Friday, January 6, 2012

No Advances?

Digital Book World, a highly informative blog which I recommend you follow if you are interested in the changing publishing industry, recently had an interview with Ellen Archer, president of Hyperion Publishing. Here’s something I found especially interesting:

JG: Are you suggesting advances will go away in the future?

EA: I’m suggesting that we need to create a “Chinese menu” for deals. There are lots of different ways of how a deal can be structured and we need to explore what those deals could look like. The one pattern that I have seen is that while there is still big money being thrown around for certain books, there is an awareness that we can’t continue to overpay. Advances are already lowering.

Okay, wow. I had heard that advances have been going down in many areas of publishing. And there are some other publishers doing Digital-only or Digital-first editions that don’t pay advances, but get the book out more quickly (and ideally pay a greater royalty rate). I find it interesting that a major publisher is hinting that no advance may be the way of the future. After all, that is one of the major reasons to go with a large publisher.

Traditional publishers basically offer one thing that you can’t get from self-publishing – money up front. Yes, they offer services such as editing, proofreading and cover design, but you can hire professionals to do that (including some of the professionals who used to work for traditional publishers). Traditional publishers may offer some advantages when it comes to marketing, a point Ms. Archer makes in her interview. But her examples are a nonfiction book about a famous person and a TV tie-in book. As many of us know, an unknown or mid-list author may get little or no marketing.

Again, it comes down to money. What traditional publishers have to offer is the money to pay an advance and pay the people who will work on your book. Without an advance, that really just leaves paying the people who will work on your book. This is still valuable for authors who don’t have the money to hire professionals. But I find it puzzling that traditional publishers are actually talking about getting less competitive.

Although I have been experimenting with self-publishing after decades of traditional publishing, I don’t believe it’s the right path for everyone. I’d really like to see traditional publishers become more relevant and remain powerful forces in publishing. Sadly, I am largely seeing the opposite.

By the way, I’m teaching a class called Explore Indie Publishing, and another on Dazzling Description, in Albuquerque on two Tuesday afternoons, January 24 and 31. Get the full description and find out how to sign up at the SouthWest Writers website.


  1. Good luch with the classes. I have been digitally published (no advance)and I think the advance from traditional publishing is nicer. The trick is you should be sure to excise the clause in your contract that says you have to pay back the advance, if the book doesn't sell enough copies.

  2. Good advice. I haven't run into that clause, but it definitely should be removed if it's there. It's the publisher's job to sell the book. Authors are expected to help with publicity these days, but you shouldn't be punished if the publisher puts a lousy cover on it, has distribution problems, or doesn't do any marketing, or of forces outside your control (9/11; economic downturn) cause an overall book slump. They are the investor -- they take the risk. That's the whole point.

    An advance sure is nice, because it helps pay your bills now (assuming you get at least part on signing) so you can work on the next book and start publicity. But if it takes a lot longer to get a traditional contract, then there's no advance, and then they take two years to bring the book to market, that's not helpful.

    Plus, some people feel that the size of the advance indicates the publisher's commitment to your book. That's not always true, but if publishers can get by without paying advances, they might find other ways to cut corners (no marketing), publish many more books, and just let them sink or swim on their own. That's the policy of some digital-only/first publishers, and it's not necessarily a bad one, but authors need to recognize what's happening.