Thinking More on #PublishingPaidMe

Over on Twitter right now, there’s an active hashtag called #PublishingPaidMe, in which writers are divulging their book advances, in part to see if there are systematic biases against writers of color and other marginalized groups. Well, my last major book deal is literally public knowledge, and I didn’t see that there was much downside in discussing what I got paid for my other novels prior to that, so I participated:

I also noted that these are just the advances for the print/ebook novels, and don’t include things like advances on audiobook or foreign language versions, or cover what I get for film/TV options and other ancillary rights. The figures above are roughly chronological, in terms of what I got when I sold my books, but I’ll note that I contracted for some books I did not write, and then later attached other books to those contracts.

In the service of hopefully being of further use to the discussion about advances, I will now add some more thoughts here.

1. First off, generally speaking, and for those who don’t know: an advance is usually a sum the publisher estimates an author would make from the book in the first year or so of publication, based off their own experience, the previous sales of an author (if any), and sales of similar books/authors in the market, and wild guessing. So, for example, when Tor offered me an advance of $6,500 for Old Man’s War, they were factoring in a) that I was a debut author with no track record in science fiction, b) the current sales of military science fiction at the time, c) that I had already published it on my Web site so that might have an impact on sales, d) etc.

It’s also worth noting that book advances are generally low across the board. I’ve noted before the average advance for a science fiction novel is something like $12,500. That’s for all novels, not debuts.

2. It’s not (necessarily) a bad thing to have a small advance, nor is an advance (necessarily) all you will make from a book. To be sure, for most books, the advance is all you’ll see out of it — because publishers generally do a decent job of knowing their market, and almost all sales of books come in their first year of publication.

But some books earn out their advances through sales, and generate other income via options, foreign publication and so on. Old Man’s War earned out and has been a steady seller for 15 years, is published in more than two dozen languages, has been optioned for film and TV and so on. All told I’ve probably earned in the seven figures from it (so far), beyond that original $6.5k advance. To be clear, this is not the usual path for a novel — again, the advance is often all a writer sees for their work — but sometimes one gets lucky, either from a breakout hit, or from solid, steady sales of backlist titles over years and years.

(For another perspective on this, please see this Twitter thread from NK Jemisin; it’s useful and edifying.)

3. Looking above at my novel advances, I see four distinct eras in them:

Debut: The $6.5k and $2k advances, signed when I was brand new and no one knew what would happen;

Developing: The $13.5k, $25k, and $35k contracts, after Old Man’s War hit commercially and critically and Tor realized there was possible headroom to my career, but I was still building an audience;

Established: The $100k and $115k contracts, when I had hit the bestseller lists, won awards, and had a series (Old Man’s War) that was spinning off serious money;

Franchise: The $3.4M deal, when Tor decided to go all in and lock me up long-term, both to continue momentum in new releases and to extract value out of my profitable backlist.

The thing is, in each of these eras, I can’t really argue with what I was paid in terms of advances. Bear in mind that by the time I sold Old Man’s War, I was already a published author and had been writing professionally for more than a decade, so I knew the business and had some inkling why I was getting paid what I was, and whether what I was getting paid was reasonable considering market factors. Would I have liked to have gotten more for OMW in advance? Sure, who wouldn’t? But I didn’t think the sum I was offered was unfair (and to his credit, when my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden was sounding me out about acquiring the novel, he informed me that the advance he would offer would be a “not life-changing amount of money.” He was right, at least at first).

On the flip side of this, that $3.4M deal is not unreasonable either, because at the point the deal was done, I was hitting bestseller lists, winning awards, and, most importantly, backlisting like a monster; in other words, making my publisher lots and lots of money. The deal was commensurate to that track record and structured to support the shape of my career at that time and how we expected (hoped) for it to go from there. So far, so good, on that score.

