Advance And Beat A Path To My Door or Be Damned!

I came across this series of short articles via Publishers Weekly about the average earnings of a novelist. You can browse through them here, here, and here from Culture Feast.

The articles are a couple of years old but do provide some interesting links to surveys on earnings by writers and drive home the old adage – don’t give up the day job. The following snippet from the second article certainly spiked my interest; raised a red flag, and dare I say, suggested a lack of understanding about publishing.

“Science Fiction author Tara K. Harper, reporting on the Internet about the results of an Author’s Guild survey, does not mince her words: “A novelist generally is writing on spec. A first time novelist may actually wind up owing money to their publisher if sales are not sufficient.”

To be fair to author Tara K. Harper I could not for the life of me find the quoted piece when I went to her linked article. It is just as well because the statement is absolutely false. Authors, whether first-time or seasoned authors, do not ‘wind up owing money to their publishers if sales are not sufficient.’ This is a common misconception about paid advances to authors. An advance is a sum of money paid to the author, usually when the completed manuscript is delivered to the publisher. It is an advance on the royalties of book sales, and despite its implied meaning, it is not a loan the author must repay to the publisher in the event of poor sales. It simply means the author gets their advance, but does not receive any royalties until the book has sold enough for the advance to be earned out.

Some further advice in the third article does direct us to a situation where the author certainly may end up out of pocket if their book does not sell sufficient copies.

“Keep writing your novel but try such non-traditional channels of marketing as self-publishing and print-on-demand solutions like Lulu.com or Amazon’s BookSurge.


There are quite a few literary agents and traditional editors trolling such sites to discover new talent that did not cost them a penny. So if you’re good, trust me, the world will be happy to beat a path to your door.”

While I won’t deny that editors and agents do cast their eyes to sites like Amazon and other platforms for self-publishing, particularly e-book platforms, it would be foolish to believe the literary establishment ‘will be happy to beat a path to your door.’ Getting a break into traditional publishing by this method remains the exception rather than the rule. For the most part editors and agents are busy enough with their own piles of manuscripts and the responsibility lies with the author to reach out and professionally present their query, proposal and manuscript to an agent or editor.
Shsss…I think I hear something…ah, yes, it must be the latest agent or editor beating a path to my door!

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