Sunday, March 10, 2013

Payment in Advance

As a freelance writer, there aren’t many opportunities to get paid in advance. Book writing is about the only one.

The advance is the money a publisher pays you for the time and effort put into the writing of a book. Traditionally, the advance has been perceived as a loan made by the publisher to you to keep you alive and producing until the royalties from your book begin to come in—at which time the publisher will recoup his or her loan by withholding the amount of the advance from your share of the royalties.

The advance also reflects the book’s potential for sales. The better the potential, the bigger the advance. If the book has a smaller target readership, then the publisher will offer a lower advance. In this case, there’s no way you can live on just the advance while writing the book. It’s important to remember that during your negotiations.

In the case of many books, where the royalties don’t amount to as much as the advance, the advance serves as an out-right purchase price by the publisher. So it’s important to negotiate for an advance which represents either a fair return for your labor as a writer or the best return you can reasonably expect since you most probably won’t see any more money. When negotiating your advance, point out that the publisher is going to get a far better book if you’re free from money worries and can concentrate on your work.

Some publishers will tell you their advance is small because they expect to invest heavily in promoting the book and that, therefore, you’ll be money ahead in the long run if the contract promises larger than usual royalties to make up for the skimpy front money. But in reality, publishers aren’t doing much promotion today, especially small ones. That means you’ll be out begging people to buy your book just to make up the difference between your advance and your royalties.

Today, publishers sell many of their books wholesale to book distributors, so the royalties from them amount to only a fraction of what you’d receive from retail sales. And competition from the digital book market clouds the situation further.

Your publisher may try to recover all or part of your advance when, for any reason, he or she chooses not to issue a book. Yes, after all the work you put into your book, it just may not get published. Perhaps the market for that topic collapsed or there’s a downturn in the economy. This is clearly unfair if you have kept your part of the bargain faithfully. So, at a minimum, make sure that the language of the contract shelters you against recovery attempts. If you deliver your work on time in the form and content specified, you have every right to the advance money.

Book contracts can be very confusing. Make sure that there are no penalties for not meeting your deadline. So safeguard your advance by making sure the contractual deadline gives you enough time to meet all your obligations.

The book advance isn’t the only way you can finance your book project. You should also consider possible perks like expenses. How will you pay extra costs for travel, extensive research, artwork, photographs, charts, computer printouts, periodicals, books, photocopying, researchers, or secretarial help?

Your publisher will expect you to cover most of these expenses, so it's up to you to ask for help. Will the editor send you books for research that she has on hand? Ask for anything that would help. It can't hurt to try. But ask early. Realize there are limitations. Give your editor time to justify your expenses with the editorial board. Some publishers regularly agree to such arrangements with authors, others seldom if ever. And keep in mind that it's sometimes easier for an editor to justify such expenses as these than a more sizable advance, especially for new writers.

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