Thursday, January 31, 2013

Advancing Through the Publishing Contract: Show Me the Money!

Welcome back to our continuing Thursday series on publishing contracts! Today, we continue our tour of John Q. Penman's publishing deal.

Immediately following the initial rights paragraph we see the following:

"Publisher will pay Author, or Author's authorized representative (if named below), the sum of _____________ dollars ($_____.00) ("Advance") as an advance against Author's earnings under this Agreement. The Advance is payable in three installments, as follows:

(a) 1/3 upon full execution of this Agreement.
(b) 1/3 upon Publisher's acceptance of the manuscript for the Work.
(c) 1/3 upon first publication of the Work in the United States."

First: congratulations to John. He's receiving an advance, which is an up-front payment from the publisher for the Work. The amount of an author's advance will vary with the size of the publisher and the type of work, and some smaller presses don't offer advances at all.

Most industry professionals agree that advances are smaller now than they were ten years ago, but that's not necessarily a reason to worry. Remember: the advance is money received against earnings - so a smaller advance just makes it easier for the author to earn out - which happens when the author's total royalties exceed the advanced amount.

Earning out makes you a success in the publisher's eyes - and that is every author's real goal.

In most cases, the advance is paid in two or three installments.  The first one is usually paid "on signing" ("on full execution of the Agreement" means when all parties have signed the contract). In a two-payment situation, the second payment is usually made when the publisher accepts the final manuscript (in a three payment situation, this is when installment 2 is made). Where, as here, the contract calls for three payments, the third one will either coincide with publication of the work or (more rarely) with completion of copy edits.

Many authors get tunnel vision about advances - to the detriment of other, more important contract provisions. While the advance is important, ultimately it's the royalty percentage, grants of rights and "out of print" (and termination) clauses that play a much larger role in the author/publisher relationship. Don't let the advance (or lack thereof) blind you to the larger picture!

Evaluate the advance like every other provision: in the context of the contract as a whole.

What are your thoughts on advances? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments.

Posted by Susan Spann 
Susan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of Claws of the Cat (St. Martin's / Minotaur, July 2013), the first novel in the Shinobi Mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Another excellent post, Susan. I've noticed some comments on agent blogs that often it's better for authors to negotiate for the smaller advance, both for tax reporting purposes and for that most desirable "earning out" status. I would imagine the publishers like that idea as well.

Yolanda Renee said...

I was just asked by a small press publisher to sign on the dotted line, but there is no offer of an advance. Is that common?

Susan said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond here, Yolanda.

First, congratulations on your deal!

Your situation is very common. Many small presses do not offer advances, only royalties. As long as the press is not also asking you to pay any expenses of publication, you still have a "traditional" deal. Sometimes, smaller presses don't have the kind of budget to offer advances to new authors or midlist authors (and a few don't even offer advances to their established authors, because they choose a non-advance business model).

The lack of advance, without more, is not a concern. That said, you should always read the contract carefully - and have it reviewed by someone with experience - to make sure there aren't any other terms of concern.