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Meghan Ward

I'm a freelance writer and book editor represented by Andy Ross of the Andy Ross Literary Agency. You can read an excerpt of my memoir, Paris On Less Than $10,000 A Day, and visit my website for more info about me.

Author Advances: Survey Results

Thank you so much to the 105 authors who took the author advance survey! Here are the results (now with author comments added below):

Average and Median of All Advances

Five people reported multi-book deals (four two-book deals and one four-book deal), which skewed the results a bit. Below are results counting the multi-book deals first as one deal, then as separate deals.

Counting each multi-book deal as ONE deal
Average advance: $73,897
Median advance: $25,000

Counting each multi-book deal as SEPARATE deals
Average advance: $63,776
Median advance: $25,000


Big 6 vs Non Big 6

64.8 % of authors surveyed sold books to Big 6 publishers (Random House, Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster)

27.6% sold books to small publishers

7.6 percent sold books to medium- to large-sized publishers other than the Big 6 (Norton, Harlequin, McGraw-Hill, etc.)

Percentage by Genre

30% sold nonfiction books (including narrative nonfiction)

22.9% of authors surveyed sold Young Adult books (Disclaimer: I added the YA category after 13 authors had already taken the survey, but only one of those first 13 sold a novel, so this number is likely correct)

21.9% sold novels (including one novella)

19% sold memoirs/personal essay collections

3.8% sold short story collections

2.9% sold “other” books, including an art book, a humor book, and an illustrated art/style book

0% sold poetry books


Percentage of Advances by Year

1990 .95%
1997 .95%
1999 1.9%
2000 .95%
2002 .95%
2003 3.8%
2005 8.6%
2006 9%
2007 6.7%
2008 9.5%
2009 17.1%
2010 18.1%
2011 24.8%


First Book vs Subsequent Books
61% of authors surveyed said the advance was for the first book they sold.
37% said the advance was not for a first book.

Agented vs Non-Agented Authors
82.8% of authors surveyed were agented at the time of the sale of the book
17.2% of authors surveyed were not agented at the time of the sale of the book

Disclaimer: This question was added after approximately half of the authors had already taken the survey. If you were one of the authors who didn’t get a chance to answer this question and you want to add your response, you can e-mail me at meghan (at) meghanward (dot) com.

And now for the graphs!

Number of Authors/Advance Category

This graph shows the number of authors who received advances in each category. For example, the first (and tallest) bar is $0-$20,000. The second is $20,000-$40,000, etc.



Number of Authors/Advance Category II

This graph shows the same data split out into smaller categories on the lower end. (The numbers are $2k, $5k, $10k, $20k, $40k, $60k, $80k, etc.) Multi-book deals are counted as one deal, including the million dollar deal for four books at the far right end of the graph.



Advances by Year and Genre
The following graphs show first all genres combined, then each genre separately, divided by the year the advance was received. The red portion of each bar is Big 6 advances; the blue portion is non-Big 6 advances. There wasn’t enough data to make graphs of short story collection or “other” advances. 2008 was a great year to sell your book—right before the Kindle changed the publishing world

All Advances by Year



Nonfiction Advances by Year



Novel Advances by Year



Memoir Advances by Year



YA Advances by Year

Big 6 vs Non-Big 6
The following graph shows average advances for each genre given by Big 6 vs non-Big 6 publishers. The lefthand side shows advances given by non-Big 6 publishers, and the righthand side show advances by Big 6 publishers. This graph is a bit confusing because it includes a two-book deal for a short story collection and a novel that went for $315,000, and a humor book that sold for $125,000. However, it is evident from a quick glance at the graph that Big 6 publishers tend to garner higher advances than small publishers.



Agent vs No Agent
This graph divides authors who were agented at the time they received their advances (Y) vs those who weren’t (N), and then further divides those groups into first-time advances (Y) and non-first time advances (N). The clear message is that agented authors tend to get higher advances than non-agented authors. Disclaimer: Because I added the agent question after about half of the authors had already taken the survey, this data is based only on the second half of responses.


Minimum, Average and Maximum Advances by Year
This graph plots minimum (blue), average (red) and maximum (green) advances by year. The peak for both average and maximum advances was in 2008.


Scatter Plot of All Advances
This is one of my favorite graphs because it plots every advance reported, with multi-book deals divided into separate deals (eg. $80,000 for two books is listed as two separate advances of $40,000 each) according to the year in which the advances were given.



Advances by Genre
Lastly, we have a pie chart of all reported advances by genre. Nonfiction book deals are the most prevalent.




* * *

Author Comments

Author who reported a $15,000 advance for a nonfiction book sold in 2009:
“Am currently shopping around a second proposal and since we didn’t earn out our advance, my agent thinks our chances of securing another contract are almost nil (even with major press coverage from the first book and a lengthy appearance on Dr. Phil!). Considering self-publishing the second time around.”


