Writing

What’s the Average Advance on a Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel?

In 2005 and 2007 108 science fiction and fantasy authors replied to a survey I did asking what they got for an advance for a book.

Basically I put up a survey on my website that people could fill out who were SF or Fantasy authors (sorry other genres, I don’t log your data, even if you do submit it).

Everyone kept worrying about occasional large advances that weren’t normal, like 1/2 million, but those outliers don’t affect the median.

If you found this data useful, please link to it or email this link to a friend. If you would like to reprint this article please do so if you’re a not-for-profit group, but contact me if you are a for-profit. Please make sure to provide a link to my website and my name (Tobias S. Buckell) as a byline in either case.

First Novel Advances:

The range is from $0-$40,000 for an advance on a first novel.

The median advance is $5000.

The median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘typical.’ Mathematical average for first time advances was $6424.

Adjusted for inflation, as the figures range in year from advances given in 1970 to this year, the median advance is ~$6000.

First Novel Advances, Fantasy vs. Science Fiction

The range in Fantasy first novel advances is from $0 to $40,000.

The median first novel advance is $5000 for Fantasy (average is $6494)

The range in Science Fiction first novel advances is from $0 to $20,000.

The median first novel advance is $5000 for SF (average is $7000)

In version 1.0 of this article, with 74 respondents, I had enough of a difference in the data that I hazarded a guess that Fantasy first novel advances were larger than SF advances. I was wrong.

First Novels: Agented vs. Unagented:

58% of our first time novelists had an agent, the other 42% sold the book without an agent, and a high number indicate they got agents right after or during the sale of the book.

The range in agented advances is from $1500 to $40,000

The median agented advance is $6000 (the average is $7500)

The range in unagented advances is from $0 to $15000

The median unagented advance is $3500 (the average is $4051)

These figures have noticeable differences any way you look at them. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents.

note: Geoff Landis points out that the reverse may be true, agents may not choose to represent clients with lower advances.

Hardcover vs Trade Paperback or Mass Market for First Novels

Hardcover advances had a median of $5000

Paperback advances had a median of $5000

First Novel Advances Chart:

Here is a chart of all the first novel advances by year and amount:

And then when adjusted for inflation:

Careers

When I initially created the survey I added fields asking what the last novel the author in question got for an advance, as well as how many books they had sold, and how many years they’d been selling books. I was curious to see if the data would reveal any certain trends over time.

89 authors in this survey have sold more than one book. 47% answered the survey saying they were ‘full time writers’. Here is how that data breaks down:

The range was from $0-$600,000 for an advance on their latest novel.

The median advance for the multiply published is $12,500.

Broken down by Fantasy and SF

The range in last Fantasy novel advances is from $1000 to $600,000.

The median novel advance is $15,000 for Fantasy



The range in Science Fiction novel advances is from $0 to $45,000.

The median novel advance is $12,500 for SF.

Fantasy novels seem to breakout into higher sums.

Broken down by Agented vs. Unagented:

16% of our authors with multiple books sold over multiple years had no agent.

The range in agented advances is from $1000 to $600,000

The median agented advance is $12500

The range in unagented advances is from $0 to $21,500

The median unagented advance is $7250

These figures have noticeable differences across the board. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents.

note: Geoff Landis points out that the reverse may be true, agents may not choose to represent clients with lower advances.

Charts:

Advance by number of novels written:

Advance by years published:

Somethings to note about these charts. 1), I cut them off at $100,000 as only a few data points were above that, most of the data charts in the 0-$50,000 range. 2) they seem to be fairly randomized, meaning that there is no guarantee between years and numbers of books sold.

Hardcover vs Trade Paperback or Mass Market for Multiple Novelist

Hardcover advances had a median of $15,000

Paperback advances had a median of $10,000

Summary:

The typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500. Having an agent at any point increases your advance. There is some slight correlation between number of books and number of years spent writing as represented in the 5-12.5 thousand dollar advance shift of an average of 5-7 years. Charting individual author’s progressions, which I will not release to keep anonymity, reveals a large number of upward lines at varying degrees of steepness for advances, some downward slides.

Some authors noted that they’d gotten large advances in the 90s but were being paid less now.

What now?

I welcome all feedback and discussion, either here in the comments or at my email. Please be civil ya’ll.

25 thoughts on “What’s the Average Advance on a Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel?”

  1. Re: the comment “Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents.”
    The part of me which is obsessive about statistics wants to point out that the causal relationship could go either way: it is also possible that having low advances causes it to be less likely that a writer has an agent.

  2. It’s interesting to see the amounts of the advances and the perecentage of authors writing full time. Certainly, it would be hard to raise a family on advances. It would be interesting in a future survey to capture an annual amount earned from advances and royalties to see the median amount a multiple novelist makes in a year from his or her stories.
    Given the current set of data, I would also be interested in seeing the mean and range that describes one standard deviation and then two standard deviations on each side of the mean.
    Nice adjustment for inflation.

  3. I’d rather investigate how to get that first $5000 advance… and how to sell through it and into the land of Vast Royalties. 🙂
    A half mil advance would suck if sales didn’t keep up with it.

