Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Looking Out for #0

Friend just got a nonfiction-book contract with a good publisher. Her first. Before signing, she wanted me to see if the contract was fair. I said if not, she could negotiate. I found her contract pretty much standard-issue: "author gets 7% royalty of net sales,"--meaning "publisher gets 93 percent of net sales," and publishers know because we're writers and desperate we don't expect a lot better -- maybe 10%, or 12%, tops -- but --

There was NOTHING in the contract about an ADVANCE!

"What kind of advance have they offered you?" I asked.

What? Why, it hadn't even crossed her mind that her publishers should pay her anything but her 7% royalties.

I said, "You must ask for an advance. You will get little if anything in royalties. Nobody gets royalties now. The advance is the only money you're likely to see from this book, now or for a very long time."

How much should she ask for? I said, how about $3000? She was stunned. She could really ask a publisher to pay her a whole $3000 in exchange for an 80,000 word manuscript?

Are writers the only professionals who take a 93-7 split as normal? And what other professionals are so well conditioned to perpetual peonage that when they sell a manuscript, negotiating on a price for it doesn't even cross their minds?


  1. Catherine, would you say a publisher of poetry is different? I don't know a single published poet who's had an advance. Am I just hanging out with suckers?

  2. Poet have fully accepted -- nay, EMBRACED -- their own peonage and do not even dare ask for an advance, because they KNOW (because they have heard) they will be rebuffed: "Your poetry book won't make any money!" Get the nerve to ask, and you may receive! If not, ask them why they are publishing your poetry book if it won't make them any money.