How does payment for a first novel usually work?

How do “advances” and “royalties” work for a newly published novel?

I’m looking at the small press publishers in Writer’s Market, and many of them only say that they pay royalties, with no mention of an advance. Does that seriously mean that I would receive no payment at all until (and unless) the entire first print run sells out?

This is my first novel. It is finished. I’ve already been rejected by a couple of the big publishers who still accept stuff without an agent (and I’ve had one lengthy bad experience trying to get a good agent, and feel no desire to repeat the process yet; and I’ve been warned against the dangers of getting a bad agent), and so now I’m shopping it around to the little publishers. I’m not naive enough to expect much money for my first novel, but I certainly expect some money. So… how does this usually work?

✅ Answers

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  • Advances vary per publishing house. You’ll usually get paid advance quarterly ( times a year) or semi-annual ( times a year). Some smaller publishers might have it so that you only get paid royalties once it reaches a certain amount – for example, they’ll only cut you a check if you reach $ in royalty payment and they won’t cut the next check until you have another $ in royalty payments, etc.

    Many of the micro publishers dont’ pay advance. They’re small publishers and usually don’t have the finances to pay their authors a lot of money. You’ll also get a much smaller print run with them and they’ll put less money behind your book for promotion and marketing simply because they don’t have the big budges that large publishers have. And even at large publishers, you’re responsible for doing a bulk of the promotion and marketing for your book – even more so at smaller presses.

    If they don’t pay you an advance (which is an advance against royalties – they’re paying you royalties in advance) then you get royalties on each sell of the book. Royalties is about -% depending on what type of book it is (paperback, mass market, hardcover, trade, etc) and ebook royalty is about % at the larger publishers. You’re not going to get a contract with most publishers without giving up ebook rights.

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    How your royalties are paid and how often they’re paid is spelled out in your contract. How much you get in advance (which might be $ to a couple of hundred dollars with a small press) and how your advance is paid depends on what’s written in your contract. Someone else mentioned that publishers might give you a bonus if your book sells out it’s first printing – only if you negotiate that bonus into your contract. Publishers don’t willingly put these things in their contract. They have a base contract and it’s up to the author or the author’s representative (agent or lawyer) to negotiate a better deal. Publishers are looking out for themselves, so their base contract isn’t going to benefit the author; they’re going to try to take as many rights as they can and have as much vague wording in the contract as possible. Going it without an agent or lawyer and you might end up giving up too many rights for your book. Do you know what derivative rights are? Some publishers ask for this. You can negotiate it out of their standard contract, but some (large) publishers won’t let you this, and if you can’t strike it out then you need to find a way to word it so that they don’t have complete control without your permission. And it also needs to be spelled out exactly what derivative rights means in your contract, and by giving them this right in your contract you’re essentially giving them the right to use your characters and world you’ve created – including letting them have another writer write a book using your characters and world. Examples like this is why you need someone experienced with contracts negotiating it on your behalf since you most likely have no idea what all these publishing terminology means. And, you don’t get bonus money unless you negotiate it into your contract, and it doesn’t have to be only for selling out your copies or going into anohter printing. You can get a bonus for reaching the NYT best sellers list or for having your book picked for a national book club. A good agent knows how to do this.

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    Studies also show that writers without an agent end up getting less money for their book – usually because they don’t know how to negotiate their contract. And, are you getting paid on net price or cover price? Which is generally better for an author (as in more money)? How often do you get paid in if you get an advance? The more spread out the payments are the better for the publisher, not the author. When you’re supposed to get your payments is spelled out in your contract – also negotiable. What about the reversion clause? Do you even know when this is?

    And if you do get an advance, you don’t get it all at once. You might get one payment after you’ve signed (which you can wait months up to a year before you see a check). You might get a second payment when you turn in the final manuscript. You might get a third payment when your book is published, so your advance could easily be spread out over years.

    If you don’t get an agent then at least spend the money and get a lawyer who’s experienced in publishing contracts to look over your contract. And, yes, they’re expensive. Don’t expect any advance with a micro-press, but if your book sells then yes do expect some royalties, but with royalties (from all sized pubs) dont’ expect a lot unless your book takes the world by storm. Good luck. And remember that a lawyer or agent can’t help you if you’ve already signed the contract.

  • Yes. People fresh to writing are someone they’re taking a chance on. You have no track record to go off of. Advances are very often lower than $, for a first time novel, and even then, that only comes about IF you have a savvy agent representing you, as they’ll do what’s best in your interest (because it’s also in their best interest).

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    The publishing process takes a long time. They need to read, debate over and then accept your novel. Then they go through it with lazer vision and have you do a re-write to suit their Publishing House. Editing and final polishing, then covers, formatting etc.

    You will get royalties, which are generally anywhere between and percent, depending on the size of the house, and how well the book sells. ALSO, some houses will offer you a bonus if they get to the point where they need to do a re-print, which means you actually need to replenish the supply available on the market.

    So, yes, you will get paid. Just not as much as a well known author that repeatedly knocks out best sellers. A first book is hard to shop around, but once you’re in, you’re IN!

    Good luck!

    Source(s): Edit: BTW, about the rejections from the larger publishers, have you tried revising? If you don’t fix up the work and make it better, you’re likely to continue getting those rejection letters. Also, the longer the rejection letter, the closer you are to actually getting it right!

    Furthermore, if you do a big re-vamp of the project, feel free to spruce up your querie letter and cover letter and send another sample back in! The houses like to see someone willing to do the extra work and willing to make those changes.

  • The procedure probably varies from one publishing house to another. Most of the publishers I know about pay royalties quarterly or semi-annually. So you don’t have to wait for the entire first printing to sell out before you see any money. You get a check twice or four times a year. (Or, if the company does pay you an advance, you’ll get periodic statements telling you how many copies the book has sold and how close your royalties are to covering the advance.)

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