  4. Your charts are not surprising–and the average freelancer (fiction and non-fiction combined) earns less than $12,000 per year. Especially in today’s publishing industry, there is a wide gap between the oft-published and the want-to-be-published. The reasons need not be discussed–just study industry evolution.
    What’s a writer to do?
    My opinion is that the first order of business is to establish a financial lifestyle that is comfortable for the individual. The intense desire to write, especially learning the craft, can then be fit into that lifestyle (you’ll find or make the time) minus the despondency that leads to “writer’s depression.”
    So, at the start, even for life, you write for yourself, minus the the worry of “submitting” to the publishing industry. There are other venues to seek the feedback a writer may crave–most, on the internet.
    Trick is, finding an income source that allows a degree of freedom. The amount of income (I make six figures doing things I like and control–but that is not where I started) is immaterial, as long as a writer does not have to lead a 9 to 5 lifestyle, and has defined the minimums that s/he will be happy/satisfied with. A bohemian lifestyle suits many, but there are slews of things one can do.
    I have helped a few published writers find that freedom. If a writer has to work for a company, for instance, ALWAYS volunteer for night shift or off-shift or call-out or employment at which you can easily get in-and-out for a season or time period. I know an author who has published 30+ books and teaches at university level when the need arises (yeah, she does not make enough from her book sales to accomodate a lifestyle that involves a love for horses). For me, it is real estate rentals, and an occasional home construction/remodeling.
    I rant, but bottom line, given present publishing industry dynamics, establish financial freedom first in order to attain the freedom to write. A vice versa approach leads to depression.
    Thanks for listening and good luck with your writing craft.

  5. We have just published our first book Charlie X 1-4116-7934-2 and our agent is seeking a published for Starkazar a five book series. Your advise is appreciated for this poor writer

  6. Fascinating survey, thanks!
    Have you considered that your estimates of advances are likely to be biased upwards if authors who find the survey are more likely to respond if they got larger advances?

  7. Hi Toby! I don’t know if you get notifications or will see this comment…
    But I tried clicking on the survey and got a 404 File Not Found.
    Is it still running? I can add data!

  8. To continue from Geoff Landis’s comment above, I wonder if the survey factors as well that first-time authors often get an agent as soon as an offer is made, before a contract is signed. For the agent it’s easy money, for the author it offers some sense, however, unreliable, that she is better protected because of the agent’s representation. At that point, an agent might be able to drive up the price a bit, or indeed cut some of the nonsense out of the contract.
    I’m just wondering how many books were agented from the start as opposed to this lasts-minute-stapled-on scenario. And I can drag down the survey with just one author/friend, who has been paid $3000 per book from St. Martins for 6 (count ’em) books in a row. And that’s with a dickwit excuse for an agent representing him, too.

  9. Fascinating.
    Would be interesting also to get a gross figure… at let’s say 5yr after publication… to see how much above/below the advance the author’s received with all royalties included.
    Keep up the great work,
    Darren

  10. http://www.myspace.com/traywilliams
    Your advice was very good and I have found that working the night shift allows me the freedom to write. I have then since published a Historical Romance titled A Simple Arrangement. What I find is that I am so passionate about writing that I accept that it will take time for that huge contract I am looking for, but for now I am a newly published author and will have to do a lot of promoting on my own. One needs the freedom to do that, so I cannot immediately quit my job as I have children to support. I am 27 and think I started right on time, I am finishing another book and will look for an agent theis time so that when I solicit I can say I am already published. That was the big step for me. Getting published first.

  11. Congrats for putting this survey together. It is even helpful to someone in the picturebook field such as myself. I often wondered about Agent vs. Non-agent. I’ve been publishing for 25 yrs and have never had an agent- so it is hard for me to say if I am better off- but the idea of giving a big % of the royalties for the life of the book leads me to believe I’m in the black. We need a survey list this for picturebooks. Best to you. Maryann

  12. Is there any indication as to how much of the advantage that comes with an agent is based on the agent’s ability to land better situations, as opposed to a writer’s simply “seeming more serious about it” because he/she has an agent?

  13. Tons of useful information. Is the advance used by publishers to lock writers in or is it for research etc. – probably both. I’m not a writer, how long does a book take to create…avg?

  14. Quote from – David Klecha
    I’d rather investigate how to get that first $5000 advance”¦ and how to sell through it and into the land of Vast Royalties. 🙂
    A half mil advance would suck if sales didn’t keep up with it.
    – so the advance is just a loan that you have to pay back from royalties? Is there interest?

  15. Fascinating information. In Australia, the average income for writers (all genres, mainstream and children’s included), is around $11 000. ‘Writing and writing related income’ (which includes things like teaching and school visits) averages $20 000 (source: Australian Society of Authors).

  16. Thank you very much for the time you took to make that list, I and many others appreciate it greatly.
    I got Ragamuffin… You should thank the artist, the cover art drew me in.
    Incidentally, the smaller gun shown (the submachinegun) could not possibly fire a standard ballistic projectile accurately, the barrel is far too short. Change it so that it feeds from the pistol grip (make it a machinepistol) and it would work just fine.

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