Before we get into tweets from specific authors (including those who have literally won awards and are considered experts in their respective fields), we can review what exactly an advance is.
Generally speaking, authors who work in traditional publishing may receive an advance when they sell a book to a publisher. Sometimes an agent makes this sale on your behalf, but some independent or smaller publishers work directly with writers. Either way, some writers receive an advance when the manuscript is bought. That advance is generally paid out to the writer in several portions; for example, one-third when the deal is made, another third when it goes to copy editing, and a final third when it’s released. Depending on the deal and other conditions, that can vary. If you work with an agent to make the sale, the agent generally receives a cut of the advance per your contract; the industry standard is generally between 10% and 20% for domestic rights. The advance is also pretax.
In addition, writers receive a royalties deal, depending on their individual contracts. Generally speaking, writers can receive royalties after they “sell out” their advance; so if you receive a large advance and your book doesn’t sell well, you may have to wait a lot longer to receive royalty payments. In addition, some writers have other workings going on for foreign rights sales, audiobooks, film and TV rights, and so on. But this article (and hashtag) sticks with the basics.
If a writer goes the self-publishing route, the advance discussion generally doesn’t apply.
How much is an advance? Well, as the hashtag reveals, it can really vary widely, even for the same kind of book from the same tier of publisher. Let’s look at some self-reported examples below, sprung from the #PublishingPaidMe conversation created and led by Tochi Onyebuchi and L.L. McKinney, both Black Young Adult (YA) writers.
As the hashtag grew, people began adding other author information such as gender identity and sexual orientation into tweets to provide further context. And while the hashtag originally illustrated the deep pay disparity between white and Black writers, it expanded into white and non-white writers as the conversation picked up speed.
Here are some remarks from writers of color.
In comparison, here’s what some white writers shared.
The bigger picture conversation also includes how much support Black and non-Black writers of color get from publishers. If writers of color don’t get comparable advances, for example, are they getting as much publicity? Book tours? If their first book doesn’t sell as well as anticipated, will they even get a chance at a second book? Money matters on the individual level for obvious reasons, but it’s also a question of institutional support and long-term success strategies. As is always the case when being transparent about wages, these writers are all being extremely brave for sharing on such a public platform. Hopefully it inspires much-needed structural shifts in publishing and beyond.