In all cases, the advances, whatever the sum, were more or less rationally based on the market and where I was in it. Hold that thought, I’m gonna come back to the issue of “the market,” but before that:

4. Caveats! First, I do think it’s important, when looking to compare advances, and especially in the case of my advances, to make sure you’re taking those “eras” above into consideration. If you’re a debut author, don’t be looking at the $3.4 million deal, be looking at the $6,500 one I got for my first published novel (for the purposes of clarification, that deal would be worth about $9,250 in 2020 dollars).

Second, I am fortunate — and unusual — in that my novel-writing career has been, to date, almost all upswing. I haven’t had a novel flop and I haven’t had setbacks happen that have notably stalled my career momentum, things like a publisher going under or personal issue keeping me from writing and selling. It does mean, however, that the progression of my advances is unrepresentative to a significant degree.

Third, I am also unusual in that I started my novel-writing career when I was already making six figures annually, writing other things. Which meant that early low advances weren’t an imposition to me; I wasn’t starving. Also it meant that I could say no to things I didn’t want to do or that I thought were bad deals for me. I got to pick and choose in a way other newer writers often couldn’t — and I would pick and choose, which was something the people I was doing business with understood. It cut down on the amount of bullshit I had to tolerate, in terms of contracts (and consequently, advances).

5. Also, with respect to science fiction genre publishing, and “the market” (see, I told you I’d come back to this), let’s not elide certain things here. It’s easy to say “the market” as if it’s some objective thing the publishing industry stands outside of, rather than a thing it significantly helps to make, through its choices in terms of what to publish and also what it decides to promote. When I was published into the science fiction field in 2005, I was benefiting from the fact that the genre had catered to the tastes and worldview of people like me (white, straight, male, nerdy) for decades. Also I had consciously and with specific intent written my debut novel to aim at the very center of that white, straight, male, nerdy demographic: I wrote a military science fiction novel. When it hit, it was easy to continue in that mode (and I have), and easy to sell and market me in the genre (which Tor has).

Did I and Tor take advantage of the structural biases of the science fiction genre to sell books and make money? Oh, my, yes, we did. And have done a pretty good job of it, too. As with so many things, I can’t pretend that being what I am (a straight white dude) didn’t offer me systematic advantages, which I was then happy to take and use. I was not guaranteed to succeed — trust me — but once that ball was rolling, the path was easier for me than some others who have similar talents, both as writers and as people who can market their writing. Yes, I work my ass off, and write stuff that people want to read and buy. Also the genre was designed across decades for someone like me, and the novels I write, to thrive in it. All of this — my talent, my work, and the biases of the genre — are reflected in my advances.

6. I don’t feel guilty about any of the above (guilt is rarely one of my pressable buttons, psychologically speaking), but I’m not going to pretend these structural biases aren’t there, either. As a moral human being and working writer, I have an obligation to help expand opportunity, both in the genres of science fiction and fantasy and in publishing in general, and to promote other voices — and to support equitable advances for everyone. This is not, shall we say, an onerous task. Philosophically it aligns to my personal interests, and as a reader I like having more things to read which are not just things I’ve read before, which necessarily means paying writers well enough to write those stories. So, not onerous. But it is a thing.

7. I think it’s important to see the limitations of a self-selecting Twitter hashtag in terms of being an accurate representation of author advances across genres and author demographics. I also think it’s important that writers talk about what they’re paid and how and by whom. One thing that’s popped up in these discussions is an acknowledgement that some authors are now contractually bound not to discuss their advances; I think that’s both ridiculous and dangerous, and something writers should push back on, hard. Silence is not our friend here. To that end, #PublishingPaidMe has been significant, and useful.

32 Comments on “Thinking More on #PublishingPaidMe”

  1. My first book will be published next month. I read the numbers for debut authors and felt so defeated. My advance was a pittance of hundreds of dollars, not thousands. Yes, my royalty percentage is good, but still, seeing those numbers is so discouraging.

