by Angela Lauria February 1, 2023
It can be difficult to get a good book publishing deal because they are few and far between. It often seems like finding a needle in a haystack or looking for a unicorn. You’ve worked so hard to get your novel ready to submit to publishers, and now you have to worry about actually selling it.
Thank goodness writers have literary agents to help them negotiate the terms of their publishing deals! This ensures that the writer gets a fair shake and doesn’t end up getting unfair treatment by publishers.
When it comes to publishing deals, don’t feel like you have to say yes to the first offer that comes your way. Unless you’ve tried all other options and/or your negotiation position is not strong, hold out for something better. There’s no rush to sign on the dotted line – take your time and make sure you’re getting what you want.
Book deals typically involve an advance: money that the publisher is willing to spend up-front, based on the expected sales of the book. The size of the advance is usually determined by factors such as the author’s reputation and the projected sales of the book. Although it may seem like publishing advances is a free ride, some strings are attached. Most notably, it is not your obligation to pay back the full amount of the advance if your book does not sell well.
However, this does not mean that publishers are simply giving away money; advances are typically only given to authors whose books have a good chance of selling well. In other words, an advance is a publisher’s way of investing in your book and showing their faith in your ability to write a successful book.
What is a “Good” Publishing Deal?
There are a few different types of publishing deals, but the most common are traditional publishing, co-publishing, and self-publishing. Traditional publishing is when a publisher pays you an advance and royalties for the right to publish your book. Co-publishing is when you partner with a publisher to help with the costs and distribution of your book. Self-publishing is when you finance and produce your book without any help from a publisher.
So, what does a “good” deal look like?
A nice book publishing deal typically pays an advance of $1 to $49,000. However, advances are only a small part of what authors earn from their publishers. Most of an author’s earnings come from royalties, which are based on the number of books sold.
Meanwhile, a publishing deal that pays between $50,000 and $99,000 is very nice. This provides plenty of financial security for the author while still allowing the publisher to make a healthy profit. Once the book hits shelves, the author typically receives a smaller percentage of each sale.
In general, a good deal will fall somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000. Of course, there are always outliers on either extreme, but this is a pretty good range to expect. The amount of money you can expect to receive will depend on several factors, including, but not limited to, the quality of your book and your potential audience.
What is a “Significant” Book Deal?
On the other hand, a significant book publishing deal usually ranges from $251,000 to $499,000. This is a large amount of money that can help an author pay for costs associated with their books, such as editing, marketing, and design. Having large financial backing from a publisher can also increase the chances of getting your book into stores and in front of readers.
Lastly, the cost of a major deal is usually around $500,000 or more. This may seem like a lot of money, but it can be a good investment. If the book does well, it can make back its initial investment and then some.
If you’ve ever seen an announcement or publishing report stating that a book has been sold in a “good” or “major” deal, these terms refer to the financial arrangements made between the author and the publisher. As explained above, it just signifies that the author has received a certain amount of money for their work. Every situation is different, and there are always exceptions to the rule. But if you see news of a good or major book deal, it’s safe to assume the author will receive handsome compensation.
In other words, if we simply accept these ranges as they are, a good book publishing deal would result in the author receiving an advance of between $100,000 and $250,000. Of course, many factors can affect how much an author receives for their book, but if we’re just looking at the numbers here, then this is what a good deal looks like.
The Elusive Six-Figure Deal Publishing Deal
Okay, let’s do a quick analysis.
If you earn $100,000, then 15% goes to your literary agent, which leaves you with $85,000.
Then, you have to set aside around 40% for taxes, which leaves you with approximately $50,000.
In the end, after everything is said and done, you’re left with half of what you initially earned.
Many publishing contracts are structured so that the advance is paid in multiple installments. The first installment is usually paid on signing, followed by another payment upon delivery of the completed work (assuming it meets the outlined standards outlined in the publishing contract), and then again at publication. This allows authors to receive some initial compensation upfront, while also providing an incentive to finish and deliver a high-quality product.
So, don’t expect to get rich quickly off your debut novel. The elusive six-figure deal is rarely in the cards, and it’s best to be realistic about your first book deal. Advances can be sizable, but they aren’t usually enough to transform someone’s life. You will likely need to write and sell multiple books before you see real financial success.
Earning Out a Book Advance
Here’s another piece of information that may be surprising: you won’t start to earn any commission on your book sales until you have first earned back the advance that was paid to you by the publisher. So, if your book doesn’t sell well, you may earn nothing from its sales.
Authors rarely make enough money from book sales to reach $100,000. Even though you won’t have to pay the publisher back for the unsold books, not reaching your sales goal can make it more difficult to sell your next book. Your agent might be less likely to want to work with you if you don’t have a good track record of selling your books.
A good book publishing deal can be enticing, but it’s important to look at the details before making a decision. Make sure you understand the terms of the agreement and don’t be afraid to negotiate for a better deal if you feel necessary. Remember that a good publishing deal should benefit both you and the publisher – so don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve.
When is a “Nice” Publishing Deal Still Considered “Good”?
There are numerous advantages to signing a six-figure deal with a publisher, such as the increased faith the publisher has in your work, the extra money in your pocket, and the larger marketing team that will be promoting your book. With more people working on advertising and promotion, your book is more likely to reach a wider audience.
But don’t turn down a nice deal when you’re first starting as an author. The sooner you start earning royalties, the sooner you’ll start making commissions. By industry standards, a good publishing deal for a debut novel would pay the author less than $50,000. However, many debut novels sell for less than this amount. Most go for under $25,000. While this may not be a good deal by industry standards, it could still be beneficial for the author.
More Than Just Money
Your writing career is a long-term commitment. Don’t obsess over the money that you could potentially make, and remember that you’re a writer first and foremost. You likely didn’t get into writing for the sole purpose of making money, so keep that in mind as you pursue your career.
Remember, the Big Five publishing houses — Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan — are likely to pay advances that are considerably higher than what an independent publisher would offer. Some presses may not offer any advance payments at all which means you won’t get any money upfront for your book.
While most people see a smaller advance as a less successful publishing deal, you will start earning on any book sales right away. This means that in the long run, you could end up making more money overall. So don’t focus too much on the size of your advance – focus on what’s best for your book.
You will be able to tell if the publishing deal is a good one for you depending on what your goals are for your book and where you are in your career. If you’re just starting, any publishing deal is going to be a good opportunity. But if you’re further along in your career, you’ll want to make sure that the terms of the deal are favorable to you and that you’re getting what you want out of it.
Different people have different ideas about what a good publishing deal looks like. Make sure your literary agent is on your side and fighting for the best possible deal that meets your needs. You want an agent who will negotiate on your behalf and help you get the most ideal terms, including advances, royalties, and publication rights.
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