Good News: Earning Out Your Advance

When you sell a book as an author, you sell it for an “advance against royalties.” You also negotiate a certain percentage of each book’s cover price that will be your royalty rate; for each book sold, you’ll get that amount of money. So if your book sells for $10, and your royalty rate is 10%, every book sold gets you $1. Yay! However, you don’t actually see any of this money until that advance you got is “earned out.” It’s not a signing bonus. It’s the amount of money the publisher thinks you’ll likely make for your royalties on the book. (I’m oversimplifying here.) So until that money’s paid back, you don’t see any royalties at all. (You got paid for those up front. That’s a good thing. It means that even if the book doesn’t sell anything, you still got money. Though if the book doesn’t sell anything, you have other problems as an author . . . )

So if you ever actually see a royalty check as an author, it’s a very good thing. It means that your book at bare minimum is doing better than your publisher cautiously thought it would. It also means that you’ll periodically get checks in the mail for various amounts of money, depending on sales. When you’re a librarian first and an author second, extra money in the mail is a wonderful surprise. When you’re an author first and foremost, you’re often relying on those checks in the mail to be able to feed and clothe yourself and your family. (My favorite surprise money so far has been Chinese royalty payments for The Memory Thief, which have come a couple of times now. The book’s been plenty popular in China.)

When I sold The Perfect Place to Die, it was a two book deal. That means my publisher bought that book and a book I hadn’t written yet. They paid one advance for both of them combined. I wouldn’t see royalties for either book until all that money was “paid back.”

So I was extremely pleased when after the first six months (you get royalty checks twice a year), I got an actual royalty payment on The Perfect Place to Die. This means that I earned out my advance for both books right off the bat. This also means that from here on out, every copy of either of those books that sells, makes me money. Also, it hopefully means my publisher is happy with how the books are doing, which makes it more likely that they’ll want to buy more of my books in the future.

In any case, these days it can sometimes feel like good news only comes along every so often, so I’m celebrating every chance I get. Thanks to all you readers out there! Today’s celebration couldn’t have happened without you.


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