Finally, another Taking Back the Past post! We’re now up to Between the Lines, my third book for Arabesque and the third entry in Harlequin’s recently released 3-in-1 re-issue, Sweet Passion. Between the Lines marks two significant events in my writing history: acquiring an agent and doing research.
As I told you in an earlier post, I negotiated (or, didn’t negotiate) my first tw0-book contract with Arabesque. I don’t quite remember how exactly when I acquired an agent, but I do remember that the agent negotiated the contract for my second two-book contract. I learned a couple of things from this experience. First, having an agent doesn’t necesssarily mean that you’ll get more money. I remember the disappointment I felt when my agent came back with an offer from the publisher that was not very different from the offer for the first contract. I assumed that I had paid my dues with that first contract, and now as a published author, I would be compensated accordingly. Not so.
Conventional wisdom puts the average advance for a new author at $5000. Quite a few make less and many make more. This was true in 1994 when I sold my first book and it’s still true today. I won’t tell you where I was, but by the tone of this post, I’m sure you can guess.
I know some of you are crying about now because you had dreams of getting rich, quitting your day job and buying a new house from the advance for selling your first book. All I can say is, “Wake up!” Now, a lot of writers do a lot better than I did. I started out writing romance, genre fiction, where big, fat advances are not very common. As I recommended in an earlier post, you really need to sell well with the first book because that book determines the floor (and in many ways, the ceiling) for subsequent advances. For example, if you start out with a $5000 advance, it’s highly unlikely that your next advance is going to be $50,ooo. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.
But there is the reality of publishing. $5000 may be selling well for you and your book. You only know that you’ve gotten the best deal that you can get if you shop your book around. Good agents know the price that a book should bring and they fight for that price. Typically, an advance is based on the expected first year sales of the book. So, if publishers expect a book to make $5000 in the first year, then you get a $5000 advance. Some publishers, like Harlequin, tend to pay a standard advance rate but their first year earnings typically exceed that amount. At least, that’s been my experience.
So how do you figure out how much you’ll make on a book? If your book is a mass market paperback (those books you see in the racks at the grocery story), it probably sells for $6.99. Your contract will specify a royalty rate of 6 or 8 percent; I’m not sure which is standard these days. That means that for each book that sells, you get 56 cents (8%) or 42 cents (6%). At the 8 percent rate, you’ll have to sell around 10,000 books to make $5000.