Reading, writing, and arithmetic

Earlier this week I attended a writer’s meeting and Thomas F. Monteleone was the guest speaker. It was an intimate crowd of about 15-20 people and we all listened intently as Mr. Monteleone spoke about his experiences in publishing. He is a science fiction and horror author, and he has published over 20 books.

He was very funny, giving insight in a way that many of us could relate to, whether published or not. One thing that he talked about was the way things work when it comes to advances-after the first one.

The example, as I remember it, was if you receive an advance on a first book–say $100,000*–and it doesn’t become a bestseller, then the advance on your next book is determined primarily by the sales of the first. So if you sold 20,000 books, the next book is expected to sell at least that much and then a few thousand more. Your pay will be determined by that figure, so say $40,000.* Makes business sense, though I have to admit that it’s not something I really thought about. It seemed to me that advances were based on how much the company felt the specific book would make, not necessarily on past sales–unless it was a best seller. Good to know.

During the course of the informal meeting, Mr.Monteleone asked me, and a couple of others, why I we write. My answer was because I have to. Even when it’s frustrating and I feel like my head is full of the worst prose imaginable, I love writing. I didn’t always want to be a writer–when I was younger I had no idea that it could be a career–but it is what I do. Unlike other industries, the business side does not really bother me. There’s the art, and then there’s cold hard math. I separate the two when writing, but it is still there and eventually one has to make money if they expect to continue doing what they do without having to do something else as well.

It can be a very sobering thing, knowing how much art is eventually boiled down to monetary figures. There are a number of factors that can influence how well a book does or doesn’t do. For instance, the guest speaker told us how he sent a book of his to a different publisher that offered him a great deal of money due to the success of his previous works. Once the book was published, they didn’t do what his former publisher did. Practically no promotion, and the book didn’t sell as it should have. Promotion, marketing, is the (perhaps unfortunate) difference between a good book going unnoticed and one becoming a bestseller.

When picking a publisher for your work, it seems important to know their track record and how they treat their authors rather than how much money they can give you. A hard lesson to learn and a catch 22 of sorts, maybe, since most authors don’t know who will publish their work and when they will be paid next; $100,000 goes a long way, compared to $40,000. But who’s counting, right?
Nancy O. Greene
author of Portraits in the Dark: A Collection of Short Stories.
The author is available for book clubs in the Maryland and Washington D.C. area, and online book clubs.
Her book is available in stock for purchase from the brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble in White Marsh, MD at The Avenue as well as the B&N in Towson, MD at the Towson Circle. It is available for order at all brick-and-mortar booksellers worldwide and online at,, and others.
Read more reviews and excerpts at the web site here.
The Writers’ Block.

*The $40,000 – $100,000 figures are used here as examples for a first-time author advance, taken from the guest speaker’s example for a bestselling book. Through research, while figures vary widely depending on the expert source, I’ve found that the average first-time author advance is $3,000 – $15,000. These amounts can be lower if the author is picked up by a small press and higher if the subject matter and author are considered highly marketable.


Filed under Book, Book Club Suggestions, Book Promotion Experiences, Publishing, Writing

3 responses to “Reading, writing, and arithmetic

  1. I must say, though the concept is sound, I’m afraid his dollar amounts are a bit off. The average advance for a first novel is $1,000 or less, and it’s rare that you’ll get an advance until after you have a bestseller. For the average author an advance is just a mythical dream they hope to someday be famous enough to aquire.

    The average book sales for a first time novel is 500 copies world-wide. This is also the average sales for books that are not first time novels.

    To become a best-seller you must sell 10,000 copies per printing, but only a handful of publishers print more than 2,000 copies per printing.

    The average writer hits best-seller status with their 9th novel.

    Ad only those who have already sold over 100,000 copies of a single printing well ever see an advance as astronomical out of proportion as the $100,000 figure he gave you.

    He might want to check his facts better before he teaches to many more workshops. It’s wrong for him to be setting up aspireing writers to what well quickly be an earth-shattering heartbreak once they make an attempt to get their first novel published.

    This may have been what happened to him, but this is an exception to the rule, not what the average writer can expect.


  2. Hi EK,
    Thanks for the comment.

    I may be the one with the wrong figures for a first sale. These were probably the figures for the example of a bestselling author, which he is, so his experience is probably a bit different from the average. But you get the point. 🙂

    The $$ is just an example though. But, unless going through a small press, self publishing, or POD, don’t most authors receive an advance from a publisher? That’s what I thought; there’s so much info out there and the stats are constantly changing, so I may be incorrect in that line of thinking.

  3. Pingback: Averages... « EK’s Star Log

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