I disagree

May 5, 2012 at 8:33 am (Advanced/Publication, Writing Advice)

I’ve written elsewhere how much I love the Australian blog Call My Agent! In fact I dreamed about meeting the blogger last night. But today I have some fightin’ instead of flatterin’ to do. Here’s a question Agent Sydney received, with the first bit of the answer:

There are publishers now who don’t give advances or royalties but share the book’s profits equally with the author. Do you think this would be a better deal for authors?

It’s a different deal for authors, and possibly a better one, but it’s really too early to tell. I think what’s good about some of these contracts is that the profit-sharing arrangement indicates more of a partnership between publisher and author. . .

The rest is here.

Here’s my answer:


Well, okay. Perhaps once in a thousand times the author would benefit*. It’s a very simple equation: in today’s world, most publishers make a loss on most of the books they buy (and survive mainly because of bestsellers). Most books do not earn out their advance (which is based on projected sales from a publisher hoping for the next bestseller).

Therefore, it is not only safer but more profitable to get an advance. Yes, in the above scenario you get paid more per book – but books cost a lot to edit, proofread, print, and distribute. You still won’t get much of the purchase price.

Agent Sydney is not alone in steering wannabe writers towards smaller, less profitable publishers. They certainly have their place, and are not always a scam – usually, they’re just optimists. And writers are optimists. So they join hands and skip away towards the end of the rainbow, and are stunned to never find a pot of gold.

Writing is very rarely profitable at all. Make your choices wisely.

*usually, when people give something a “one in a thousand” chance, it is hyperbole. In this case, it is my actual estimate.


  1. W said,

    Humans are terrible at understanding probabilities. It’s a well established phenomenon.

    • Louise Curtis said,

      W: Oddly enough, agents and editors in the US and UK don’t seem to recommend alternate routes like Australians do.

    • Ann said,

      Indeed. Note how many people play lotto!

      • Louise Curtis said,

        Ann: You don’t have to actually sell someone a product – just the hope. Or, in publication terms, the ability to call oneself a published author (regardless of whether you have sold a single copy).

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