    On the other hand, I bet I’m not the lone ranger. Why would any debut author want to share how miserable an advance they received? I try to convince myself that it’ll all work out in the end. I’m not going to look at any more #PublishingPaidMe tweets, though.

  2. lif strand — Your book is being published! That’s great! You put together words and someone thinks they should be in a book. I’ve only thought about writing a book. You actually went ahead and did it! Go you!

  3. “to see if there are systematic biases against writers of color and other marginalized groups”

    To be honest, I’m expecting more bias between male and female authors than among ethnic boundaries. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Corporations are – unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective – good at being rational. And as you said, good at evaluating how much an author will bring in. And for most authors, notably relatively young unknown ones, there’s usually very little to distinguish them in the eyes of the public – who are unfortunately the ones that are going to exhibit the real prejudice. Someone like Nrendi Okrafor is very obviously ethnic, but I doubt most people were ever aware that someone called Steven Barnes is not your average WASP. So, I’d expect the publishers to avoid making mistakes in evaluation – or at least no more mistakes than they usually do, and price advances correctly.

    The real deal would be: how fast do authors earn out their advances vs their origins. Advances may reflect the known bias of the public, earning out would reflect the specific corporate prejudice. And yes, that one would be counter-intuitive – if the publishers are, in fact, prejudiced against non-white male authors, then the authors should earn out their smaller advances earlier than the WASP ones.

  4. Any idea what an advance looks like for an established author outside of genre? Like, what does John Grisham or Nora Roberts get? I assume it’s more, but is it way way more?

  5. Ha .. the woke are now coming for authors and probably any ‘creative’ works! This is sort of poetic in that my thought is the ‘creative’ types are probably among the ‘woke-est’! Seriously, the market for creative products of any type is and should be driven by the demand by consumers of the product and how much these consumers are willing to pay for it. I can see where a creator of something is willing to take far less in order to get their product ‘out there’ to build a demand. The social justice people have no respect for anything like this capitalistic approach. Heaven help us if this type ever gets firmly in control of our country.

  6. Just checking, if your book doesn’t ever make enough to cover the advance, you don’t have to pay any back right? There is no direct adverse consequence to you?

    (Indirect adverse consequences are likely I’d assume, like the advance for your next book being lower.)

  7. Gary:

    Calm yourself. The argument that advances should generally be equitable is not exactly the screaming frontier of wokeness. Nor does it represent “coming for” authors or their work. I haven’t seen anyone suggest I should get paid less, for example, or that I should not be published; merely that others with a similar sales profile but substantially smaller advances might be paid more.

    cptbutton:

    Advances are usually only returnable for non-performance, i.e., if you don’t actually write the book.

  8. lif strand…Congratulations! Even a small advance beats out royalty share. BTDT with the royalty share, and good luck with your future work.

    Vincent raises some interesting issues. Color, gender identification, and age. What do those look like when it comes to advances?

    That said, as an older white cis het woman, I’ve pretty much given up on tradpub. For Reasons, including the “what I’m looking for” comments from editors on panels at conventions when they go beyond the actual books submitted and start talking about career profiles. Even though I’ve got several books out there and a semi-decent sales record for an indie who doesn’t do a lot of promotion, the impression I’ve repeatedly received is that given the choice of someone like me or a middle-aged military-writing white male, the white male gets that debut author publishing slot. And at the lower level of advances, even if I did get a book accepted after a while, I’m going to be expected to do the same sort of promotion at my own expense that I would as an indie, for a lot lower return for the effort per book sold, and possibly not that much better of a sales record. The one advantage of going tradpub would be that I then am more able to land a sweet promotional spot in something like Our Gracious Host’s Big Idea, because I’m “legitimate” at that point…if I hit the right press. But the numbers just do not pencil out otherwise.

    That doesn’t even begin to address the ways in which COVID-19 is affecting book releases (I’ve had quite the chats with my local indie bookstore owner) and the extension of time spent on editorial desks plus releases as a result.

