not written anything since essays in high school and now my boring work e-mails.

    thanks,
    Nikhil

  4. Sameer says:

    Nikhil: Inspiration is generally in short supply when there’s so much writing to do. Get those 100 pages on paper ASAP.

    In the words of Ernest Hemingway – “Write drunk, edit sober.”

    Though I wouldn’t advise you to start drinking to be a good writer, as I haven’t seen any research papers correlating the two.

  5. eklavya says:

    Can you please tell me whom to approach when my book is written?

  6. Sameer says:

    Eklavya, you might find this post useful to get started –>
    How to write a book and get published

  7. Gursimran Bindra says:

    Thankyou Sameer
    I needed to know this. I wrote a novel by the name of Rich Losers which got released on the 14th of may 2014 by a self publishing company. I am not confident on (what you call) advertising or the press release as the price is 500rs which I think is high. Who would like to read a beginner by paying 500rs. I am struck as I am not confident on paying another 50k for the press release. Also I am thinking of talking to a traditional publisher for my other script. Please suggest everything you think I must know.

  8. Sameer says:

    Gursimran, I’m assuming your book is priced at Rs 500 and the publisher is quoting 50K for a press release.

    I think both are impractical numbers for a first time author. Seems like the company is looking at you as easy prey.

    Stop spending more money on till you are sure about how you’d get any real value from your investments.

  9. Hi Sameer,

    Thank for this informative article on what advances to expect from publishers.

    I self- published my first book through Leadstart publishing in 2010-11 for Rs. 70K, Titled Shadow of Schizophrenia. However they did not do any marketing and I have not received any royality on the same. This year I have started on-line marketing since July and have till sept end had 50k+ likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter. The contract was for 2 years. However the book is still published by them. With awareness on Mental health at an all time high I want the book to reach more people. Kindly suggest what I should do. Regards,
    Francin Pinto

  10. Sameer says:

    Francin,

    I’m not sure I understand the issue here, as I don’t know about what your contract says.

    Traditional publishers take on the financial risk of investing in a book and pay advances / royalties to the author.

    Vanity publishing arrangements work differently. The author pays the publisher for certain services. Beyond that it’s up to the author to take the story forward.

    Check your contract to see what services were promised for your 70K payment and what was delivered. If there’s a disconnect, reach out to the publisher and follow-up.

  11. Bilal says:

    thank you
    it was really helpful.

  12. Akshay Gaur says:

    Hi Sameer, I am trying to help my Dad through this blog as my Dad is not so tech savvy. He is a Retired Professor in chemistry with a good 50 years of teaching experience in different renowned universities. He had recently wrote a book on chemistry for higher education for a very big Delhi based Publishing house with his presence across the globe. Now that they have the printed copies with them from Thomson Press which they have shared with my Dad, but are escaping to make a contract and are offering very low compensation of 50K. Till now there is no contract made between two of them and he already started promoting the book on international level like in the Book Fair in Frankfurt. Please suggest as we are not even expecting a very big Amount for this Book. How to negotiate this deal, and what are our legal rights if he continued to offer us the same amount. kindly, suggest

    • Sameer Kamat says:

      Lots of loose ends in there. Why did the publisher print the books without any contract? Who bore the expenses? Who has the copies now?

      Overall it is sounding more like a vanity publishing arrangement than traditional publishing. But then what is this 50K that they are offering – an advance?

      I can’t offer legal advice. But if you are looking at building a readership, you could pick up the reins and find buyers (schools, colleges).

  13. Anand Rao says:

    I found your post interesting. Could you please help me out? I just remarked casually that that a biography of woman in Karnataka who has done great social service should be written.
    She is a simple rural person, came up the hard way to found NGOs, and cannot write well in English. She had no ideas about writing autobio until I mentioned it.
    Now she has expressed interest in getting it written by me.
    Any ideas on how to structure a simple deal would be greatly appreciated. It my take me a year to write it, and then we look for a publisher. Should I ask her for an advance to cover my time?

    Thanks

    • Sameer Kamat says:

      She’d essentially be hiring you as a writer in the first year. Instead of an elaborate contract (like the ones used by publishers), you could just agree upon the basics – what you’ll do, what she’s expected to do, how long it’ll take and how much she should pay you (in advance or in installments) for your efforts.

      However, please don’t give up on the project after the book has been completed. The lady never had the idea to begin with, until you suggested it to her. Now that you’ve raised her hopes, she’d be depending on you to take it to completion.

      There are too many opportunistic vanity publishers waiting for gullible clients. Don’t convert the lady into another one.

  14. Azeem Shah says:

    Thanks for valuable information.
    Sir I’ve recently finished a book in Hindi language. As I’m from M.P. So where should I contact. Please inform some publishers.

  15. Vivek Mathur says:

    Sameer, almost all my questions are answered in above comments from you and your readers. I also want to know that what is the scope of a book on quotes/Thoughts. I have just completed my collection of more than 5000 Thoughts / Quotes and I was working on it for last many months. Are you a literary agent? I am confused where to send the material/manuscript as most of the publishers’ websites say that they don’t accept unsolicited and unagented scripts. How will I know which particular agent will forward my script to the publisher of my choice? Nodoubt every author feels that he has written a bestseller but I really can’t waste it as it contains not only some very unique, interesting and encouraging thoughts but a lot of time has also been invested in it. Honestly now I want to cash my labour. It appears that you are the right person to advice what should be my next step. Thanks and Regards.

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