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About Writing Right: The Blog


Here's an unusual one, obviously asked online by someone with zero knowledge of the publishing industry. He wanted to know how publishers pay an author once he writes a book himself and takes it to them. Okay, kiddies and kiddiettes, here's the lowdown. My response:

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First of all, you don't "write a book yourself"; you write a book. See the difference? Now, are you sure you want me to continue here? Okay, you asked for it.


Second, you don't show your book to a publisher. You query a publisher with a pitch letter, detailing your book's merits. Then, you wait to see what kind of response you receive.


Third, if your query fell on receptive ears, you'll be told that the publisher is interested and would like to see the complete book (or, perhaps, the first few chapters). But, you don't "take it to them." You submit to them a digital copy (or a printed copy, in the rare event that the publisher requests it), unless you happen to be right down the street from Random House or Simon and Schuster and know one of the editors personally, in which case I stand corrected. Got that? Kool.


Fourth, you await the inevitable rejection slip and then wash, rinse, and repeat with some other publishers. Unless you happen to be one of the extremely fortunate writers who doesn't get turned down, in which event the publisher's acquisitions editor, who reads the complete manuscript and is interested in acquiring it, will contact you and give you the bare-bones numbers the publisher is considering offering you. He'll follow up with a boiler-plate contract, containing all the right figures and legal mambo-jumbo plugged into it, for your review.


Fifth, once everyone is happy with the terms, the editor will send you the actual contract for execution. Once you and the editor sign it, you're off and running. With no turning back.


Now, if you're dealing with a major conventional publishing house, your contract will most likely offer you an advance against future royalties earned (earnings) to tide you over until the book is written, published, distributed, and selling like hotcakes—you hope. That royalty advance amount (let's say $6,000) will be split up into incremental payments. What does that mean? Well, if you listen to the response from the Queen of Wrong, you'll receive one-third of that advance upon signing the contract; one-third upon producing an acceptable version of the manuscript (to be determined by the publisher's editors), and one-third upon the book's publication.


Of course, though, Queenie is wrong once again. The three-way split of payments is only one negotiable possibility. Another far more preferable one, according to the Author's Guild (and to yours truly), is to receive one-half the royalty amount upon signing and the second half upon delivery of a satisfactory manuscript. That's far preferable to dividing the advance into three parts because, should the book's publication be delayed for any reason, your final third of the advance will also be held up, leaving you hung out to dry for only God knows how long.


So, how do you get a two-way split of the publisher's advance as opposed to the three-way Queenie appears to be receiving? Simple. You ask for it. I've been doing that for the past twenty years, and I've been receiving it, no questions asked. No matter who the publisher is. And, I've published just south of a hundred books with more than a dozen different advance-paying conventional houses. After all, I shouldn't be expected to wait for months or longer for the remainder of my advance for a book that was accepted as satisfactory long ago. When it's finished, so am I. And, so should you be.


As for another respondent to your question advising you that, for an advance, "this will be a single payment," he's full of beans, as we have just seen. He should temper his thoughts before rocketing them off into cyberspace. A half-and-half split on the advance payment is the best deal any author will ever get from a publisher. No one will pay the advance out all in one lump sum and hope for the best—that the author finishes the book on time and satisfactorily. No one.


So, that's the true scoop. Not my personal take on it and not fantasyland, but the truth. I'm glad you stuck around long enough to read it after that "rocky beginning" we had together. Relationships! Do they ever go smoothly?


And, please, do proof your questions, as well as everything else you write, a little more carefully in the future. Your next book sale just might depend upon it. Until that happens ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack

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