    I say this having watched some tradpub friends with solid midlist sales in a similar demographic struggle either because their publishers require multiple pseudonyms thanks to the sales department, or have to turn to indie publication or a day job in order to keep money coming in. My experience is all anecdotal…but when you see enough of the anecdotes, well, ya gotta wonder.

  9. Might add that I do NOT NOT NOT begrudge the non-cis het, non-white writers getting contracts because THEY DESERVE IT. I DO begrudge the appearance of yet another middle-aged military-writing white man. That’s my slot competition, and I know it.

  10. Hi,
    Thank you for elaborating on the twitter threads.
    I was really surprised at the amounts authors get for books, so many seem very low. Even authors who I think of as pretty established/successful. It seems like most of the people I read obsessively (in a good way) average about about a book a year, so I’m considering the advance a year or two of pay, plus a little for royalties.

    … how are authors able to afford to be authors? I know in my own life I would find it hugely challenging. I’d have to keep my full time day job, writing would presumably absorb my entire ‘free’ time, and I would probably end up in a unhealthy mental/physical place between constantly at my desk and social isolation … (maybe things are different if there is a working spouse?) When I look at all but the ‘!woo wild success!’ advances I don’t really understand how anyone is able to make these books I so enjoy? Is there something I am missing? Or is my book habit a stealth ethical mess?

    Thank you!

  11. One thing that’s popped up in these discussions is an acknowledgement that some authors are now contractually bound not to discuss their advances; I think that’s both ridiculous and dangerous, and something writers should push back on, hard.

    On that front: when I worked with Serial Box, they presented me with a contract whose confidentiality clause would have bound me not to discuss not just the advance but any of my contract terms, ever. (Actually, it was so badly written that by its terms, I wouldn’t have been allowed to talk about the project I was working on even after it was published with my name on it.) My agent did push back, hard, and he got a sunset provision put in, which is why I’m allowed to tell y’all right now that there was such a clause. But I was ready to walk away if they didn’t bend, because that kind of thing is incredibly bad for authors. In California, where I live, such clauses are illegal in employment contracts; obviously a publishing contract is not the same thing as being an employee, but the underlying principle still applies. The only person who benefits from muzzling authors is the publisher, because it allows them to get away with wildly inequitable practices.

  12. I read thru the Twitter thread and it underscored what I’ve long thot–a lot of authors, including those who are published, don’t much understand how publishing “works”. if they have agents, I blame the agents for that. A good agent, MHO, will educate their clients on the business (I was appalled at one comment, in which the author said they were “not allowed” to know what their advance was!) If an author doesn’t have an agent, I understand that they might not understand that what looks like racial bias is in fact,based in economics. I always felt that the P&L statement was about as reliable a predictive tool as gutting a chicken, but Mainstream Publishing is a business, and what is bought and how much is paid for it is based on decisions that come out of the tools of business, not the preferences of the Editorial department. What’s important is what’s considered marketable,no matter who wrote it. And, from year to year, that can change.Scalzi,as he says, started out with a military sf novel because at the time, military sf novels written by White guys were what was “hot” in sf. If he were starting out today, I suspect he would do something other than that .Because, what is “hot” has changed, and more complex sociological narratives with more diverse characters written by other-than-white-guys have gotten traction. But–the average advance for a first novel in the sf/f genre has not changed all that much, in decades.. And that has nothing to do with race. (i gotta say, though, I was amazed a how much more YA authors made, even for first novels)

