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Advance Against Royalties  

Advance! The very word is music to an author's ears.

What is an advance?

An advance against royalties is an amount of money received before the work is done in anticipation of the completion of the work.

An advance is usually paid to an author by a publisher as a practical matter, as "seed money," as "venture capital," because the writing of the book will involve expense, and the author may not be able to meet that expense without some money up front.

From an author's point of view, advances are sweet not because they are unearned (the work comes later), but because they are in your bank account rather than the publisher's. Anyone who writes for a living knows that sometimes it's difficult to get money from a publisher on time and in the correct amount. If you have an advance, time (and money) are on your side.

Normally, an advance is an advance on royalties, that is, it is money which the publisher anticipates you will earn on royalties of the book. When you do earn those royalties, they are not paid to you until they exceed the amount that was advanced to you.

But advances also figure in the world of writing for a flat fee. You may agree to do a book for a publisher for a certain predetermined sum of money (fee), which is not dependent upon how well or badly the book sells. You may receive part of this fee as an advance, and the rest in partial amounts as the project progresses.

The best thing for an author is a big advance all paid at once upon signing of the contract. These days, this is rare, however. It is more usual for a publisher and author to agree upon the amount of an advance, then have it paid, say, half upon signing of the contract and half upon submission of the work.

It is not unusual for advances to be paid in parts at certain milestones in the progress of the work: upon signing of the contract, upon submission of the first (second, third, etc.) ??% of the manuscript; upon submission of the final portion of the manuscript; upon judgement by the publisher that the manuscript is "acceptable;" upon completion of editing (with the author's cooperation); upon publication of the book.

If you get your last money upon publication of the book, that's not much of an advance, as you should be getting royalties soon in any case.

There is status in receiving a big advance for a book. It means the publisher has confidence in you and confidence in the project. But it is not as important as having a good, mutually respectful working relationship with your publisher.

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Tom Brosnahan