All About Advances
All right, does anybody wanna make money off of their writing? (laughs) Of course you do. I am going to share some industry realness with you and be super transparent about how much I got for all of my books. This might not be your story. You might make tons more money than I've made. I really hope you all do. Lots of writers have made tons more money than I have. Also, there's a lot of writers who are really genuinely talented who have made lots less than I have. It's really a weird world. When I signed my contract for my book Rose of No Man's Land my publisher, he shook my hand and he said, here's to hoping this is a hit, we don't know what makes a hit, we just don't know what makes a hit. And that's the truth for this industry. Unless you're like a giant celebrity publishing a book and it's a given that people will wanna read that book, but for normal folks like us they don't really know. So it's tricky. And it's good to remember why you want to write and always have that be what is...
the guiding force for you, because this money part of it, it's like you never know. So hopefully you're getting joy out of your writing. You can look at the other things that it's bringing you other than just these books, has it brought you community? Does it give your life a purpose? That is just so simple. Sometimes as a writer you just have a purpose in your life and a lot of people don't, they really struggle to figure out what their purpose in life is, so try to remember to be grateful that you are created with this weird writer brain and you're part of this strange pack of people. All right, my first book, no money. They told me straight up, I have no money for you and you'll never see any royalties. I said, okay. Don't say okay, don't do that. I was like a 23 year old alcoholic and they published some of my favorite writers and I was just like, do you want me to pay you to publish my book? Can I make you some ramen? What can I do? It was a hugely, hugely bad deal, largely because the publisher of this small, but very respected press was kind of unethical and a chaotic mess and did not take care to, am I slandering somebody right now? Okay, bad business practices. This press has since been acquired by MIT, I now get royalties when this book sells. But initially nothing. Book two, Valencia. This is a book that a lot of people know me for. I got, my offer from my publisher was $1,000 dollars, but I talked them up to 1,500, 'cause I got negotiating skills. So, again, I'm coming at publishing with no resources, no one coaching me, no agent, just out there in the wilderness, you guys, fending for myself, and I was so happy to get this book out in the world. And I was like, you know, it was a 1,500% increase from my last book, if you think of it like that. Here's my next book, The Chelsea Whistle, on the same press, Seal Press, a great press. I bumped it up to $5,000 dollars from a $3,000 dollar offer. My negotiating skills also improved. I think I also cried on the phone with that one, so maybe that helped too. My next book, no money, nothing at all. It's poetry, there's no money in poetry, I'm very sorry to tell you that. Some people do make some money in poetry, it is hard, it's a harder, it's probably the hardest path in publishing. A lot of presses won't even publish poetry. Yes, a question.
Okay, so as a poet, do you know people that are making money in poetry that are not university professors and in that literary world? Do you know anybody that's making, like for example, Eileen Myles, does she make money? She's published a really good poetry book. She might be making money?
Um, I don't know what people make or don't make. It's hard. I think that when you look at someone like Eileen Myles, she has such a huge body of work at this point, but I know at the start of her career and for all I know, deep into it, it was a hustle. It's a hustle. Poets especially are always hustling gigs. Throughout all of my writing, obviously I can't live off of any of this. This publisher really likes to pay my royalties in books also. She'll be like I have $60 dollars for you, or do you want a bunch of copies of your book. And they're a very small press, it's one person running the show there, and I was really happy she wanted to publish my poetry, because a lot of publishers don't publish poetry, so I was into it. But yeah, I always worked other jobs, worked bookstore jobs. I kind of parlayed all of my literary organizing into a non-profit with the help of a mentor and became a 501(c)(3) organization and began getting grants. If I didn't do that I don't know. It's always been like a patchwork. Maybe I'll get a grant, maybe I'll get a writing gig, maybe I'll get a teaching gig. So that's how I've done it and I think that's how a lot of people do it. Okay, my next book. $2,500 dollars. I had to split it with the illustrator. I split $5,000 dollars with the illustrator. I took home $2,500 dollars for this book. And then, drumroll, (rolls tongue) $10,000 dollars for Rose of No Man's Land. I was really excited about that. Also, my first agented book. So is that a coincidence? Probably not. If I'd gone into it myself they could've offered me $6, and I would have probably shed a tear and been like, thank you. But she got me $10,000 dollars and that was really amazing. So you build on that, so my next book, $2,000 dollars. Beautiful book cover, a smaller press that does not give big advances. Sometimes it's not that you're being ripped off or anything, it's like publishers, especially small publishers, they have their own business model that works for them, that allows them to continue publishing. And