  13. I read thru the Twitter thread and it underscored what I’ve long thot–a lot of authors, including those who are published, don’t much understand how publishing “works”. if they have agents, I blame the agents for that. A good agent, MHO, will educate their clients on the business (I was appalled at one comment, in which the author said they were “not allowed” to know what their advance was!) If an author doesn’t have an agent, I understand that they might not understand that what looks like racial bias is in fact,based in economics. I always felt that the P&L statement was about as reliable a predictive tool as gutting a chicken, but Mainstream Publishing is a business, and what is bought and how much is paid for it is based on decisions that come out of the tools of business, not the preferences of the Editorial department. What’s important is what’s considered marketable,no matter who wrote it. And, from year to year, that can change.Scalzi,as he says, started out with a military sf novel because at the time, military sf novels written by White guys were what was “hot” in sf. If he were starting out today, I suspect he would do something other than that .Because, what is “hot” has changed, and more complex sociological narratives with more diverse characters written by other-than-white-guys have gotten traction. But–the average advance for a first novel in the sf/f genre has not changed all that much, in decades.. And that has nothing to do with race. (i gotta say, though, I was amazed a how much more YA authors made, even for first novels)

    W

  14. If an author doesn’t have an agent, I understand that they might not understand that what looks like racial bias is in fact,based in economics. […] Mainstream Publishing is a business, and what is bought and how much is paid for it is based on decisions that come out of the tools of business, not the preferences of the Editorial department. What’s important is what’s considered marketable,no matter who wrote it.

    This all rests on the assumption that “economics” and “what’s considered marketable” are themselves race-neutral and not touched by human bias. To call that optimistic would be excessively kind.

  15. in thinky bits some (mumble) years ago i asked about another fine writer and blogger Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s opinion that authors should manage contracts themselves. you gently deflected with high praise for representation. from today’s elaboration/education i’m convinced your guy or gal is a treasure. congrats, and thanks.

    ohh and thanks also for 5/day pearls, shared with my fave sports bbs community.

    signed, writing in straightforward english is not as easy as it looks.

  16. “be looking at the $6,500 one I got for my first published novel (for the purposes of clarification, that deal would be worth about $9,250 in 2020 dollars).”

    The problem I see is that while your $6500 would be worth about $9,250 in 2020 dollars, the 2020 first-tiime author is often still being offered $6500. (No reflection on you; just on publishing houses generally.)

  17. Re: Marie Brennan–what’s considered marketable may indeed be biased.but part of my point is that the P&L for a first novel in the sf/f genre (or a cozy mystery for another example) is going to be run at the same numbers regardless of the race of the author. The advance will be what it is. And Ashley is right–those first-time advances haven’t changed in decades.(but that’s a different discussion)

  18. Lif Strand, congratulations and good luck.

    John, out of interest, which was the £2k book?
    Was it Androids dream? Was there a particular reason it was lower than the previous two?

  19. but part of my point is that the P&L for a first novel in the sf/f genre (or a cozy mystery for another example) is going to be run at the same numbers regardless of the race of the author.

    But the race of the author is not the only factor here, nor are P&Ls neutral tools. This isn’t just about the ethnicity of the author, divorced from the stories they write; part of the issue is that publishing is also not as friendly to diverse stories as well as writers. A Black man who writes a milSF book like Scalzi’s might very well get a good advance, because the person writing up the P&L knows exactly how to market that book to straight white dudes who may never even realize the author is Black. But a Black man who writes a milSF novel that’s informed by the experiences of African-American soldiers instead of White dudes, or one where the military in question is inspired by Shaka Zulu’s army, is going to get a different P&L that says “we can’t sell as many of these, therefore give him a lower advance.” Guess what happens when you get a lower advance? You also get less support for your book. A more generic cover instead of custom art, less push from publicity, no book tour, etc. Publicity and marketing by no means a guaranteed way to produce a success, but they do help — and that’s help the Black author isn’t getting. Which means he probably sells fewer copies, and then the next book he offers or the next guy who comes along with a similar type of novel will, you guessed it, get a P&L that says “this won’t sell very well.” Those calculations are, in part, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And that’s before we get to the well-documented tendency to treat breakout successes as flukes . . . or the equally well-documented tendency to create much more buzz around the White author who writes about the Shaka Zulu-inspired space military than the Black author who did the same. (Hypothetical example there, but there are plenty of tales about White creators getting applause when they go play in “exotic” waters, while BIPOC creators who have been doing that for years get ignored.) So no, I don’t buy the argument that it’s just a numbers game and not evidence of or support for bias, or that the race of the author is irrelevant to the game.

