If you sell your first novel, you can expect earnings from around
£2500 to several million pounds. If this sounds vague, it's because
the publishing business is a most peculiar industry, and an "average
income" for a first novelist is not a meaningful concept, since such
remuneration can vary so widely.
I've gathered some interesting reading for you. For reasons of
copyright, I am posting just brief excerpts here; for more depth, I
encourage you to read the complete articles linked below.
"How do you work out how much money you might earn from your book?...
There isn't any publishing norm. It really does depend on what kind of
publishing you are talking about. In academic publishing, relatively
little money changes hands, particularly in terms of advances. In
educational and professional publishing, good royalty rates may be the
key thing to go for, if you expect your book to sell on. It is only in
what is called 'trade', ie general, publishing that you will encounter
the huge advances which attract the headlines, but you should remember
that these big figures are the exception, rather than the rule. It's
quite difficult to earn your living from writing, so don't assume that
once a publisher offers to publish your book, you've hit the
jackpot... hardback royalties on the published price of trade books
usually range from 10% to 12.5%, with 15% for more important authors.
On paperback it is usually 7.5% to 10%, going up to 12.5% only in
"I often hear from aspiring writers who have unrealistic expectations
about what they can earn by writing. In part, I think this is because
of the hype that accompanies big advances. But it's important to
remember that these advances are hyped precisely because they're not
the norm. Also, while the upper end of the advance spectrum has
bloated beyond anyone's wildest imaginings, the average advance for a
first novel isn't any different now from when I first started
publishing. How many professions are there where someone today earns
the same as she would have earned in 1982?
My advice to aspiring book writers is to put financial ambition out of
the picture right from the start. I'm not saying give your work away
for free: if you're serious about a writing career, you're best off
seeking an advance-paying publisher. But when you dream, don't dream
of being rich or of giving up your day job. There are enough
uncertainties, pitfalls, and disappointments in this business; you can
spare yourself a lot of heartache by not pinning your hopes on cash."
Homepages of Denise M. Clark
"In Britain, around 70,000 new books are published every year, of
which 6,000 are novels. Of these only some 20% have any claim to
literary respectability. Returns are generally poor, and often in
inverse proportion to the time and effort expended. Of course there
are big-earners, multimillionaires even, but in 1988 only some 300
full-time novelists made in excess of £8,000 p.a. with another 300
supplementing income from journalism, and another 900 supplementing
income from some other literary activity. Figures from other countries
are equally depressing (e.g. 1250, 750 and 1750 respectively for the
States),and will not have improved recently. Any large UK publisher
will receive 2000 unsolicited novel manuscripts in a year, and publish
20. The average serious first novel receives half a dozen reviews and
perhaps sells 1000 copies over two years. With royalties around 10% at
best, writers must learn to mechanically turn out a commercial product
Here are two estimates of $4000 as the average advance for first
novels in the United States market. $4000 US is a bit less than £2500
(which, coincidentally, is the amount that J K Rowling earned for her
first book. She has since done quite a bit better with the wildly
popular "Harry Potter" series.)
"Writing was my full time occupation for a couple of years before
reality hit. Sheer economic reality that is. I was having dinner with
Geoff Ryman a couple of years ago, a very sage man, who said something
like: it takes at least five to eight years to break, and then the
work starts. That hit home. If you look at pay rates within genre -- a
professional rate for short story work is 3 cents a word, average
about four thousand words and eight sales a year, that's a total
income from short stories of $960. Hardly a living wage is it? Add to
that, the average advance for a first novel in the US is about $4000,
and the industry can bear maybe one book a year, then the reality
starts to hit home."
The Eternal Night
"The Sparrow was turned down by thirty-one agents and went through
sixty drafts. I was up against the prejudice against science fiction
among literary agents. It's not that they think it's a bad thing, it's
just that they get fifteen per cent. Fifteen per cent of very little
is not worth bothering with and in the States the ordinary advance for
a first novel, a science fiction novel, is maybe four thousand
Tiscali Entertainment: Faith Under Fire
"A nationally distributed average first novel in the United Kingdom is
unlikely to sell more than between 250 and 750 copies over twelve
months and any greater success depends not so much on the quality of
the writing or the price, but on controversial publicity and some
favourable reviews. In the fullness of time, the unsold copies are
returned to the warehouse and eventually remaindered, pulped,
shredded, or used as land-fill.
The competition is very severe. Whitaker's Bibliographic Services
report that about 80,000 titles are produced every year by some 22,000
publishers in the European Union and in May 1996 'The Bookseller'
magazine recorded the publication of 280 children's books in one week
Cappella Archive: Self-Printing Books
"I'm not sure what the average advance for a first novel is, because
there is a huge range. First novels (sold to a traditional publisher)
can make anywhere from $5K for some genre books up to $1M for a
The odds of hitting the big money are much lower, but still possible
with the right idea and the proper execution."
The Thriller Doctors
"The average first novel sells 2,000-4,000 copies, not enough for
either the author, who earns about 10 percent of the book price, or
publisher to make any money. The break-even point for most publishers
is 5,000 copies."
Walter M. Brasch: Creating a Best-Seller
"The average first time novelist doesn't sell many copies. Almost
always fewer than 10,000 copies. Four out of five first novels don't
even pay back the advance and lose money for the publisher. So on
average, first time novelists earn whatever the advance is, and that's
it. Size of the advance depends on the publisher. For a large
publisher, the average advance is somewhere around $7,500 now. For
tiny publishers it can be from nothing at all to a few hundred
dollars. Writers at these tiny publishers must earn their money
strictly from royalties, and a couple of thusand dollars is usually
about it on average.
But averages don't mean much. A man with his head in the oven and his
feet in the freezer is, on average, very comfortable. A first novel
can make many millions of dollars, and can climb to the top of the
bestseller list and stay there for incredible lengths of time."
Writer Magazine: Average Book Sales
Here you'll find some well-written articles related to this subject:
New York Metro: The New Literary Lottery
Guardian Unlimited: The Literary Lottery
Guardian Unlimited: Advance Warning
Guardian Unlimited: Caught Between Two Books
Authors Online: Writing and Publishing a Book
Poets & Writers: The Plight of the First Novel
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"advance for a first novel"
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I hope this information is helpful. If anything is unclear, or if a
link does not function, please request clarification; I'll be glad to
offer further assistance before you rate my answer.