Author who reported a $60,000 advance for a memoir sold in 2005:
“Agent negotiated. Small bidding skirmish—first offer was $50K, another offered $55, RH topped it at 60. I went with RH for their reputation as much as the $ but later wondered if I would have had more editorial and publicity support with the other (a smaller imprint of a bigger company).”


Author who reported a $15,000 advance for a novel sold in 2008:
“Still waiting for my advance from my publisher, who owes money to everyone!”


Author who reported a $100,000 advance for a YA/Middle Grade novel sold in 2011:
“I sold 9 books to penguin between 2005 and 2009. My advances were between $5000.00 and $7500.00. I’m now self publishing via amazon and make that amount and many months more than that.”


Author who reported a $5000 advance for a novel sold in 2006:
“The advances are now given out in a way that makes even a large advance not enough. I got one quarter on signing (minus my agent’s cut), will get another quarter on acceptance (not delivery, an important distinction), another quarter on publication and the last part on publication of the paperback. No wonder authors are always broke.”


Author who reported a $2500 advance for a crime fiction novel sold in 2011:
“I have four books, one each in the last four years. The advances were: $3000, $3000, $2500, $2500. The first three did not earn out. The fourth has done much better and may have lifted the first three past the threshold. I don’t yet know precise numbers yet, but I do know the fourth earned out in its first month and has continued to do well. Still keeping my day job though.”


Author who reported a $25,000 advance for an illustrated art/style book sold in 1990:
“I have published more than 20 books with traditional publishers. Now I am thrilled to be developing my own publishing enterprise.”


Author who reported a $150,000 advance for a memoir sold in 2010:
“I had two strong platforms. I don’t think my advance is the current memoir norm.”


Author who reported a $120,000 advance for a nonfiction book sold in 2008:
“I was the second author. The book sold mainly on the platform of the first author, an expert in his field. The original advance was actually higher, but the publisher bullied us (through our agent) into giving back part of it for reasons beyond anyone’s control.”


Author who reported a $60,000 advance for a nonfiction book sold in 2010:
“My advance was a little less than HALF what I made for a very similar book (which has been very successful) in 1998. But: Great house, known for smaller advances, great marketing. I intend to make the money on the back end rather than the front end. Still, it bites.”

* * *
And there you have it! Questions? Comments? Observations?

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34 comments to Author Advances: Survey Results

  • This is fascinating! I think I took your survey (trying to remember…), and it looks like I fall near my fellow Big 6 debuts with an agent. Thanks so much for pulling this together!

  • Kristan

    Um, wow. Thanks for putting all this together, Meghan! I'm still digesting. I know it's a small sample size (although larger than I think I was expecting) but this is so, so cool and important to know.

  • Julia

    Thanks for doing this Meghan. I don't know whether to be hopeful or concerned. I do think it's interesting that the author who's published multiple books

  • Wow, that's some talent for graphs you have. Me, I don't need an advance. To heck with the money — I just want to see my book between book covers.

  • Wow. This is some amazing work. It's clear that things changed with the big publishing crash in 2008. Novels–except YA, are clearly not getting the numbers any more. This makes it clear why so many name novelists have gone indie. Memoirs probably spiked because of Eat Pray Love. And YA has been riding on hopes of another Twilight or Hunger Games. This is valuable data, Meghan!

    • Anne – Interesting point about Eat, Pray, Love. I wonder if that's true. And I think you're dead on about YA. I'll do a short follow-up post to analyze the data for those intimidated by all the graphs. Thanks for this feedback!

  • [...] Author Advances: Survey Results – “Thank you so much to the 105 authors who took the author advance survey! Here are the [...]

  • lindseycrittenden

    Kudos for pulling this together in so many ways. Still digesting … So much unpredictability right now in the business; seeing this helps sort through recent history. Thanks for the time put into this, Meghan.

  • Thanks for this very informative sampling! It's interesting to note in the comments that some authors are thinking of going independent. I was just looking at my bookshelf the other night, wondering about what 'publishing a book' will mean once we go all digital.. How will length and form be affected? And, will the gatekeepers still be the traditional publishing houses? Will they still be called publishers or just purveyors of platform? And how will the money change, if they won't be paying to print the books? It's mostly frightening (life without physical books!) and a little bit exciting. Oof.. thanks for considering my slightly unrelated yarn.. =)

    • meghancward

      Jessica – These are all great questions! Have you read my posts on self-publishing (http://bit.ly/nKiHfT ) and on Kindle Singles (http://bit.ly/oVB924)? Already novella-length books are taking off on Amazon, the Atavist and Byliner.com. The new gatekeepers of publishing are going to be book bloggers. Anne R. Allen (see her comment above) has a great post on that this week. The money has changed already, too. Authors are getting paid less for their books and publishers are charging $9.99-$14.99 for most e-books, just a couple of dollars less than discounted Amazon hardcovers. So must is changing so fast; it's hard to keep up!