  20. To gingerb and anyone else who wants to believe in the miraculous inherent fairness of publishing:

    Re: Marie Brennan–what’s considered marketable may indeed be biased.but part of my point is that the P&L for a first novel in the sf/f genre (or a cozy mystery for another example) is going to be run at the same numbers regardless of the race of the author. The advance will be what it is.

    No, it won’t. That’s exactly what #PublishingPaidMe made visible. Go through it again, with a more discerning eye this time.

    With all due respect, have you watched what’s going on the United States right now? You know, those protests against police violence that particularly targets Black people? Have you seen the backlash against the protesters, as if pointing out that killing people in the name of authority is wrong? And then you really want to say that publishing is somehow free of that same systemic racism that allows this kind of violence to be encoded in our law enforcement?

    I’m a brown author, not a Black one, but I have definitely encountered my share of racism on my publishing journey. If you don’t want to take my word for it, go google. Plenty of people, including We Need Diverse Books, have gone to great pains to talk about all of this. Publishing is in no way free of any the biases the rest of our society has, and how and why would it be? It’s a business entrenched in capitalism just like any other.

  21. Dear Vincent (and ginjerb),

    I think you may not be taking into account a couple of things. The first is that corporations are not rational decision-makers. They are limited by their own implicit biases as much as anyone else. They like to think they are globally rational (much as individuals do), but they are at best rational only within the narrow scope of their own predilections.

    That is certainly true of publishers, both big and small. It is a much more idiosyncratic business than most would imagine.

    The second is that I think you’re undervaluing John’s (accurate) observation that publishers make the market as well as respond to it.

    In the hypothetical, it can play out like this. If you have a publisher with an implicit bias that WoC authors don’t sell as well as WM authors, they are going to get on average smaller advances. When marketing looks at what it’s going to promote, even without any implicit bias on its part, it’s going to pay more attention to promoting books where the publisher has laid out large sums of money than small sums. That is rational, but it’s based on a biased starting point.

    This assumes, though, that the marketing folk are somehow free of implicit bias, when the rest of the company isn’t. Unlikely. In which case, presented with two books with equal advances, one by a WoC and one by a WM, they’re going to unconsciously weight the latter as being more economically promising and put more effort into promotions for that.

    Don’t underestimate the importance of those promotions. We take note of the unexpected breakaway bestseller precisely because it is so unusual. It is the human-bites-dog case.

    Promotional considerations apply up and down the line, regardless of the stature of the author. Even in the case of routinely best-selling authors, the publisher decides whether to take out full-page ads in major newspapers and the New York Times review of books, whether to pay to have the book heavily promoted on Amazon and to buy promotional kiosks in chain bookstores, and what kind and how large of a book tour (up to and including radio and TV appearances) the author will do.

    Those are controlled by the publisher’s expectations for how well they can get the book to sell, and those are driven by nonrational factors, because no publisher has a formula to routinely guarantee success. Boy, they wish they did!

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    ======================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 
    ======================================

  22. I’m glad I’m not trying to make a living as an author. I recently did a search for SciFi involving time travel, there were over 1700 books that came up. That floored me. So good luck to all you aspiring authors (very much not sarcasm). I suppose a good author feels that they have to write. I think that is a very good thing.

  23. It doesn’t really matter how much it is worth, I’ll keep trying because I promised a friend that I would get her name in print.

    Writing is part of me and it was a personal thing, kind of, turning friends on and such, then she asked.

    I will get there someday.

  24. regarding the belief that X organization is unbiased:
    It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people are far more likely to believe they are unbiased, than they are to actually be unbiased. Also, organizations who have a strong self-image of being logical & data driven are very poor at questioning those same assumptions, so are actually worse at being data-driven than an organization that seeks to review their performance. Finally, recording a subjective judgement in numerical form does not convert it to an impartial judgement.

