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Saturday, July 2, 2011

5 Questions to Ask Before you Turn Down a Small Advance

I'm back! We have successfully moved 13 years' worth of stuff (including two home offices) into our new home. Now we are unpacking, which means soon I'll be back into a good work groove.

In the meantime, I wanted to mention my latest piece in the July, 2011 is of The Writer on small advances. One of the reasons I got into ghostwriting and coauthoring is because I found my platform didn't matter as much as my client's did when it came to first, selling the book, and second, the size of the advance we'd garner.

But when you're writing your own book (and I write books on my own, in addition to coauthoring and ghosting), you may face the question that's the heart of the piece--how low is too low? In other words, is a small advance worth it?

This is a timely question as advances are shrinking across the board--unless you have an Oprah-sized platform or a million followers on Twitter. Before you turn down a small advance, I suggest you ask the following five questions:
  • How much time will the book take? A relatively straightforward service book or a collection of previously published essays will likely take less time than a book that requires months of research and dozens of interviews, for example.
  • Will the book further your career, and if so, how? Will it help establish you as an expert in a field you write about? Will it help you transition from freelancer to book author? Will it continue to build on your platform?
  • How small is small? Some authors would turn up their nose at an advance of anything less than mid-five-figures; others will do books for a lot less than that. In other words, what you consider insulting may be more than acceptable to another writer. Only you can determine whether a "small" advance is worth it to you.
  • How many books do you expect to sell? No, you don't have a crystal ball, but if you can reasonably expect to sell tens of thousands of books, a small advance may be offset by royalties down the road. A book aimed at a tiny niche audience is unlikely to produce as many royalties--and remember that four out of five don't earn out, or pay any royalties.
  • How much do you want to do the book? I've taken on tiny advances (as in $2,500) for projects I really wanted to pursue--and have gone the POD route when I couldn't sell my book to a traditional publisher.
For a more in-depth look at this issue, check out the July issue of The Writer. Up next, straight talk about money, and a new survey of what freelancers are making today.