Occasionally, a prospective author will ask us at Lantern whether we give advances. Our answer is “no.” Here’s why.
An advance is in effect an interest-free loan to an author. It’s meant to provide them with financial resources to enable them to finish the book (if they haven’t done so) or as some kind of “thank you, we believe in you” (if they have). The advance is a loan because the money that’s given is “against” royalties. In other words, if the publisher gives you a $5,000 advance, it means that you won’t get any money from your sales until you’ve sold $5,000 worth of books, on the money the publishers get from the stores and other places.
A very large percentage of books never earn out their advances, leaving publishers, quite literally, at a loss. Unfortunately, too many authors and agents think that the best possible outcome for their book is to get the largest advance possible—with actual sales of the book, apparently, being almost an afterthought. These days, those authors who do get the big advances—just like the singers who get major recording deals or filmmakers who get national distribution—are in the small minority. But they’re the standards against whom everybody measures their success.
The simple fact is, with no advance, if the book does well, then both publisher and author reap the benefits. If the book doesn’t do so well, then publishers are somewhat protected against the investment they make in producing the book in the first place. Of course, authors who wish to make more money can self-publish: taking on the risk of production for a much larger portion of the sales.
At Lantern, we’re proud to have been in this business for fifteen years and we’ve been able to pay royalties to all our authors in every one of those years. Some of our authors have by now collected over $20,000: not enough to earn a living perhaps, but certainly a very respectable “advance.” Long may it continue!