    It shouldn’t surprise anyone. And yet, somehow people keep denying these simple truths.

  25. A good time to revisit this, from someone whose authorial voice may be familiar to commenters here:

    “$0 to $3,000: A Shitty Deal. Because that’s what it is, my friends. Possibly the only thing worse than a shitty deal is no deal at all. Possibly.

    “$3,000 to $5,000: A Contemptible Deal. The deal you get when your publisher has well and truly got your number, and it is low.

    “$5,000 to $10,000: A ‘Meh’ Deal. It’s not great, you know. But you can pay some bills. Get a few of these, and a tolerant spouse with a regular income, and you can tell your day job to piss off. This year, anyway. …”

    Be sure to read through to the last kind of deal.

  26. This is suddenly timely: I just had two agents asking for pitch letters this week. Thank you.

  27. Neat discussion, thanks for your openness and also support for keeping this transparent and fair. I still don’t get why you raised such a stink about me asking for 10$ for FOOD that one time, but hey, can’t win ’em all, right? (sorry, olllllllld Steve Martin bit there)

  28. Hoo boy. As a genre author writing (mostly) in a tiny language, I’m looking at those advances (yeah, even the 2k ones) and going “man, wish I got that kind of money from my books”. But eh, I’ve got a day job, writing pulpy speculative fiction for tiny publishers struggling to stay afloat themselves is more like a hobby.

    (I did try self-publishing as well, but while I am an okay-ish writer, I suck at marketing & other required secondary skills; I’d rather have someone who knows what they’re doing handling all those parts. But hats off to everyone who manages it.)

  29. I often don’t make myself clear, for which I apologize. And what I am talking about specifically is something that almost doesn’t exist anymore–a genre mass market paperback. But I’ll try again–the amount of an advance isn’t about the author, it’s about the kind of book. And there certainly have been and are still biases in all genres, sf/f included, about what kind of book “sells.” For example, Fantasy based in anything other than western mythologies? Of course not! (except that that has now been proven to be Not True) But if one is comparing apples to apples (a “traditional” fantasy written by a White author to a traditional fantasy written by a Black author, a cozy mystery written by a White author to a cozy mystery written by a Black author) the race of the author would not factor into the advance.. And, for the record, I never said any of this was fair. The biases that existed and still exist concerning diversity in content, which Marie Brennan alludes to, are most certainly not fair, But that too is changing as publishers are “taking more chances” and the reader response has been positive (which translates to “the books are selling,so it looks like we can make money doing this”) This has been particularly marked in YA publishing,

  30. @ctein: “I think you may not be taking into account a couple of things. The first is that corporations are not rational decision-makers. They are limited by their own implicit biases as much as anyone else. They like to think they are globally rational (much as individuals do), but they are at best rational only within the narrow scope of their own predilections.”

    I’m not suggesting they’re not biased. What I’m saying is that, if you want to distinguish the bias of the corporation vs. the prejudice of the readership, just looking at the advance amount itself isn’t going to be precise enough.

    If the publisher has a bias that isn’t a reflection of the public’s, then they are going to lowball the advance. Meaning that the advance should earn itself, and earn itself faster for an author that has to face corporate prejudice – because the market would not have that much prejudice. So that should be what you are looking for.

    As someone else said, this will be confounded by marketing. So to be clear, we would not be talking about someone getting a 5K advance vs someone getting a 25K advance – it’s obvious from the outset that the marketing will do everything to push the big one. I’m talking about stuff like 5K vs 7K or similar differences. Differences in amounts, not in levels.

    Like everything in economics & sociology, that kind of experiment is extremely hard to do, and teasing out the effect of a single variable out of a morass of multiple influences is hard. Just comparing the level of advance without anything else isn’t going to give you any answer except the one you want to project in it.