How Book Advances Work – A Simple Explanation for Writers

how-do-book-advances-workQ: What is an advance, how much is an average advance, and how does it work? —Phyllis C.

When a publisher is interested in acquiring a book manuscript, it usually offers the writer an advance against royalties, or advance for short. These payments come in all shapes and sizes, from $500 to millions of dollars, but the basic structure of an advance is the same industry wide.

An advance is a signing bonus that’s negotiated and paid to the author before the book is published. It’s paid against future royalty earnings, which means that for every dollar you receive in an advance, you must earn a dollar from book sales before you start receiving any additional royalty payments. So, for example, if I were to receive a $10,000 advance with a royalty rate that works out to $1 per book sold (royalties are measured in percentages, but for the sake of this explanation let’s keep it simple), you would have to sell 10,000 books to pay off your advance. If your royalty rate worked out to $5 a book, you’d have to sell 2,000 copies. And so forth. After the publisher recoups your advance, it will begin to pay you royalties on subsequent sales based on the percentages outlined in the contract.

[Understanding Book Contracts: Learn what’s negotiable and what’s not.]

Advances are guaranteed (as long as you deliver what’s expected of you according to your contract), so even if your book doesn’t sell enough to earn back the advance, you don’t have to return the balance to the publisher.

Also, advance payments are generally paid in anywhere from two to four equal installments, often at significant milestones in the publishing process—when you sign the contract, when your complete manuscript is approved by the editor, when the book is published. If you have an agent, the checks are sent to her first and she takes her fee (typically 15 percent) and then issues the final check to you. If you don’t have an agent, the checks are sent directly to you.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

You might also like:

6 thoughts on “How Book Advances Work – A Simple Explanation for Writers

  1. Mika Werner

    Thank you for the informative article.
    There is nothing in the contract I’ve recently received that says I may keep the advance should the book fail to sell. Should there be such a clause?

  2. brandonduncan71

    Blessed to have stumbled upon this article, both educational, informative and very encouraging to say the least. I’m fortunate to be living in the midst of visions and dreams coming to fruition, and the writing I do and will continue is mainly testimonial and biographical.
    Thank you sincerely and I will be keeping this as a reference.

    Brandon Duncan
    prisoner to preacher,
    in His service

  3. atwhatcost

    Any chance you can continue with next question? “And, once the advance earns its keep (the book sells enough to earn the advance) how often are royalties generally paid from there?”

    I’m hearing royalties are paid either quarterly or every half year after that, but I’m hearing that from scattered authors, so I don’t know what is typical.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.