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.

43 thoughts on “Book advances: How much should authors expect?”

  1. @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.

  2. 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.


  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • Dear Mr. Bindra,
      Do not wait for your next script to be sent to a traditional publisher, you can do that experiment with ‘Rich Losers’. After all the only good thing about ‘self publishing’ is that you still can approach the traditional guys!
      PS: Please don’t be a ‘Rich Loser’ after publishing a book about it 😉

  5. 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.

  6. 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

    • Dear Fancin,
      I would suggest that you hire a PR agency that is expert in PR activities exclusively for books. You can google them for your location.
      I also doubt that there is any formal contract that the ‘self publishing’ guys make you enter.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

    • 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).

  9. 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?


    • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Just stopping by to say thank you. Loads of information in your writing and the Q & A. Vibrant discussions. I may come right back for some advice too.

  13. Great…I must say thank you to you for posting such a valuable article which is not only helpful to budding writers but those seniors who are only writing and happy with the work getting published.
    Most of us have no idea about the economics in publishing industry, and unfortunately, stalwarts of the industry never open the secrets of the game.In such scenario, you have given us new insight.
    My one question is about an agent .How do I contact with them ? How does their system work for our manuscripts? Please inform me about that…

  14. @Vivek: The big question you’ll have to answer is this – Why should someone buy a collection of quotes when it’s available for free on the internet. What’s your original contribution in there?

    Btw, I’m not a literary agent. Just trying to help out fellow writers in an industry that’s annoyingly non-transparent, confusing and unfriendly.

    @Vishal: Thanks for the compliments. On your query about contacting literary agents, you can start off by sending them a query letter. I’ve written a few posts here about query letters.

  15. Thanks for your valuable information ,i wrote my first novel , where should i publish my book ? Should i pay initialy some amount to them?

  16. I’m glad I came across your helpful blog. There is SO much info here. I have a silly kind of question that maybe you could answer..
    So I was looking around websites to know what publishers charge, and I came across several ‘packages’. One of the websites that I checked was of Penguin India and I filled the contact form so that I may receive details. This guy named Adrian Kane started calling me EVERY week and then EVERY month asking me when I will finish the manuscript and once he even had the ba**s (excuse me) to ask me whether Indians have the money to afford their publishing packages!
    So my question is, is there something fishy in the way even reputed publishers are out to get writers to choose them? I would be paying this guy some 37k onwards, and then where does the question of an advance arise? I see myself sitting with crossed fingers to be able to recover the publishing costs, just because I want to put my stories out there!

    PS: I was under the impression that newbie writers chase Publishers, not the other way around!

    • Hay Sangeeta,
      I have been there too and was nearly convinced with the sales pitch too…. The company that is calling you is not ‘Penguin India’ It is ‘Partridge’ and boy are they desperate to make the sales. I have been getting calls from ‘Farina Gaily’ and she has been equally persuasive.
      During the course of her making sales for last few months I came to understand that there are 2 ways to publish your book:

      1. Traditional Publishers: who read your content before they publish, they will publish only if they find that the material is easily saleable (As Sameer has highlighted in many of his blogs). They even pay you advance from the ‘Royalty’ that you are expected to earn after your book is published. The problem here is that most of them might find your book ‘saleable’ even when you thing it might be. (Penguin is an example of ‘traditional publisher’)

      2. Self Publishing house: these are as I would like to call them the ‘scavenger publishers’. They thrive on (a) The authors who are not accepted by the traditional publishers or (b) Who are not aware of the ‘publishing mechanism’ (people like you and me). They first assure you that your book is an amazing work of art and you must invest money from your own pocket to publish it. Then present you with an astonishing incentive 100% profit sharing. They claim that they will give you all the money that is to be earned from the book and they will only charge you for the ‘packages’ that you buy…. Not true…. I was surprised to know that the printing cost mentioned by one of such publishers was Rs 70 for a book that can easily be printed for Rs. 20!
      And the best part is that, if the book is not selling, you are the one who lands up facing losses. the publisher has already made money on you book, before even you started selling!
      So I am sorry to break the bitter reality, to you. You are not being chase buy a publisher, it is a ‘scavenger publisher’ chasing you!
      Go through some other articles by Sameer, once you are clear with the concept of ‘Traditional Publisher’ and ‘Self Publishing Houses”.

  17. @Karthick: Traditional publishers will never ask you to pay.

    @Sangeeta: Many traditional publishers that are trying hard to stay relevant and profitable in a not-so-rosy industry have started their independent vanity publishing businesses. You are being chased by the latter, not the former.

    I’ve written a lot on this site about how vanity publishing differs from traditional publishing, the pros and cons. Do send some time reading it, so you can take an informed decision.

  18. It is Amazing Sameer, most of us new author, just keep jumping from one website to other never to find the ‘true’ and comprehensive answers to our doubts. You have the most amazing list of blogs.
    You just sorted out over 90% of my doubts and I am sure 10% would be covered in the blogs that I am yet to read!
    Thank You!

  19. I would like to publish a book on ‘Method of Learning’ generally for the weak students. Please help me to publish. The matter will be sent as per your kind inquiry.

    With regards T.K.BISWAS

  20. Its true. I have recently submitted my work but i wonder what should one do when he gets rejected? Because i don’t know anyone in this field. Please guide on it.

  21. sameer… first of all i must thank you for such a wonderful article and QnA that almost cleared my doubts. I am just a MBBS passout and preparing for PG entrance. After exams I am about to write a competitive entrance book for ALL INDIA POSTGRADUATE MEDICAL ENTRANCE EXAM. Book will be a big project as it will contain around 20,000 mcq questions and their answers with explainations from standard text books. There is NO such book in market for the current examination pattern which was changed 3 years ago. So i found it very important to write such book for preparing doctors. As you can very well understand that book will cost very much (expecting around 2000-2500 rs) and it will be only possible via traditional publishing. Can you please advice me here that how should I approach publishing guys who are big names in Medical books publishing and how can I convince them for traditional publishing.

  22. Hello Sameer, I recently got an offer for my fiction novel of 7.5 % royality. But there is a provioso that if after a year 1000 copies are not sold, the author will have to buy them at 40% price. Is this a done practice?
    Also there was no offer of any advance. Kindly advise.

  23. Oh wow.. such a helpful person you are. I found this blog spot on, and then I read the Q&A which covered all the other questions I didn’t have yet.

    Thank you so much.

    I don’t have any question.

    Just loads and loads of thanks for you.

    Thanks man 🙂

  24. Hi Sameer, your posts are very informative and helpful specially for first timers. I have just finished a book which shall go into the marketing section. I have contracted Partridge and paid arond 1.25 lacs (Diamond package0. They have sent me a contract which is pretty much nothing to do about. Just that the royalty offered is 10% is that good. I do not know a jackshit about what royalty should i ask and what all to be careful about. Please help.

  25. Wonderful Sameer, You are a rockstar. It has been a great stopover for newbies like us who have so many questions. Thank you Indeed. and, yes, this blog has not wasted a single second of mine.

  26. Hi Sameer, can you pls tell what are the standard contract terms in fiction publishing with publishers like Srishti. Also what are the Royalty rates in India and to what extent are they negotiable. Pls also tell what is the flexibility that an author has to change his publisher, or is the author contractually bound to one perpetually…


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