  • [...] Thinking of giving up your day job? Writerland has posted some eye-opening results from their Author Advance Survey. [...]

  • Thank you for taking the time to put together the numbers. I have two publishers who have emailed me that they are offering me contracts for my series. I'm not sure yet if the numbers here can help me in negotiations (I have an entertainment lawyer) with the publishers, but it gives me an idea of where the numbers can be. __And thank you to all the author commenters who took the survey for their opinions and insight.

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  • [...] of fellow authors to try to glean some empirical data.  (Here’s Tobias’s survey.  And here’s a separate survey by author Meghan Ward, which includes a lot of non-speculative fiction data points.  And here’s some thoughts by [...]

  • Frances Stroh

    Fascinating! And kind of depressing at the same time. It's great to have all of this information compiled in one place. Thank you!

    • meghancward

      Frances – It really is a bit depressing. And some people think these numbers were skewed by a lot of Grotto writers who've had big advances. It's possible that with a larger sampling, the averages would be even smaller.

  • I think it would really help to include figures on the median advance (rather than just averages). If a few huge advances have driven up the average, the median number will be closer to what a typical author could probably expect.

    • meghancward

      Hey Brian, The median advances are listed at the top – $25,000 when counting multi book deals as both one deal and as separate deals. Were there other medians you were interested in? For each specific category?

  • Meghan, this is invaluable to me–thank you! Would it be possible to provide a median advance for small publishers specifically? I didn't see that broken out in your post.

    • meghancward

      John, I can do that for you! Just give me some time to dig up the data.

      • meghancward

        Okay, John, the median for small publishers is $7500. That includes a $135,000 2-book deal that I counted as two separate deals and four other six-figure deals. Many were $5000, $7500, or $15,000. Hope that helps.

  • Irene Douglass

    Most of the info on this website is nearly a year old…but sounds good. Are you still working?
    Is a book about my life in Pakistan in the 60's with heavy emphasis on travel, culture, and people of
    interest today? 120, ooo words,, edited, ready to go.

  • Rolo

    Why the emphasis on advances? Is there a table with earnings over 2 or 5 years per book (not deal)?

    The advances could be zero and it wouldn't make any difference to the writer earnings within the life of the book. I always ask for zero advance in my country and I do quite well on all books. I have even asked that the advance is invested into promoting my book (on my cost of course). The publisher loved it, my percentage increased a little, and the publisher went VERY far to promote the book, happy to work with someone who has some business sense. What's good about increasing the risk for a publisher while gaining nothing in return? It doesn't really put as much pressure into pushing the project as people think. The advance is not what my book is worth in any case, all my books earned a large multiple of the typical advance in my field of work. For any business deal, an advance is just a way to seal a contract. In publishing, writers seam to expect to get advances that are close to the average earnings of the book, then complain if they don't earn them. A part of the advance is more or less guaranteed money even if the project damages the publisher. I understand it's a custom, I just don't get it. I also don't get authors who will choose a publisher because the advance is higher. It's downright stupid. That's a good thing to do when dealing with crooks that never pay according to the contract, not people you want to cooperate with.

    Have you got any idea how a medium publisher perceives an writer that focuses on a high advance?

    1) It makes you look as someone who will just shop around for a perceived advantage (advance) over a true advantage (how production, distribution and marketing will be for your book). In other words, a bad businessman, someone who does not understand how it works. One that will switch business partners for dimes. Publishers put money into your work and build your career and income. They are not crooks. They build your platform, something you can walk away with.

    2) It makes you appear weak as a writer, because trying to secure a high advantage does not show confidence in the quality of your writing and the perception of your book by the market. You know a high advance increases the publishers risks and decrease yours. It's an obvious conclusion.

    3) It makes you appear, well, in need of money, now (or later, for advances these days). That never got anyone far in doing deals in business. I understand that most writers are not lucky enough to have a steady source of income, but appearing weak never helped anyone in negotiation.

    Negotiate for better terms that will help the book, not the perceived advantage a high advance offers.

    The Harry Potter phenomenon started with a £2,500 advance. It did of course continue with USA rights and a high advance, but you get my point. Don't try to prove the books worth on a negotiation table, it doesn't make any sense. The place to do that is the market. If you have a publisher that has access and positioning in the market, the advance is irrelevant. Get the deal.

  • Thanks for this very informative sampling! It's interesting to note in the comments that some authors are thinking of going independent. I was just looking at my bookshelf the other night, wondering about what 'publishing a book

  • Survey results are quite telling. Thanks

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  • [...] twice the digital growth in adult markets — plus, by most reports, young adult fiction yields bigger advances, too. And it’s these bigger advances right now that maybe suggests young adult authors are better [...]

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