so a lot of small publishers their business model is they do a straight $2,000 dollar advance and it doesn't matter if you're a small name or a big name, that's what they have for you. So the followup to that book, again, $2,000 dollars. So at this point I let go of my first agent, 'cause I had hoped that this would be like Harry Potter or something and it wasn't. And certainly my fault, not my agent's fault, but still I wanted to see if maybe I could shake things up. I got a new agent, we did this book, $60,000 dollars. That is the difference between having an agent who really has connections and she was so sorry that she couldn't get me six figures. She just was so sorry about it. And I was just like, are you kidding? I was just like crying. This was like when I was having a baby too, I was just like, this is amazing. So, and then for my next book, how do you followup a $60,000 dollar advance? With a $2,000 dollar advance, because the publisher who did this book, Black Wave, which is not a very commercial book, just they don't have $60,000 dollars to throw at their writers, they have $2,000 dollars to throw at their writers. So that's what I did. And then, this is on Harper, so I got anther $60,000 dollars, which is incredible. It's a tarot book that I wrote, I love reading tarot cards. And then how you follow that up, you guys know, with another $2,000 dollar advance for my, this book will be out this May, it's on Feminist Press, same as Black Wave. So that's what they are able to offer. They offer other things besides advances. There's a lot to consider that we'll talk about. I also, I wrote Beth Ditto's memoir for her. My name is right down, way down there. I wrote the whole book. I got paid a flat fee of $10,000 to do it, no royalties, Beth gets the royalties. And that's just how that worked and I agreed to it and I don't regret it. It was a very interesting experience writing somebody else's story, and yeah. So what am I talking about when I'm talking about an advance? An advance is, publishers are doing some math, they're looking at your book and the sales potential of your book. They're also considering what their resources are and what they have to offer. And what they're doing is they're placing a bet, they're saying we think your book is going to sell this much, so we're gonna give you a loan, no, it's not a loan, you don't have to pay it back. We're going to give you, but you have to earn it back, which is different. So I've had books that, so basically the way an advance works is I got $2,000 dollars for Black Wave, so Black Wave starts selling, the sales start ringing up, my publisher pays themselves back that $2,000 dollars that they gave me, and after that then I get royalties. So on some of these bigger advances you don't necessarily earn out. This is something that happens a lot for people who are possibly smaller writers that end up on bigger presses and they get that fat advance, which is so beautiful, you don't have to pay it back, but it does mar your record a little bit if you're looking to publish with that press again in the future. They know that you didn't really earn as much as they hoped. And when you're talking about these big presses it's all capitalism. And that's not to say that the people working at these presses aren't passionate about literature, or even passionate about your ill-selling book, it's just that at the end of the day these things all have to add up. So that's what's happening. Sometimes if you get a small advance if it sells well you're still gonna get money, you'll get these great royalty checks in the mail. A small press doesn't have as much cash at their disposal, so you're not going to get those big advances, but there are other things. Okay, let me see, what else do I have to say to you guys? Any questions? Yeah.
Yeah, can I ask a quick question? On your book How to Grow Up, there was a quote by Jill, Jill Soloway.
Jill Soloway, yes.
And so the question is, is that through, how do you get big names to give you marketing quotes? Or is that something that is personal connections? Is that something that your publisher or the agent does? And how important is that?
Yeah, we are, I am gonna talk about blurbs, but we can just jump in now also. Blurbs are those sort of like endorsements that you get from people who are more well-known than you. And they generally are personal connections, which is why it's so great if you do have friends that you know will kind of endorse your work to put it on your proposal. Jill's a friend and so I asked her and she said, just write whatever you'd like me to say. And I said, okay. (laughs) Not for that book, though for a different book she did that. Sometimes that happens, it's really fun and weird. And sometimes I've done that too. I'm like, oh god, I'm so busy, I can't read your book, but I've read your other books and they're great, and I've heard you read from that book, so just say something awesome about yourself. Writers just want to support each other and those blurbs do matter a little bit. It's debatable how much they matter and people do debate it. Publishers, agents, authors debate it. But as a reader, I know that if I'm thinking about a book and then I pick it up and I see some writer that I love is like, this book is amazing, that might cinch it for me, that might just make the difference between this book and that book. We all have been in bookstores, there's a tremendous amount of books published every minute. Not to mention all the other ones that came out two minutes ago that you wanna read. So anything that kind of puts a little shine on your book is helpful as far as I'm concerned.