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I often hear questions about literary agents’ fees and book promotion expenses, such as those asked by Kathi McKnight in response to my last post. I’m sure many of my readers, students and writing coaching clients are burning to know the answers; so, rather than answer them in a comment, I decided to write a new post and address them in detail:
1. Do you pay literay agents up front if they say they want to represent you? No. A literary agent receives a percentage of your royalties. Usually that’s 15%, but in some cases, such as if you already have a publisher interested and the agent just negotiates the contract, you can sometimes negotiate something lower, like 10%.
However, are there literary agents out there who will charge an up front fee? Yes. Be wary of them. It’s not an acceptable practice. They may even claim to have been in on the biggest successes out there, but they just can’t give you references because all their work is confidential. I recently met someone who plunked down $50,000 for such a scam, and is still waiting, a year later, for anything to happen. A bona fide agent will not charge you such up front fees. If you need an editor for your book proposal, hire a separate editor, not an “agent” who charges up front and promises to make you big. These are two separate jobs, for good reason.
2. Are many of the expenses that come in the publishing of the book, usually covered in the advance if you are fortunate enough to get one as a first time author? This is another excellent question, Kathi. A first time author can generally expect an advance of $3,000 – $5,000. That probably won’t even cover your publicity expenses. Let me break your question down into two areas: Your author’s advance and your expenses.
Do some authors get more than $5,000? Yes. Some things that might take you over the top:
- A book that goes to auction–it’s so hot that several publishers bid against each other.
- An author with a big platform: a huge mailing list or internet presence, a national TV or radio show, a national column with a large readership
- A book that has that special something – publishers often have a second sense, or intuition, in knowing when a book has the potential to hit it really big
- A book that fills a gap for a very focused niche audience that’s easy to reach
- An author with strong corporate relationships and the likelihood of large bulk sales to corporations
Recently, one of my writing coaching clients was offered a mid-five figure advance, as a first time author, so there are certainly instances of higher advances. It truly depends on how much of a “sure thing” the publisher expects the book to be.
To address Kathi’s concern about expenses, you might wonder, “What can I expect to spend in promoting my book? It’s a great question. Certainly, you’ll want to hire a publicist–publishers rarely put in the resources to promote a first time author. For a solid publicity campaign, expect to spend between $10,000 and $25,000 or more, depending on your goals. This is not a place to skimp if you can help it.
Many TV shows don’t have a budget for traveling guests. That means you might travel to the studio on your own dime.
You may not even make up your expenses in book sales, which brings us to another point: Don’t focus on making your money on the book’s sales. You’ll probably make most of your money on the opportunities that come out of the book: public speaking, teaching courses and seminars, private consultations, new ventures, etc.
Your book is part of your marketing plan for your business. You should have a business plan for how your book will earn you money in addition to book sales.
More questions for the writing coach? Ask away–post a comment and I promise to answer!