Royalties Vs. Advances for Illustrators & Writers

We would like to welcome Tim Paul as a guest blogger on the hai staff blog. In this post New York illustrator Tim Paul has written down his thoughts and opinions for us with regards to illustrators and writers being paid an advance verses not being paid an advance on their royalties. Tim has worked as a colourist for Marvel Entertainment and been in the creative industry for almost 20 years, dare we say he could be considered a veteran… – Darren Di Lieto


So Where Do We Start?

NoAdvance

Getting even a simple book out can take a year or more. It’s a long, slow road from concept to paycheck especially if there isn’t an advance at the beginning.

PART ONE: Necessity

These days you hear that publishing needs to evolve to survive. One way large publishers are trying to evolve is to copy smaller publishers in how they pay the artist/author. A smaller publisher, who doesn’t have the finances for an advance, will sometimes offer a higher cut of royalties. This can be up to a 50/50 split after costs. Larger publishers are beginning to follow suit, with inexperienced and untried creators seeming to be the main focus of this shift.

If a writer’s goal is simply to be published, self-publishing is an option they should consider. They’ll be published, and it will even bring in some extra earnings if their book sells well. But for artists and authors whose goal is to make a living at publishing their work, the no-advance option puts more of the risk on their plate. Publishers are looking to manage the financial risks they are taking. If a book fails to make the necessary sales to cover the advance, the author isn’t obliged to pay back the advance. That money is their’s regardless of the how well the book sells.

For the artist or author, the potential for a larger paycheck in the form of higher royalties can be very tempting. However, an advance isn’t a case of the publisher being nice to the author. It’s a way for them to work on the project, without the pressure of having to take on additional work to pay the bills. This way, the artist or author can work towards giving the publisher the best possible product, distraction free.


PART TWO: Business

Getting even a simple book out can take a year or more. It’s a long, slow road from concept to paycheck especially if there isn’t an advance at the beginning. A long wait for payday isn’t the only thing creators have to consider under the no-advance approach. What happens if the work is completed but, through no fault of the creator, it gets canceled by the publisher? Naturally you can try and cover these and other possibilities in a contract, but this does mean more time-consuming negotiations with both sides trying to protect themselves.

Publishers aren’t looking to screw or trick their artists and authors. They’re trying to do what is best for their company financially, as any business would. This doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action for the author or the publisher’s long term goals, but it minimizes the financial risks for the publisher. Plus with no advance, the onus is on the author to produce the work, because if they don’t there will be no royalties.

With an advance, the risk is moved back to the publisher, which means it’s easy for an author to work out what happens if a project gets cancelled by the publishing house… they get to keep the advance. But how is that going to play out with payment based solely on sales? There’s no way for an author to say if a book is going to flop or be a 50 week bestseller. It’s the publisher who will have the experience and expertise to make that sort of judgement, rather than the author.

Smaller publishers don’t normally have much in the way of a budget for marketing. They rely on word of mouth, reviews, and the creator promoting their books along with social networking. If this method of getting a book to market is picked up by the larger publishers, how much self-promotion will their artists and authors be expected to do? After all, isn’t the point of signing with a large publisher that a creator can use the publisher’s resources, connections, experience and knowledge to properly market their publication?

Should large publishers decide that all untried creators have to prove themselves before getting an advance, it could easily become, “accept this deal, or remain unpublished” for all. The no-advance model reduces or takes away the ability of the creator to remain independent of the business side and solely focus on the creation of their writing or imagery. If no advance was to become the norm, there would be no reason for it to go back to the old ways. In the struggle to make a living as an artist or author, getting fair compensation has always been a fight. It’s better to know what you are going to be paid, than the promise of a potentially higher paycheck in my opinion.


PART THREE: Final Thought

Part of being a freelance illustrator or writer is making a plan on how you are going to support yourself while creating. Advances allow artist and authors to plan their finances with solid numbers and a real income. For publishers to receive the best products takes time and dedication. Insist on an advance when the big companies come knocking. Don’t do yourself a disservice, believe in your work and worth, and the big publishing houses will believe in you too.


Artwork & Words: Tim Paul http://illo.cc/15270