A recent post on The Rejecter about low advances inspired me to say a little something about this topic. It's a real irony that I don't like casinos and I don't play the lottery, but I work in publishing. Publishing is gambling in so many ways it's absurd. And the greatest irony is that at least with casinos, the house always wins—I mean, at least there someone always wins. Not so in publishing. So here we go:
Advance money is not money you are owed.
The publisher gambles a whole bunch of money on you in order to print, bind, edit, design, warehouse, ship, publicize, market, and sell your book. That all by itself is many thousands of dollars offered up to the great craps table of publishing.
And then they gamble more money on you to pay you an advance—specifically, the money your royalty for the book might earn if the book sells as well as the publisher hopes it will.
So I'm a tad impatient with people who feel a certain level of advance is just what they're due. A certain level of royalty is what you are due, and you should fight damned hard for it. And this is not to say I short anyone in the way of advances; I use the equation I shared with you all a while back, and since that equation is pretty standard, I can speak of "shorting" an author, in spite of the fact that, as I say, this is not your money, at least not yet.
Some authors work for years on something and get paid $2,000 for it. Other authors whip something out in 2 hours and get paid $30,000 for it. You know this already, and you don't need me to tell you why, but just in case: it's not about your time and effort.
So please do us all the favor of coming to the negotiating table without arrogance. We will pay you, but you're not going to make it easier by thinking of it as money for your hard work. It isn't, any more than the profits publishers make is money for our hard work. It is all—your advance, your royalty, the publisher's own profits—money for results.
Nobody gets paid for kissing the dice unless it's a lucky toss.