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Hello, writers. Most of the time we talk about technique—storytelling technique, language technique-- because the most important thing for a writer who’s trying to improve (and I hope we all are) is improving his or her technique. We seldom talk about money.

Anyone who’s writing in hopes of picking up some money is barking up the wrong baobab. There are millions of easier ways to make money. However, when you’ve improved your technique enough and are ready for market—yes, there is some money in writing books. Let’s talk about Advances.

When I googled advance amounts, one of the top hits I got was Some Guy On A Board saying that nobody but famous writers gets advances anymore. With all due respect to SGOAB, that’s bosh. If you sell a book to a major publisher, you will probably get an advance against royalties. How much that advance is, is basically an expression of how many people the publisher expects are going to buy your book.

Which brings us to markets. Here’s an unscientific and not-all-inclusive breakdown of markets and purchasers:

The academic market: The book will be purchased by university libraries for their collections.

The public library market: The book will be purchased by public libraries for their collections, and by some interested members of the public. Aside from bestsellers, the fiction and non-fiction collections of libraries are somewhat different from those of bookstores. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean.

The school library market: The book will be purchased by school libraries for their collections, and by some book-loving parents. The difference between the fiction and non-fiction school libraries purchase and the kids’ books sold in bookstores can be considerable.

Niche markets: The book will be of interest to people who like literary fiction, or people of a particular cultural group, or Civil War buffs, or horse people. Etc.

Genre markets: Kind of like niche markets, only for genres.

The mainstream market: This is where the big advances are to be found.

The above may sound incredibly obvious, but with my first five books, I was writing for the school library market and didn’t know it. Particularly with books three through five. Take a look at your WIP and ask yourself which market it goes into. If you’re not sure, take a field trip to Barnes and Noble.

(By all means shop at your local independent book store! But for purposes of this exercise, go to B&N.)

If a book is at B&N, chances are it’s fairly mainstream. It may also belong in one of the other markets as well, but it’s been identified, either before publication or, in rare cases, afterward, as mainstream. If a book is at B&N the writer probably received one of the larger advances (some exceptions apply). If it’s on the tables, the shelf-ends, or, FSM help us, its very own cardboard stand, then the author probably received a kick-ass advance.

Actual advance amounts are confidential. Publishing contracts contain a non-disclosure clause. So there’s a code for talking about advances, courtesy of Publisher’s Marketplace:

“nice deal”--  $1- $49,000
“very nice deal”-- $50,000 – $99,000
“good deal”-- $100,000 – $250,000
“significant deal”-- $251,000 – $499,000
“major deal”-- $500,000 and up
It’s my impression that the vast majority of advances are “nice deals.”
Anything that’s not mainstream is probably going to receive an advance in the lower ranges of “nice”.

This isn’t to say you should strive to write mainstream— it would be a pretty sad publishing world if all that was out there was what’s in stock at B&N. This is just to give you more info on which to base your decisions and expectations.

Now, if you’re shooting for the upper ranges—a six-figure advance—bear in mind that it’s all about how many people are going to buy your book. If you’re a world-famous reality (?!) star with a messy personal life, you’re probably looking at six figures even if you write crappily. Not because life is unfair (though it is) but because publishers are in the business of selling books. If there are already a lot of people out there buying books like yours, and hungry for more… that’s very promising, too.

If, on the other hand, you’ve written something that people should read because it would do them a lot of good—well, that’s a worthy endeavor but it’s probably not going to pay as much.

As to the hard data. There is, of course, Brenda Hiatt’s useful blog
Show Me The Money.

This focuses on romance publishers. (Note that romance-only publishers are an exception to the rule—they usually pay very small advances despite the fact that a large readership exists for the books.) But you can see an interesting trend here. The smaller e-publishers don’t always pay advances, though they do pay royalties. Nor is it necessarily “easier” to get taken on by a small publisher. They have smaller staffs and may have less time to read manuscripts and less ability to take risks on new writers. Newbies may have a better chance with the big guys. I could tell you stories.

Also, check out Meghan Ward’s survey, which seems to back up my impression that most advances are
nice. There’s some interesting breakdown here of genres. Surprisingly, crime fiction does not pay. Or at least not very much.

Though it doesn’t deal with advance amounts, fantasy author’s Jim C. Hines’s
survey of authors’ first sales is worth a read. Lots of other interesting data there if you’re wondering how long it will take you to sell, how you can increase your chances, and whether you need to “know somebody.” Spoiler alert: you don’t.

Tonight’s challenge:
A callow youth and his stout companion find that their search for the Jewel of Togwogmagog had brought them, inexorably, to the lair of the dread Least Grebe. To face the terrible beast, they must knock on the door of the tower that stands in the middle of the Isthmus of Onionset.
Describe their approach to the tower in such a way as to convey their terror. But don’t actually mention their terror. Just show us what they’re seeing, doing, hearing etc. Try to limit yourself to 100 words.
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