|This may be my favorite origami ever.|
And book deals.
Because as writers, we LOVE to talk about those two things together.
Someone emailed me a little bit ago, asking about this, and I realized it was a great topic for a Pub Talk post. Also because even though I had read a few posts about how money works with book deals before I got mine, there were still things I learned along the way.
Okay, let's say you get a book deal for a single book, and to make the math easy, let's say you get an advance of $15,000. (An advance is just what it sounds like-- an advance on future royalties. Once your book goes up for sale and you start earning royalties, you have to "earn out your advance" before you start getting royalty checks.)
So does that mean that as soon as you get the call that your book sold that you can go out and spend that $15,000? Not quite. It doesn't come in one chunk. Sometimes it comes in two payments, sometimes in four, but most often in three. (At least that's what's most common with mid- to large- sized publishers.)
1/3 Comes within 30 days of signing your contract,
1/3 Comes within 30 days of your book being "accepted," and
1/3 Comes within 30 days of publication (although occasionally that date is bumped up, but not usually).
Let's talk about a few things.
First: contracts. Smaller presses usually have a boiler-plate contract that they send out pretty much the day they offer. Most mid and large publishers will work with the agent on the contract, so it takes longer to get it finalized. I got mine from Random House two months after they offered, and apparently that's insanely fast. Some publishers take 6 months. I've even heard of some taking 8-9 months. Then you sign it, send it back, then wait 30 days for the check. (It goes to the agent first, they take their cut, then send you a check for the rest.) So sometimes, it can take A LONG TIME to get that first check. You might even be close to your book going to copy edits by the time you get it.
Second: if you have an agent, the publisher will send the check directly to your agent, (s)he will take his/her 15%, then a check for the remainder will come to you from the agency. No taxes are taken out, so you have to plan for that part on your own. So in our example, you'd get three payments of $4,250. Make sense?
Third: "Acceptance" doesn't mean that you've just emailed your book to your editor. It means that you have gone through however many rounds of edits with your editor that it took to make it shine. It means that it's essentially ready for publication. You'll still have to go through one or more rounds of copy edits, and first pass pages (and maybe second pass pages), of course, but those are just minor things. The bulk of it is done.
Now, just for fun, let's say that you get the coveted six-figure, three book deal from one of the Big Six. We'll say $35,000 a book, for a total of $105,000. These numbers work out awesome, because on a $35K book, the agent cut is roughly $5K, leaving an easily divisible by three $30K. Nice, huh? Let's get some timing in the mix, too. Let's say you got your book deal this month (January 2013), with your books slated to come out December 2014, December 2015, and December 2016. This is how it would break down with a totally made up but realistic time table.
On signing, you'd get 1/3 of the $35,000 for each book (or 3/9 of the $105,000). So your first payment would be $35,000. (Or, once your agent takes his / her cut (and honestly, you aren't going to get this deal without an agent and yes, they are totally worth the 15%), you'd get around $30,000.) Let's say they're pretty fast, and get you your contract in April. So you'd get your first check in May 2013.
May 2013: $30,000 (Signing for all three)
Jan 2014: $10,000 (acceptance of book 1)
Dec 2014: $10,000 (publication of book 1)
Jan 2015: $10,000 (acceptance of book 2)
Dec 2015: $10,000 (publication of book 2)
Jan 2016: $10,000 (acceptance of book 3)
Dec 2016: $10,000 (publication of book 3)
So, as you can see, those advance payments can be spread out quite a bit. A very important thing to think about before you quit that day job.
Any questions? I know I left about a million things unanswered. If this brings up any questions for you, ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them. And if you have an experience that's different than this, tell us! I think it really helps everyone to not walk into this industry blind, so we would all love if you shared.
photo credit: Jon_Tucker via photopin cc